Everyone needs to develop certain skills for the workplace. Here is our list with ideas for how to learn and improve these skills.
Good communication skills are critical for helping you to work effectively, build solid relationships and prevent unnecessary misunderstandings.
In a workplace, it is polite to engage in "small talk"
Small talk is a short, casual conversation usually about fairly impersonal, everyday topics, such as:
Hobbies and interests
Weekend plans / holiday plans
News headlines / current affairs
Why use small talk?
Small talk may appear to be mundane or without purpose, however it actually plays a very important part in social interaction.
Here are some of the reasons why it is important to try to use small talk –
- It is a great way to start a conversation
- It helps to maintain social relationships
- It shows that you are being friendly
- It is a polite and safe way of talking to someone you don’t know very well
- It can lead into other conversations
- It is a good way of ensuring that you are not going to be too personal or offend anyone in conversation
A typical small talk conversation at work
Barry: “Hi Jane, How are you?
Jane: “I’m fine – bit of a struggle on the trains this morning”
Barry: “I know – there are so many delays and strikes on at the moment”
Jane: “Oh well – let’s hope it gets better soon”
Barry: “Yeah – Anyway, what did you get up to at the weekend then? Anything good?”
Jane: “Yeah – I went to a party on Saturday night, and last night we went to the cinema”
Barry: “Oh yeah - what did you see?”
Jane: “Pirates of the Caribbean”
Barry: “Any good?”
Jane: “Yeah, it was alright – how was your weekend?”
Barry: “Pretty quiet really – just spent time with the family”
Jane: “Sounds nice – anyway Barry – I’d better get on with some of my work so I’ll see you later, yeah?”
Barry: “Alright Jane – talk to you later”
Examples of topics of conversations in the workplace
- Hobbies (when appropriate)
Topics to avoid:
- Personal relationships
- Review meetings/work meetings
- Cultural judgments
- Talk behind someone’s back/Gossip
- Negative comments about the workplace
- Tell other people you can do their job better than them
Have a look at the links below - both provide good summaries of some of the most important communication skills for the workplace.
In some ways, being sociable with the people you work with is very similar to being sociable with friends and family.
But in other ways, it’s very different.
It’s a good idea to learn some of the social dos and don’ts of the workplace so that you can fit in and feel comfortable with your co-workers.
Here are some resources which can give you ideas and information, plus some examples of what can work well.
The JobTips website has a section called Keeping A Job which has information presented in videos, worksheets and text.
This includes looking at your relationships with co-workers and how to deal when things go wrong.
You have to pay to use the entire JobTips website, however this could be covered in a Transition To Work program.
Amaze, the Victorian autism association, has a 5-page information sheet which covers the most important topics.
They include good manners, getting on with work colleagues, being helpful, socialising, networking and dealing with managers. Very highly recommended. Find it here.
There’s also a useful information sheet for people who work with a person with autism.
You can download it and could give it to colleagues, or ask your Employment Disability Service to do that on your behalf.
The hidden curriculum of work
One of the main challenges of people living with autism is understanding social rules. Social rules are the rules that apply to various social situations.
You have probably found them quite difficult, especially as the rules often change depending on where you are and who you are with. The workplace has its own set of social rules that you really need to know.
If someone is supporting you in the workplace, assisting you to understand the social rules of your particular workplace can be part of how they help you.
For general information about social rules in the workplace there is a great book called The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment A Guide for Individuals With Autism Spectrum and Other Social-Cognitive Challenges by Judy Endow, Malcolm Mayfield and Brenda Smith Myles. You can find further information here.
When faced with many different demands on your time at work, it is important to organise and prioritise the workload and effectively manage time.
When trying to adopt an organised approach to work tasks consider the following points.
Of all your work tasks (commitments).
Make a list of all your main activities to help you get an overview of the time you will need to set aside. This should make it easier for you to prioritise tasks.
About what is involved and how long will it take.
Break down your work tasks and be realistic as to the time you will need to set aside to complete them.
In order to effectively prioritise our time, consider the following questions:
- What is urgent?
- What is routine?
- What can be prepared for?
- What are the consequences?
Map it out:
- What needs to be done?
- When will I do it?
- How will I do it?
Once you have developed a clear idea of what your work tasks are you can start to make plans.
A timetable or action plan can be a useful resource to help you keep organised at work.
Establish routine and structure:
Establishing structure to your work day will help set the defined tasks for the day or week ahead.
Structure can be established by:
- Setting a timetable or calendar for each day or week
- Writing to-do list or checklist of tasks
- Setting reminders or alarms to keep you on track
- Setting daily or weekly goals (as identified by your manager)
Ask yourself or your manager:
- How am I getting on?
- Am I on schedule?
- What can I do to get back on schedule?
It is important that you take time to assess how effectively you are completing work tasks. You may need to re-assess timetables and action plans if work tasks are not being completed to schedule.
Some tips for managing time:
- After prioritising your tasks, make a To Do list and work through it in priority order
- Clear your desk and plan your activities for the next day
- List your time specific tasks, for example team meetings
- Ensure that you have set aside enough time to plan your day/week
- Do difficult jobs first thing in the morning when you are at your best
- Complete minor tasks when you have less energy at the end of the day
- Try to arrange set times for tasks so you can keep track of your progress
- When you start a piece of work try to finish it
- Assess how you use your time; are you making an effective use of it?
- Work towards deadlines, if you are behind schedule re-assess, ask for help or agree new deadline
For more information on getting organised, check out this fact sheet from autism-help org.
Dealing effectively with difficult people and bullying
You may have dealt with bullying at school and feel that you don’t need to re-visit the topic. However, we want to list some resources here as it’s not unusual for bullying to come up in adult life and it’s better to be forewarned and forearmed.
By the way, if you still feel upset about issues that happened at school, and especially if you sometimes feel upset, anxious or depressed please do look at our mental health section.
You don’t need to carry the scars of past bullying for life. Help is available to help you heal those scars and to set you up with anti-bullying skills for the future.
Unfortunately bullying can happen in the workplace and also at TAFE and university. We list some resources for you to have a look at so that you can know quickly if someone is bullying you and what to do about it.
What is bullying?
Things to look out for include:
Rudeness, shouting and talking aggressively
People spreading untrue rumours
Being denied your rights e.g. break times, promotions
Being physically hurt
Ongoing negative teasing
Mean looks and gestures
Read a longer list at the ReachOut website’s workplace bullying section here.
Resources to deal with bullying
You don't need to put up with bullying. Hopefully your manager will be able to help, you might also ask any support workers you have and can also talk to family and friends.
There are also resources online that can help.
Safe Work Australia
Workplace bullying is considered a serious hazard, and is taken very seriously by Safe Work Australia, the national agency which aims to improve workers’ health and safety.
The website's Bullying section is a comprehensive resource for identifying and managing bullying in the workplace:
National Autistic Association
The UK’s National Autistic Association has a section on their website about workplace bullying. Find it here.
Bully Free World
This is a website from USA which is specifically about bullying of special needs children and young people. It has a top ten fact section, and a toolkit for parents, children and educators.
You can read more about cyberbullying and strategies for avoiding it, or managing it when it has occurred on this website.
Autism Victoria Fact Sheet
Autism Victoria also has a fact sheet called Bullying and Autism Spectrum Disorder, again aimed at school students but very relevant to young people after school too. Bullying fact sheet here.
Accredited Schools On Line
This US website has a Bullying Awareness Guidebook that has been developed by experts and has lots of useful information and links to other resources.
Growing Up On The Spectrum by Lynn Kern Koegel and Claire LeZebnik has many descriptions of bullying and related matters with lots of advice on what to do.
Bully Blocking At Work: A Self-Help Guide For Employees and Managers is by Australian psychologist Evelyn Field, a psych, who has this website called Bully Blocking.
It's really important to look professional at work. But, it's not just important to look good in a workplace, you have to smell good too! Read more on personal hygiene here.
Managing stress and anxiety at work
Everyone can get stressed at work. Feeling stressed at times is normal. What is most important is knowing how to manage your stress.
The Job Access website lists some useful strategies to handle stress:
- identify what triggers stress and try and to calm down before things escalate
- getting enough sleep
- eating healthy foods as low blood sugar can contribute to feeling anxious and irritable
- learning to relax, learning a formal technique such as yoga or meditation can help
- plan activities each day that you will look forward to
- doing some exercise as this helps with relaxation
- setting realistic goals and sticking to a routine
- planning and organising work tasks, not over committing
- trying to have a positive attitude
- not worrying about the little things
- talking to family and friends outside the workplace.
If you feel you need more help in managing stress, you can talk to a psychologist or counsellor.
Many workplaces have an employee assistance program which allows you to access professional help at no cost to you.
Your son or daughter will benefit a great deal from learning the specific skills required to be successful in the workplace.
These include organisation skills, workplace etiquette and communication skills.
We have found some great tips and resources to assist – have a look at the Young people – Workplace skills page by clicking on the green tab above.