An examination of the experiences of line managers who manage employees with Asperger syndrome, exploring how these are shaped by contemporary HRM policies

Cockayne, A. ORCID: 0000-0003-1489-0350, 2019. An examination of the experiences of line managers who manage employees with Asperger syndrome, exploring how these are shaped by contemporary HRM policies. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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Autistic people are known to have strengths which employers could harness productively, yet they experience persistently low employment rates and discriminatory outcomes (Hurlbutt and Chalmers 2004; Baldwin and Costley 2014; Chen et al 2015). This is despite the protections from equalities legislation and the importance of employment concerns to wider health and social policy issues for autistic people (Pellicano, Dinsmore and Charman 2014). The role played by those who line manage employees diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in these outcomes is important, but their experiences are less understood as studies have emphasised an autistic person's employment experiences without considering their managers' perspective. In part this has been because employers cannot easily identify their autistic employees (Morris, Begel and Weidermann 2015; Sarrett 2017), thus restricting research access to people with this hidden disability as well as their line managers.

This research adopted an interpretivist stance to explore the experiences of line managers and HR specialists working in six different organisations, drawing on the views of autistic employees as a valuable supplementary voice. The argument presented throughout is that line managers and HR specialists lack understanding of how socio-cultural forces within organisations shape their perceptions about the autistic people they employ, as well as how these create difficulties for these employees. The specific contribution of this thesis is to show the pivotal nature of the line manager in the quality of an autistic person's working experiences.

Empirical findings show that line managers feel their autistic employees have strengths which can enhance performance in a wide range of jobs requiring skill and intellect. The thesis illustrates how these strengths can be utilised in sectors other than software engineering and technology industries (Austin and Pisano 2017), or supported and low skilled employment settings (Muller, Schuler and Yates 2008; Hagner and Cooney 2005; Wehman et al 2016). It shows that although job role is a major shaper of managers' perceptions, crafting tasks or roles to accommodate preferences and optimise working life is an approach under used by managers. The line manager's role in developing trust to support an autistic employee's decision to disclose is established and mutual benefits are identified from disclosure. It is also apparent that managers experience difficulties and frustrations directly from managing an autistic person, some of which come from equalities legislation which neither considers the additional costs required nor fully supports them in addressing the challenges they face. The uncertainties and tensions they face appear to be exacerbated because they are managing someone with a hidden, rather than visible disability.

Theoretically, the social relational framework (Thomas 2004) identifies the organisational factors that shape a line manager's perceptions that the autistic person they manage is disabled, consistent with equalities legislation, or that they have strengths. The framework is extended by showing how ableist practices create particular disadvantage for autistic people in respect of their capacities to be flexible. Neurotypical norms underpinning HRM policies and valuations of skill further shape managers' and HR specialists' perceptions about autistic employees in their capacities for teamworking, flexibility and their approach to work and career development.

The thesis provides evidence that to understand what actually 'is' the disability, HR specialists and managers must distinguish between what it is about being autistic and what else is happening in regard to the structural aspects of organisational life. Not knowing, or not being able to see that someone is autistic, misunderstanding about what being autistic means and ignorance of how HRM policies and practices can be discriminatory, determine the responses and frustrations that managers experience as well as poor employment outcomes for autistic people. Managers or HR specialists who have high levels of reflexive capacity will question if organisational HRM policies can deliver effective inclusion for autistic people, knowing that these are often based upon what is 'normal' or typical in a workplace. Finally, the thesis sets out the implications for policy in relation to autistic people in terms of skill utilisation, preferred job roles and approaches to diversity and inclusion management, areas which are increasingly relevant as legislators expect employers' understanding of AS to advance.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Cockayne, A.
Date: July 2019
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed to the owner(s) of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > Nottingham Business School
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 10 Sep 2019 14:22
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2019 14:23

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