What I’ve Learned About Social Expectations At Work Since Starting My Job

(Featured image description: Multiple shots of people working at computer desks.)

Hi all,

I’m sure you are all aware of the problems autistic people face with employment. A major reason is the social aspect of the role – such as the unwritten rules in the workplace.

Without going into too much detail, my workplace is one of the more accommodating ones in the UK. However, it is also one of the more chaotic workplaces which means that I have had a lot of challenges to deal with. Fortunately, it is starting to get easier for me so I am going to spread the love.

Here is a list of what I’ve learned this week – with the help of my line manager who communicated this to me – so that other autistic people can better understand some of the unwritten workplace rules out there.

Rules won’t always be followed

This is a big one. Even in the most structured of workplaces – the rules and procedures in place often serve as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules (unless they are legal or health and safety-related). Rules will be bent depending on business need so it means that people cannot strictly enforce them as doing so risks making the business look bad.

An example I was given refers to whether figures of influence are involved. This can include company directors to celebrities and political/religious figures. In other words, rules are often bent so that the company or organisation save face. Did somebody submit something a bit late? Well depending on who the guests are that work will be prioritised.

An individual’s actions have wide-reaching consequences on the whole team

This is important to understand because this is something that managers and other staff pick up on even if the individual concerned doesn’t. This is also used to factor in things like performance reviews. In other words, the bigger picture is something that all members of the team need to understand.

For me, I am currently not fully trained in my role and because of this other members of my team are picking up some of the things that I am supposed to be doing. Yet I had absolutely no idea until this was communicated to me directly. I only fully understood once I was given a concrete example of something, I should be doing but I’ve not been trained on yet.

Initiative is expected

By this, I mean that workers are expected to be able to think for themselves on how to solve situations and not ask too many questions. Initially, this was quite confusing for me because I thought that if I don’t know what to do, I should be asking questions? Yet apparently, I was asking too many questions because it meant that my colleague was basically doing my work (and I was just typing it).

I think this stems in part due to how much support autistic people have or not. For example, for the few autistic people in school that got proper support from a young age may have been constantly handheld and not fully developed the initiative required for many jobs.

Social anxiety and a fear of making mistakes also play a part here. One reason for this is that many autistic people have learned over the years that their judgement for social situations is incorrect hence their judgement is not trustworthy. When I say “incorrect,” I mean that as a value judgement as to how an NT would see things. When it comes to other autistic/neurodivergent people, more people are likely to see the judgement as correct (or at least something they would do).

Meetings should always be prioritised

This section can be summarised in a few simple points. The first is that if somebody invites somebody else to a work-related meeting they are expected to attend. This applies regardless of the context from verbal agreements to Outlook invites. This also applies if the meeting sounds informal and/or optional such as a “coffee with [senior director].” I had a meltdown that day and was volatile so I thought as this coffee meeting was optional hence, I didn’t have to go so I didn’t. I ended up getting told off for it.

Additionally, the individual employee is also expected to take responsibility for their own timetable. One reason why is because other staff have their own workloads so cannot be responsible for others too. Fortunately, Outlook has aids that can help with executive functioning such as alarms and reminders. This is not so helpful for making sure employees remember meetings first thing in the morning so other reminders (ie. Using tools like Amazon Alexa) as well as a daily reminder to check the calendar is what helps me.

It’s impossible to understand everything that’s happening

In the world of work, so much goes on that unless somebody is senior management, it is impossible to know everything that goes on and how people are expected to behave. Part of this is due to confidentiality obligations however it can also be down to the fact that things are generally communicated on a “need-to-know” basis.

Hence a skill that will be expected of staff is to know when to ask for more information and when to just accept what you’ve been told. Usually, when someone says that “it’s private and/or confidential” or “only senior staff have access” that is a clear sign that lower-level staff are not to dig. Even many autism-friendly workplaces have these expectations.

This also applies to social situations. Yes, some managers may make decisions that seem strange but if they have a track record of meaning well and aren’t trying to be malicious their advice is worth following. Not just because they are the manager but also because they understand better how everything works.

The line manager acts as a communicator for any problems

One thing I’ve greatly struggled with over the years is that people won’t talk to me directly about the problems they have with me or my behaviour. For personal relationships, this is obviously a serious issue however this is not the case for workplace relationships in many contexts.

This is because the role of the line manager is considered important. Basically, subordinates tell their line managers anything that is bothering them. This includes how other employees are negatively impacting on them. This doesn’t just include the usual bad things but also includes things that are causing them to have difficulties doing their work such as asking too many questions that I mentioned earlier.

This is nothing personal. It is not a personal failure or anything like that. It is because this is the unwritten social rule of many workplaces that employees are taught to follow. Additionally, line managers often undergo specific training on management that lower-level staff often do not.

The boundaries blur a bit more when it is a personal relationship of some sort. Usually, this applies if somebody knows them outside of work or the colleagues have worked together for a long time. Hence colleagues may talk to each other directly rather than going to the line manager.

So in other words, these are some of the many ways that work relationships are different from personal relationships. Hence autistic people can’t simply cut and paste expectations from personal relationships into a workplace context even though that is the logical thing an autistic person may do. That’s all for today. I hope to be able to share more tips like this soon.

Milla xx

What Gender Euphoria Feels Like

(Featured image description: A blue sky with clouds and the word “happy” written in it. Below is a smile.)

Hi all, 

Today I’d like to talk about something that is poorly understood about transitioning gender. Simply put, I’d like to talk a bit about gender euphoria. 

Gender euphoria, as defined by the Urban Dictionary, offers a few different meanings: 

The feeling a trans person gets when he/she/they can start presenting as the gender they identify as and people start treating them accordingly.

Or this one:

The opposite of gender dysphoria. Of a cisgender person, it is a state of happiness about being male or female and having the associated gender roles and body parts.  Of a transgender person, it refers to feeling great about living as your desired gender. 

(There is a third meaning on the page, but it’s nonsense clearly submitted by somebody with no clue. Hence it has been mass downvoted so I won’t include it here.)

So how would I define it for me? I would define it as some kind of buzz I get when I am embracing my true gender role – that of a woman. But I also define it as an affirmation that transitioning was the right thing for me. 

The buzz is hard to describe. It’s kind of like – a deep feeling of happiness that overcomes me. It can feel like I have goosebumps but not in a bad way as it greatly lifts my mood. 

I got this feeling initially through things like shaving my body hair, trying on women’s clothes as well as putting on makeup. This is although I would not pass in any capacity back then as I would have to learn how to do it all properly and appropriately. This progressed to times when I am correctly gendered by strangers in public and weirdly when I am wolf-whistled by creepy dudes on the other side of the road. Which putting aside the fact that is wrong and does also make me uncomfortable, it’s affirming in its own weird way. 

People in my life to this day still believe I am confused about my gender because I am not presenting in a way they deem to be feminine. Yes, I look feminine but some of my movements may appear masculine (thanks to gendered socialisation and also because I’m openly autistic, which is seen as a cis male-only thing still by many). However, they are wrong, and gender euphoria is how I know why. Gender euphoria that occurs specifically in trans people is something that cis people will never truly understand first hand, even if they are very supportive of trans rights. That is ok – especially as they are often the enablers of the trans person feeling euphoria in the first place. 

Even now, I still sometimes get that sense of euphoria when I see a good view of myself when I’m out and about or I notice some other positive change with my body or health. I have spent the last two years growing out my hair for instance and now it is up to a length that I am happy with. I also started an internship recently and I put on my work badges to help me communicate my needs (alongside other badges that reflect things about me).

I ended up taking a picture as I had one of the most genuinely happy smiles on my face that I haven’t had for some time, maybe ever. It didn’t look feminine at all but I couldn’t stop myself from smiling in such a way as it was completely natural and completely me. I felt happy as I was finally being true to myself and expressing myself openly as the woman I really am. I’ve been full time for a few months at least now and have no intentions of stopping that any time soon.

I do not think this will be the last time either especially as I will continue to experience new things now, I feel I am reborn again. One instance will be when I am eventually on HRT and can start undergoing my second puberty and hopefully grow breasts. I don’t want to dwell on the access issues I’ll have to get this – not today anyway – because I am working on that. But in the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy the new life I have while working towards all of my goals, one day at a time. 

Even if that means capturing memories of even the most random of euphoric times like the photo below one morning on my way to work. 

Image description: Selfie of Milla, a young woman with shoulder length curly brown hair, posing for a mirror selfie in a disabled toilet. She is wearing vintage glasses and a white coat.

Here’s to many more years of happiness.

Milla xx