Tag Archives: research

A diamond in the rough? Or a universal design – one for all.

Dr Nancy Doyle (Founder and CRO of Genius Within CIC) and Professor Almuth McDowall ask where we can look for good research on neurodiversity at work and what are the most important knowledge gaps to fill. This lay summary of the research was composed by Nicola Maguire-Alcock.

We live in a time where there is an increased understanding that humans are all different, not only by our physical characteristics, but also how we think and behave. The term ‘neurodiversity’ was first termed by Judy Singer in 1999 to explain why humans naturally have a range of differences in our brains and why we behave differently.

Having an unusual neurotype can mean that there are large gaps between a person’s strengths and those things that they may struggle with, compared with a neurotypical person where the gaps are much smaller. There are a number of examples of neurodifferent conditions such as Autism, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, Dyspraxia and Dyslexia.

More recently, the term ‘neurominority’ has been used instead of neurodiverse in order to provide an understanding that those with an unusual neurotype are at a disadvantage in a range of daily life outcomes, in particular socially, in education and in employment.

Fortunately, understanding regarding neurodiversity has increased in these areas, however it is still a long way off where it needs to be. For example, in the workplace, even with initiatives and policies to support neurominorities, there is a lack of research that looks at the effectiveness of this support and there is not an approach that brings inclusivity from designing a job role through the life cycle of an employee.

Furthermore, as well as limited research in this area, there is also an unfairness in the research that currently exists on neurominorities and into the understanding into ‘what works’ to improve making working environments inclusive.

Firstly, there is an imbalance of research into this area, due to there being a large focus on Autism and mental health at the disadvantage to other neurominorities. ADHD, Dyslexia, DCD, and Tourette Syndrome are all under-researched considering how common these conditions are in society. This means that there is a large risk of ignoring other neurominorities in the work place and a lack of focus on what is needed to improve everyday lives in the working world.

Secondly, we do not have informed practice from those who are living and experiencing these issues. This would bring a huge benefit in understanding and improving the current initiatives that are already in place in this area.

Have a look at the following questions:

  • How do we design roles in a more neuro-inclusive way?
  • How do we hire to ensure all candidates can perform at their best during the process?
  • How do we contract ensuring that the terms and conditions of employment are inclusive?
  • How do we provide training which is inclusive?
  • How can we provide performance reviews which increase success, with inclusive delivery?
  • How can we change standard wellbeing services to support neurominorities’ needs?

Great opportunities as a business and for the individual can be gained as we take forward a new way of working which provides a simple, flexible, friendly model for Human Resources (HR).

In order to address this, it has been proposed that the Principles of Universal Design are applied through the employee life cycle. This provides a process for HR to follow in the workplace.

By using this, it provides the opportunity to create a workplace that works for everyone, which will really change the ‘can nots’ to the ‘can!’. Let’s not wait to miss opportunities that would limit your workforce, limit your company and increase the prevalence of staff becoming stressed or leaving. Now is the time to update your practice and apply this model.

Universal Design provides a set of principles that can guide HR to work at its best, at any point of the employment life cycle. There really is no better time but now to take action.

Please take a look at this illustration:

A flower design showing five strands: 1) Wellbeing 2) Hiring 3) Contracting 4) Training 5) Performance Review 6) Wellbeing

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More Vulnerable but Happier? A study of older residents in the first lockdown

The national lockdowns in 2020 affected people in different ways, depending on age, social habits and living situation. In this blog, Dr David Tross, an Associate Lecturer in the Department of Geography discusses the findings of a study of how the first lockdown affected their wellbeing.

The hands of a person joined together

Asked to record her feelings about lockdown during the first wave of the COVID -19 pandemic, Alice*, a 71-year-old divorcee living in Cheshire, describes it as ‘the longest and best holiday I have ever had’ while Catherine, a 60-year-old married retiree living in Essex, states: ‘if it wasn’t for this virus, I would consider this my ideal life-style’.

These are a few snippets from 24 written accounts of the first lockdown by older individuals, volunteers responding to a Summer 2020 of the Mass Observation Project, a longstanding social research initiative that generates written commentaries about a range of contemporary social issues from residents across the UK (my older sample are part of a broader age-based panel). While Catherine and Alice were unusual in being quite so enthusiastic about the experience of lockdown, the older age group is of particular interest sociologically because of a paradoxical theme emerging about the impact of the pandemic: despite being more vulnerable to dying or being hospitalised by COVID-19, older people’s wellbeing seemed less affected than that of other age groups. While overall levels of subjective wellbeing in the UK declined (unsurprisingly but still noticeably- given that this was the first national drop in the 10 years of measurement), older people’s self-reported levels of loneliness, anxiety and depression rose at a much lower rate than other age groups. The main losers? Young people, whose self-reported anxiety and depression tripled.

One explanation is about relative change to lifestyle. For my older cohort, it was the lack of fundamental change to their normal routine that characterised the majority of responses. As one put it, ‘’my life just seems to have trundled on regardless’ and her explanation, being retired and ‘not being directly or indirectly affected by the pandemic’ also illustrates a wider point. Provided you or others you knew hadn’t suffered from the virus, three key disruptions in the lives of many UK households: work routine, threats to income and home-schooling children, were not generally a factor for this group. Indeed, when prompted to describe changes in her routine, Catherine writes that ‘for the first time in our lives we now take a multi-vitamin every day’. With all due deference to the restorative powers of Vitamin D, this is not quite the seismic change the pandemic wrought upon many.

Another explanation is about relative expectations. Take loneliness. Despite having larger social networks and more frequent communication with friends and family, younger people self-reported as the loneliest age group in lockdown, surely underlining the discrepancy between the expectations of this age group and the reality (to take one example, students confined to their university halls). However, experiencing less disruption wasn’t always a lockdown advantage. In June 2020, an ONS survey indicated that almost half of UK working-age adults were reporting benefits of lockdown- not commuting, a slower pace of life, spending more time with family- precisely because of the forced but not necessarily unwelcome upheaval in their lives. Although many older respondents did write about enjoying popular activities of lockdown highlighted by the survey- gardening, walking, spending more time in nature, taking up creative hobbies- this was often only a slightly extended version of their pre-pandemic routines.

The boosterish narrative of lockdown was brilliantly satirised by the Financial Times opinion writer Janan Ganesh as ‘Oh! What a lovely curfew’. Decrying the tendency to ‘frame the lockdown as a disguised gift to the species’ as ‘tasteless’, he highlights that what ‘started out as twee high jinks about banana bread’ only reflects the deeper truth that there were winners and losers of lockdown, and socio-economic circumstances were one important dividing line.

Because, as the MO writers were penning their responses, it was already clear that one nation under lockdown had revealed two nations experiencing very different realities. One, living in affluent areas, in decent-size homes with access to gardens, furloughed from jobs or working from home and saving money; another, living in crowded accommodation in less affluent areas, disproportionately non-white, more likely to self-report as depressed and anxious, and, if still employed, having to take their chances with the virus in public-facing roles.

My writers belong mostly to the first tribe. They have gardens, own their homes and generally live in more rural and affluent areas of the UK. This may help to explain their relative lack of proximity to COVID deaths and hospitalisations. If they are lucky, then many acknowledged this. Take three indicative comments: ‘I felt so sorry for families in high-rise flats‘; ‘we have been very busy in our garden, it must be terrible to be in lockdown with nowhere to get out’; lockdown ‘is mostly easy, being retired, well off and a white woman’. These are the voices of privileges being checked.

While statistics tend to flatten the difference within social groups, qualitative research highlights the diversity of experience. Lockdown was a miserable experience for older writers whose culturally and socially gregarious lives were dramatically curtailed (limited space precludes exploring other negative factors, including those with health conditions whose treatment was disrupted). While Alice declared ‘it wouldn’t bother me if I never went to cinemas, restaurants and celebratory events again’, for others for whom these social and cultural engagements really matter, any benefits conferred by lockdown could not compensate for their lack. As one male retiree wrote, ‘I saved money but lost my social contacts’.

One significant loss was volunteering. The older writers broadly align with the demographics of what researchers have termed the ‘civic core’, the segment of the population who do the most volunteering and civic participation (including voting). This core is generally older, female, rural and live in less deprived areas. Over half of the cohort volunteered regularly pre-pandemic (compared to 25% of the UK adult population as a whole), and for some, the combination of service closures and personal vulnerability meant that they could no longer do so. ‘My friend and I who have worked together in Citizens Advice (CAB) and have done for many years, were over 70 and at risk and asked not to come’ writes one 80-year-old; ‘I have volunteered at CAB first as an adviser and latterly doing admin for over 45 years so this was a huge loss’. Another who organised events for other older residents in the village hall has moved some of these online but laments that this is ‘just not the same. I miss my social connections’.

The loss of volunteering opportunities also provides a more nuanced understanding of the unprecedented community response in the first wave of the pandemic. In what has been described as the largest peacetime civilian mobilisation in UK history, an estimated three million people in April and May of 2020 formed the vanguard of neighbourhood covid support groups delivering key medical services, food provision and support to vulnerable people across the UK. The Local Trust calls this as ‘an extraordinary response to the crisis, and evidence of a surge in community spirit’. And yet the spontaneous emergence of informal and locally focused covid mutual support groups ran alongside a sharp drop in formal volunteering, as charities and voluntary associations closed services and furloughed staff, or where older volunteers were too vulnerable to participate. This doesn’t mean that older people weren’t part of the bottom-up community response; some in the cohort took active roles. But it did mean that many older citizens who formed the bedrock of UK Civil Society were now, at the apotheosis of voluntary contribution, left without a contribution to make.

*names have been invented

 

 

 

 

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Can Corporate Social Responsibility save firms from negative customer feedback?

New research by Birkbeck’s Dr Benedetta Crisafulli and co-authors Dr Paolo Antonetti and Professor Stan Maklan adds insight to the relationship between company failure, CSR and customer response.

Picture the scene: you’re at a restaurant and your order is taking longer than expected to arrive. The waiter has been steadfastly ignoring your gaze since you sat down and when you finally do manage to flag him down, he is rude and unapologetic.

How would you respond?

Anger, frustration and a desire to tell your friends never to dine in that restaurant are all common responses. At the same time, you might feel a desire for reconciliation – to receive an apology and be offered a discount on your bill.

Would your reaction be different if you knew the restaurant was committed to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? Would the fact that the restaurant is a morally responsible business excuse them from your harshest criticism?

This is the question that researchers from Birkbeck’s Department of Management, NEOMA Business School and Cranfield University sought to answer in their latest study on the relationship between company failures, CSR and consumer response.

CSR and consumer behaviour: what we know so far

Prior research suggests that CSR acts as a reservoir of goodwill that companies can draw on following a crisis. If we believe that a company is caring and well-intentioned, we are more willing to give it the benefit of the doubt in the event of a brand failure such as poor product performance.

However, existing evidence from research is less clear on whether CSR does indeed mitigate the negative impact of failed service delivery.

How does CSR impact consumer reactions to failed service delivery?

The results from an online experiment showed that the nature of the failed service is key in determining consumer response:

  • when competence-based, CSR is an effective service recovery strategy
  • when integrity-based, CSR is unable to inoculate the negative effect of poor service performance

In the case of a competence failure, a company’s CSR generated impressions of warmth , which softened the negative impact of the failure.

In the case of an integrity failure, the service failure contradicted the impression of warmth conveyed by CSR; as a result, CSR fails to save the company from consumers’ retaliation.

Does a consumer’s relationship with a company matter?

Of course, not all consumers are alike. The researchers found that the nature of the relationship between consumer and company has an impact on consumer response to CSR.

Consumers with high communal orientation, that is those who are concerned for others’ interests and benefits and value a company that is caring are less likely to feel betrayed by the company and CSR would reinforce the positive relationship. A less positive effect would be felt for consumers with an exchange orientation, who are concerned about individual gains from the relationship.

What does this mean for managers?

For managers looking to mitigate the impact of service failures, it is essential to monitor the types of service failures in their organisation to assess the likely impact of CSR initiatives.

When it comes to communicating CSR activities, firms are advised to focus on communicating the altruistic objectives of their CSR initiatives.

In the event of a competence failure, CSR can buffer negative effects, Explanations and apologies should focus on reassuring customers that the company did not intentionally cause the failure.

It would also be helpful for companies to capture consumers’ level of communal orientation as part of their market research and to target CSR messaging to the segments aspiring to a communal relationship.

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Birkbeck Pride and LGBTQ+ Pandemic & Lockdown Experiences Results and New Project

Birkbeck is looking for participants in a major new interview study on the well-being of LGBTQ* adults during the pandemic.

The Pride Rainbow flag partially covering the sun in the sky

Image credit: http://www.quotecatalog.com/quotes/inspirational CC-BY-2.0

As we reach the end of Pride month with events outdoors, online, or rearranged, we have news of the latest in our series LGBTQ+ experiences during the pandemic and lockdowns. At Birkbeck Fiona Tasker and Marie Houghton have been researching the vulnerability and resilience of LGBTQ+ adults since the start of the pandemic. The British Academy /Leverhulme funded project aims to develop understanding of UK LGBTQ* young adults wellbeing experiences. Together with colleagues in Brazil, Chile, Israel, Italy, Mexico Portugal, and Sweden we aim to combine our findings and build up a bigger picture of LGBTQ+ psychological wellbeing across Europe and South America. The UK project based at Birkbeck is directed by Dr Fiona Tasker (a Reader in the Department of Psychological Sciences) who has been involved in research with LGBT+ communities since she arrived at Birkbeck in 1995.

The animated owl holding the Pride flag Our second survey shows a lot of uncertainty and variability in how LGBTQ+ people have experienced the pandemic and associated lockdowns or restrictions. Over half of those taking part said they’d had problems with well-being or mental health and many felt lonely and isolated. But other people had experienced positive gains especially in terms of online services and outreach activities had stepped up. You can read more about our results via the report on our website.

In our new research project, we want to do some individual online interviews to find out more about the personal stories of how LGBTQ+ adults have been over the pandemic. What’s helped and what hasn’t in terms of family, friends and support? Why have some LGBTQ+ people experienced more problems and why have some gained in strength during the COVID-19 pandemic? We particularly want to hear from LGBTQ+ people who are aged between 18-35 years old but we would also be pleased to hear from anyone over 18 who is keen to talk to us. Our project — One Year On: LGBTQ+ Pandemic Experiences Interviews — has been given ethical approval by Birkbeck University of London. Please do get in touch – see flyer for details – as we would be pleased to tell you more about our interview questions.

If you would like to take part in the interview survey or get in touch with any questions please contact Fiona Tasker and Marie Houghton.

Please note that participation in this research is voluntary. Anyone signing up has the right to change their mind and withdraw at any point before or during the interview. Birkbeck is committed to ensuring that your personal data is processed in line with the GDPR and DPA 2018. 

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