Employing Someone Who Stutters: What Employers & HR Should Know

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HR Practices

Stuttering — also called stammering or diffluent speech — is a speech disorder characterized by repetition or prolongation of words, syllables, or sounds, uneven flow of speech, or absence of some sounds in speech.

Stuttering is at times accompanied by facial tics, rapid eye blinks, head jerks, and tremors of the jaw.

People who stutter (PWS) know what they want to say.

They just have difficulty saying it.

Stuttering affects one out of every 100 adults in the world. There are 3 million stutterers in the United States alone. Approximately 70 million adults stutter worldwide.

So, employers and HR managers are likely to encounter PWS within their workforce or among job applicants.

PWS can make a valuable contribution at work. However, their qualifications, skills, and talents are often underestimated or overlooked due to numerous misconceptions and negative stereotypes associated with stuttering.

A 2004 study published by the National Library of Medicine revealed that approximately 70% of stutterers felt stuttering reduced their chances of getting hired or promoted.

This post intends to enlighten business owners, HR managers, recruiters, interviewers, and supervisors on what it means to employ someone who stutters.

Don’t Fall for Common Misconceptions Related to Stuttering

Hiring managers may overlook the true potential of a job applicant who stutters due to negative stereotypes. Many people don’t even have basic information stuttering and its causes.

One of the widely held misconceptions, for instance, is that stuttering individuals are shy, nervous, tense, withdrawn, self-conscious, guarded, and withdrawn.

Stuttering is not caused by stress, anxiety, nervousness, or emotional disturbances.

However, the PWS may stutter more in stressful situations.

The PWS exhibit a full range of personality traits, like fluent speakers.

Contrary to popular belief, speech disfluencies do not indicate any lack of professional competence or intelligence.

Stuttering and the Drive to Succeed

Stuttering workers have the same drives & ambitions to succeed in their careers as their more fluent coworkers.

Today, PWS have distinguished themselves in all walks of life – including politics, entertainment, business, education, science, medicine, and law.

Employers and HR managers shouldn’t hesitate to hire applicants who stutter and have voluntarily disclosed information about the speech disorder in their job applications. PWS should be offered leadership roles as well as opportunities to get promoted, consistent with their domain knowledge, work experience, and skills.

A Stuttering Employee’s First Day at Work

The first day at work can be stressful for anyone.

There are certain things HR managers, supervisors, or line managers can do to support a new employee who stutters.

Often, it’s difficult for stutterers to introduce themselves to a group of people. Sharing personal details with coworkers they are meeting for the first time can be challenging.

Therefore, introducing a stuttering employee to everyone in an office or at the job site can be a great way to break the ice.

Before asking a stuttering employee to get started with work, whether it involves talking or not, it is a good idea to give them private space for getting familiar with the equipment and work environment.

Talking and Listening to a Stuttering Employee

Speech disfluencies are nothing to be embarrassed about for the PWS or the listener. When talking to PWS, it’s important to practice active listening, besides following standard guidelines for communicating with employees.  

Some of the most important tips for talking to a stuttering employee are:

  • Focus on what a stuttering person is saying and not ‘how they are saying it’
  • Wait for a stuttering person to finish their sentences before responding to them
  • Do not try to complete their sentences or fill in words
  • Maintain natural eye contact while talking to them
  • Do not act upset or feel embarrassed when they stutter
  • During group meetings, where participants introduce themselves, ask a person who stutters to go first or second; this will help prevent anxiety build-up while they wait for their turn

Interviews and Performance Reviews

Interviews and performance reviews where face-to-face meetings take place and a person’s skills or capabilities are being judged can be particularly challenging for the PWS.

On such occasions, a stuttering employee may stutter more than usual.

How well a stuttering person can speak during an interview or performance review is not a reflection of how they talk while on the job.

While evaluating over communication skills of a stuttering worker, it is important not to focus on fluency alone.

Experienced HR managers know that good communication skills aren’t just about having fluent speech.

For instance, an individual struggling with speech disfluencies may have good listening skills. They may be more thoughtful and diplomatic while communicating with customers than their more fluent co-workers.

A person’s ability to come up with something valuable to say to a customer or client is also a valuable communication skill.

Bullying at Work  

Employers as well as HR leaders should ensure that interviewers, hiring managers, and supervisors do not hold on to negative stereotypes about stuttering.

Often, the PWS face casual discrimination in the workplace. Employers and HR managers should discourage both targeted and casual discrimination in the workplace. Bullying in any form should be dealt with promptly.

In many countries, discriminating against a person struggling with a biological or neurological disorder or mocking their disabilities is unlawful.

Final Words

Stuttering is nobody’s fault and it does not define a person. 

The PWS generally have a better comprehension of communication issues in the workplace.

They have above-average people-skills and acquire valuable traits such as patience and perseverance early on in their lives.

Having stuttering employees in your workforce enhances your business organization’s image as one that encourages diversity.  

Business leaders, employers, and HR managers can change how the people who stutter are perceived in the industry and give them the opportunities they truly deserve.

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