Our Employers Stammering Network (ESN), which enables employers to receive information, support and advice on how to recruit and support people who stammer.
Message from The Rt Hon Ed Balls MP
People with a stammer have just as much potential to achieve as anyone, but sometimes their stammer prevents them from being able to participate as fully as they would like.
There are also many misconceptions about stammering that might stop an employer recruiting the best person for the job - who may well be stammering.
By raising awareness, and giving managers the tools to work with someone who stammers, we are once again opening up opportunities and unlocking talent for the workplace.
Message from Iain Wilkie, Senior Partner, Ernst & Young LLP
The Network's aim is to help employers create a culture where people who stammer can achieve their full career potential.
I see it as contributing to building a better working world.
Run by the British Stammering Association, the Network guides employees and employers towards the right level of support for their particular challenges - thereby directly helping the employees and the organisation to develop.
Our experience shows that relatively modest investments of time and money can have a very positive impact on the performance, morale and loyalty of people who stammer whether they be in customer-facing or business support roles.
The Network also provides advice for HR managers on best practices in recruitment as well as stammering awareness guidance for line managers.
We at Ernst & Young are finding that small changes in processes and the willingness to have courageous conversations can make a big difference.
2 out of 3 stammerers say they hold back what they consider positive contributions or good ideas at work, because they fear they may stammer.
What is the problem?
Communication is the core life skill of the 21st century economy.
However, more than 4.5 million people in the UK are affected by a communication impairment. Almost 500,000 of them are adults who stammer.
Communication impairments such as stammering are often hidden disabilities and may still be associated with stigma.
But if no-one talks about stammering, we cannot address the issues that make it difficult for people who stammer to succeed at work.
Experience shows that simple adjustments deal with many of the issues around stammering - perhaps a quiet room for telephone calls, or being given a bit more space and time in meetings. Above all, what is needed is a general awareness that what is being said is more important than how it is said.
The Litmus Test
Getting it right for employees who stammer means you're unlocking their talent. Getting it right for people who stammer means you're practicing good communication - and that will make a difference to everyone. And good communication makes good business sense.
Improved confidence, improved speech techniques, improved morale all lead to more motivated, happier, and more effective employees.
What is the evidence?
There are many misconceptions about stammering.
It is true that stammering can have a profound emotional, educational and social impact on the stammerer's life. But we now know its root cause is neurological.
People who stammer don't stammer because they're anxious, or nervous, or lacking in intelligence. They stammer because that is how their brains are wired.
Decades of research has found no evidence that the stammering population differs in any way from the non-stammering population in terms of intelligence or intellectual and emotional capability.
People who stammer are sometimes anxious about talking. But for someone for whom talking is difficult, who lives his or her life one syllable, one sound at a time, or who fears adverse reactions to the way they speak, that is a natural response.
People who stammer are just as intelligent, just as resilient, just as well-adjusted as the next person coming to you for an interview.
Adjustments are usually simple and cost little, and are certainly less expensive than having to replace a high-potential employee with a stammer who leaves to join the competition.
What do people who stammer say?
In a recent (Feb 2013) survey of over 200 adults who stammer, we have found that
- Around half said a better understanding of stammering at work would make them more effective at their job.
- Two thirds said it would make them feel happier working for their current employer.
- Two thirds did not want to reduce their speaking but wanted more training in developing their communication skills.
- More than three quarters wanted to be part of a network across employers.
- Almost half said they had not put themselves forward for promotion because of their stammer.
- Two out of three said they were likely to hold back good ideas at work because they felt that speaking up was a problem.
Why should you be interested?
Stammering, when not addressed, can impact on the effectiveness, the contributions, and the happiness of your employees.
A fear of stammering can stop employees making valuable contributions. Trying to hide a stammer takes a lot of energy and concentration.
Avoiding words or situations for fear of stammering can stop an employee from making full use of their talents.
Misunderstanding of stammering symptoms can lead to problems in line management: Have you asked yourself why a colleague is verbose, yet rarely comes to the point? Have you met a colleague who finds it hard to look you in the eye? Are you aware that listening to stammering will cause a stress response in you?
Issues with stammering can be addressed through openness and discussion —which is where we can help.
Adjustments are usually simple and inexpensive. Information on why people who stammer act the way they do can help to clear up misunderstandings.
An employee who knows his employer values what he says, and doesn't judge how he says it, will be happier, more effective and more motivated.
What can we offer employers?
It is likely that up to one in 100 of your employees are affected by stammering. In addition, many potential recruits to your organisation, including many of the most talented, will stammer.
As part of the Network's development, we have talked to employers and employees about what services they would value and find useful.
The Network will unlock the actual and potential talents of employees who stammer, to the benefit of your organization, through a package of well-tested elements:
- making it possible to speak openly about stammering.
- developing briefings and information packs on stammering and communication at work.
- running a dedicated information and advice service for ESN members with a guaranteed 48 hrs response rate
- opportunity for specialist training (at extra cost)
- organising networking events for member organisations
- offering talks and presentations about stammering and work at your in-house forums on diversity.
What can we offer employees?
Work can be a tough place when you stammer. If you try to hide it, you'll spend much of your time and energy anticipating difficult sounds, words or syllables. If you have good ideas and contributions but feel you can't tell people about them, then you'll be demotivated.
We can offer support and a network of others who stammer, with information on best practice, and tips on reasonable adjustments for situations you may find difficult. With an employer who shows they're interested in what you have to say, not how you say it, your work life could be transformed.
The ESN will offer advice and information. We will highlight training and therapy opportunities and set up a forum to make it possible to talk about stammering at work.
Feedback suggests that opportunities for mentoring across companies may be useful. We are looking for ways in which this can be realised.
It makes business sense
There is very little that will cost business more than getting communication wrong.
Misunderstanding causes mistakes. Lack of information flow causes duplication and wastes time.
Staff members who are focused on how they might say things, rather than what they may contribute, don't add as much value as they could.
Staff members who feel their contributions aren't being heard are demotivated and are more likely to leave.
Get it right and you unlock the talent. Get it right and you practice good communication. Get it right and you foster staff loyalty.
Getting it right is not difficult - and BSA has the experience and the expertise.
For a modest annual fee, your organisation can ensure you have access to the latest information and advice on how to support and retain staff members who stammer - and on how to unlock their talents.
There are three different types of membership:
- Founder Members (limited number) will have access to advice, information and the network. They will also be offered a seat on the Network's advisory board, and will have their status mentioned publicly where appropriate. (£2,500p.a.)
- Partners will have access to the advice and information networks such as the dedicated helpline as well as the networks for their staff (£1,500p.a.)
- Members will have access to information and briefings (but not the dedicated helpline) as well as to the employee networks. (£1,000 p.a.)
If you would like to join, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to us at British Stammering Association, 15 Old Ford Road, London E2 9PJ.
If you would like to talk through the benefits of joining, please contact the Ambassador of the ESN, Leys Geddes, to arrange a meeting: email@example.com
British Stammering Association
The British Stammering Association (BSA) is the UK's national charity for adults and children who stammer. Founded in 1978 by adults who stammer and speech and language therapists, the charity has been providing accurate and unbiased information and support on all aspects of stammering for over 30 years, particularly through its websites, www.stammering.org and www.stammeringineducation.net, a dedicated helpline and a specialist education helpline.
BSA has run successful campaigns for early intervention and is a nationally recognized partner in shaping policy.
Norbert Lieckfeldt started as a volunteer on the BSA helpdesk in 1993 as part of his own programme of speech therapy. He has been chief executive of the BSA since 2001.
Norbert was a member of the advisory panel of the Bercow Review into speech and language therapy services for children, was a Board Member of The Communication Trust between 2011 and 2014, and is a Governor of the East London NHS Foundation Trust.
Leys Geddes runs a marketing consultancy, which he opened after being dismissed for stammering. He has run campaigns for a wide variety of companies, but now concentrates on difficult-to-discuss healthcare conditions, working with several GlaxoSmithKline brands, Leightons HearingCare, Leightons Opticians and the NHS. He is Immediate Past Chair of the BSA.
For BSA's existing employment resources, see our At work topic, which includes our leaflet for employers.