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5th Jul, 2023

Christy Houghton
Christy Houghton
Job Title
Digital Content Writer

Lewis Capaldi’s Glastonbury performance was interrupted by the singer’s vocal and physical tics, caused by his recently diagnosed Tourette Syndrome – and the world witnessed 100,000 people singing the lyrics to his hit single ‘Someone you loved’ as he struggled on the pyramid stage.

This sparked a lot of support for the singer and has further raised awareness of the condition. But how can you support your employees in the workplace suffering from the neurological syndrome?

What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette Syndrome (also known as Tourette’s or TS) is a neurological condition which causes people to make involuntary sounds and movements called ‘tics’ – which can be physical (motor), vocal (phonic), or both.

Physical tics can include:

  • blinking

  • jumping

  • twirling

  • eye rolling

  • shoulder shrugging

  • the jerking of the head

Vocal tic examples:

  • grunting

  • tongue clicks

  • animal noises

  • words

  • coughing

The best-known trait and persisting stereotype of the condition is involuntary swearing (this is known as coprolalia) – but this type of tic is rare, only effecting one-in-10 people with Tourette’s, according to the NHS.

There are different types, triggers, and frequencies of tics – no one person will be the same. Some people can go months without a single tic, but others might experience them multiple times a day. And, some people find it easier than others to suppress or control them. Tourette Syndrome is the term used when tics have continued for more than a year, but it should be noted there are other disorders of which tics are a symptom.

Workplace challenges

Not all people with TS consider themselves to have a disability – this is because the symptoms they have don’t impact their ability to do daily activities. However, it is considered a disability under UK law, preventing those with the condition being discriminated against. An estimated 300,000 people are thought to be living with it in this country.

One significant challenge for individuals with Tourette Syndrome in the workplace is the potential misunderstanding and stigma surrounding the condition. Many people are unfamiliar with the nature of Tourette’s Syndrome and may misinterpret tics as intentional or disruptive behaviour. This misunderstanding can lead to judgement, ridicule, and even discrimination in the workplace, creating a hostile environment for those with the condition.

Another challenge is the unpredictability of tics, which can vary in frequency, intensity, and duration. Tics can be frustrating, painful, and disruptive, and may interfere with concentration, communication, and task completion. This unpredictability can make it challenging for individuals with TS to adhere to strict schedules, follow traditional work routines, or engage in tasks that require sustained focus. As a result, productivity may be affected, and individuals may feel anxious or self-conscious about their ability to meet work expectations.

Many professionals will try to suppress their tics and hide their condition as much as possible during their working day, to minimise disruption and avoid embarrassment – only for them to get worse once they don’t feel the need to suppress them anymore, i.e., once they’re alone or around people who understand. In stressful situations, such as presentations or important meetings, tics can get worse and be much harder to control.

Furthermore, individuals with TS may experience co-occurring conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These conditions can further complicate workplace challenges, as they may affect organisational skills, time management, and decision-making abilities. They can experience sensory overwhelm from too much harsh light or noise and can find it challenging to process information given to them verbally. Accommodations and support strategies tailored to the specific needs of each individual are essential to ensuring their success in the workplace.

Reasonable adjustments

While there is no cure for TS, it is manageable in the workplace. As an employer, you need to ensure you are prepared to make reasonable adjustments to help remove triggers and distractions from your employees’ working environment and help them thrive. To address these challenges, it is crucial for employers to foster a culture of inclusivity, education, and support. Providing an environment and company culture in which inclusion and belonging is practiced, not just promised, will be key to this. Without it, your employees will look for work elsewhere.

Employers should invest in training and awareness programmes to educate staff members about Tourette’s Syndrome and reduce stigma. Creating a supportive work environment where individuals feel comfortable disclosing their condition and requesting reasonable accommodations is essential.

Reasonable accommodations may include flexible work schedules, modified job duties, or the provision of a private workspace to minimise distractions. Common distractions and triggers include noise, stimulants and additives, high-pressure situations, and open spaces.

To offset these, you can:

  • Allow people to wear headphones to reduce noise – and turn off any music that plays aloud

  • If possible, provide quiet or private spaces to work or take short breaks in – which is proven to reduce anxiety around ticcing in public

  • Consider implementing flexible and hybrid working plans if they haven’t been already

Furthermore, open communication channels between employees and management are vital. Encouraging dialogue and listening to the needs and concerns of individuals with TS can help identify effective strategies for accommodation and support. By promoting understanding, empathy, and flexibility, employers can create an environment where individuals with the condition can thrive professionally, contributing their skills and talents to the workplace while managing their condition effectively.

Each person’s needs are different and can change over time – it’s vital that employers regularly check in with individual employees if any reasonable adjustments need to be made or amended and do their best to follow through.

Just as the crowd at Glastonbury showed empathy and understanding for Lewis Capaldi, managers and business leaders need to encourage the same attitudes from their workforce, allowing people to tic when they need to, without judgement. Not only will your employees be able to perform at their best, but they will feel higher job satisfaction because they know they are respected by their employer and important to the business.

Neurodivergent superpowers

TS being a neurodivergent condition means it shares many of the same positive traits as OCD, ADHD and autism – which are sometimes called ‘superpowers’ by neurotypical people. Just like anyone else, there is no limit to the professions people with TS can work in: engineering, construction, technology, education, finance, marketing and creative roles – to name but a few.

Many of the positives around neurological conditions are due to mindset. The right mindset is a crucial asset for professionals to have, and can be just as important as their skill set, according to our Chairman and CEO James Reed in his book: ‘Put your Mindset to work: The one asset you really need’.

Neurodivergent conditions are often characterised by a higher level of creativity, outside-the-box thinking and problem-solving skills than neurotypical people. They can also experience hyperfocus and excel at planning ahead. Many will have a strong sense of justice, resilience, and empathy due to their experience being different to the societal norm. They offer a unique perspective that can help your business grow through innovation.

Don’t miss out on securing the best talent or an exciting opportunity – contact your nearest Reed office today.