Happy Work Anniversary: A Formula for Retention

Contributed by Tammy Morris, Chief Program Officer

As we scroll through work anniversary notifications on our LinkedIn feed, nonchalant thoughts run through our minds…”Wow, time flies.” It feels like they only just started at that company.
For others, time does not fly. There is anxiety working toward each and every milestone; surviving interviewing, onboarding, training, getting past the 90 day mark, first meetings, new team members, first performance appraisal, and getting to that elusive one year mark.

In January, Ian reached his one year work anniversary at General Motors. Ian’s background is in technology and he conducts analyses of large quantities of data for GM in his role. He is a brilliant coder, detail-oriented, efficient and comprehensive in his approach to work tasks. He is an integral part of his team and a ‘go to’ data resource for other departments. Ian participates in many social outings, participates in mentoring an training programs offered by the company, volunteer opportunities and is a committee member for two of the company’s employee resource groups (ERGs).

The unfortunate piece of Ian’s success story is that people have a tendency to think that he got ‘lucky’ in getting through the door and landing his great job. Considering Ian ‘lucky’ undermines all of the steps, hard work, and diligence that Ian, and those like him, have demonstrated to earn and retain his position through a year full of new challenges. ‘Lucky’ suggests that Ian just waited around for the opportunity, perhaps even with the added generalization of avoiding social opportunities and hiding in his basement watching television or gaming until the job fell into his lap.

How Ian Prepared:

  • Pursued post-secondary education, incurring student loans along the way, to earn two Master’s degrees of Information Systems and Cybersecurity
  • When not able to obtain a job in his field post-graduation, Ian continued to hone his coding skills, taking advantage of free online resources
  • Held several part-time jobs both related to his field and unrelated; grateful for his job stocking shelves at Kohl’s, substitute teaching, and making friends
  • Volunteered with multiple nonprofits using his technical skills and also those requiring physical labor including to help build community gardens
  • Networked in the technology field, in the online community, and at face to face events like ‘IT in the D’ in the metro Detroit area
  • Developed a game called ‘Home Sweet Homelessness’ to teach people about the experiences of homelessness through social entrepreneurship
  • Worked with several vocational rehabilitation agencies prior to coming to AAoM to find the best job fit
  • Participated in an annual conference including a public speaking debut in front of a tough crowd
  • Independently managed finances with a strict budget to pay back student loans
  • Maintained an older car in working order to have reliable transportation for work
  • Kept in contact with natural supports on the job and mentors to make sure that he was on track and meeting work expectations
  • Arrived on time for work every day and staying late to complete work or ask coworkers if they need help

When the Student Becomes the Coach:

Ian still has autism and communication barriers. He prefers the office environment because the carpeted floors are easier on his sensory system than hardwood floors. He still experiences anxiety regarding performance expectations and requires feedback and reassurance from mentors and supports. He still looks for advice managing time and commitments, and making major life decisions. Ian is a very active participant in organized groups and social activities, yet can struggle with more casual relationships and verbal fluency during conversation.

So as we wish a very well-deserving friend Ian a Happy Work Anniversary, we reflect not on how lucky he is to have his job, or that 2017 flew by, but rather, how lucky the company is to have uncovered this tremendous asset to their business. We thank him for his concerted efforts to perform for the employer, knowing it will advance the cause of other neurodiverse job seekers in the future.