YOUR NEURODIVERGENT WORKERS NEED TL;DR ON COMPANYWIDE EMAILS
(AND SO DOES EVERYONE ELSE)…
TL;DR – Companies can significantly improve Inclusiveness for neurdivergent workers and overall engagement by having all companywide emails 1. include a TL;DR summary that is jargon free. 2. Maintain a short passage length standard. 3 Break down the email into sections. 4. Minimize jargon in-line.
This post has 5 sections: The Basics, The Problem, Supporting Research, Suggested Solutions, and Conclusions.
Let’s start with the basics –
Neurodivergent (ND) people’s brains work differently than the “norm.” ND includes people on the autistic spectrum, people with ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, OCD, and more. 15-20% of the world’s population presents as neurodivergent.(1)
TL;DR means Too Long;Didn’t Read and started as shorthand in response to LONG posts on social media. BUT it has become a way to let people know you are summarizing the coming material since some (many) people probably wont get through it.
Unfortunately, many managers, especially senior management, write companywide emails that are not inclusive. Similar to academic journals, these emails are notorious for longwinded passages, topics within topics, and heavy use of jargon.
Many of the senior management seem to write as if the entire workforce has the time, brain space, and capacity to engage all material regardless of the topic, length, or language used. Almost like they believe their staff is made of renaissance people.
What’s more, many of these emails address multiple topics or address multiple fields. This can add to the confusion.
Many people, especially ND staff, have difficulty getting through the entire email. When the emails include long passages and jargon, it become almost impossible for ND staff to extract critical information that is important for their work.
This negatively impacts their work. It also means the company is not getting insight from these individuals because they cannot reading the full document.
And it is important to note, when discussing ND staff, it is not “Don’t want to read” or simply “Don’t read” it is CANNOT read. Their brains are not wired to maintain the focus necessary to read these emails.
Research shows that long sections of text cause unintentional disengagement and mind wandering.(2) This is true for EVERYONE, not just ND people who suffer from ADD, ADHD, and similar issues.
For ND readers this effect is often be exacerbated, especially with long paragraphs or jargon outside their field.(3) The length of the paragraphs is significant because their mind wanders. The jargon can lead to distraction as they try to learn the meaning in context.
Additionally, research suggests that while increasing task difficulty decreases mind-wandering this is NOT true for reading where increasing passage difficulty actually increases mind-wandering rates.(4) So, getting people to concentrate on a task rises when it is more difficult but getting them to read something decreases when too much jargon or high language is used.
At the same time, evidence from the research also suggests that “reading difficulty on mind-wandering is partially driven by hard passages having longer sections of text.”(5) In fact, the research seems to suggest that, while the jargon may negatively impact concentration, the real significant factor is the length of the paragraphs and sections.
What does all that mean for the corporate world?
Let’s break it down.
There are two major issues, irrespective of the neurodivergent staff. 1. most of the people getting the email are not in the field and may not understand the jargon. 2. Much of the staff do not have the patience (through no fault of their own) to read emails that include long passages or seem irrelevant to them.
This means that significant parts of the workforce are not up to date on project, programs, and other developments that senior leadership deemed worthy of a companywide email.
What’s more, senior staff are setting the bar for how they expect emails to be written in the company. They are creating the email culture that promotes exclusion as well as reinforces a TL;DR kneejerk response by significant parts of the staff.
To change the company culture surrounding emails – especially companywide emails – senior management needs to adopt TL;DR best practices that include the following:
- Brief Summary of information
- minimal-to-no jargon
- Directed reference to sections for further detail in longer emails
They should make every effort to write emails in easy to understand language with SHORT passages the break down a topic into parts.
They should break up longer emails into sections where each section addresses a specific topic. Include a table of contents at the beginning of the email.
Using TL;DR, shorter sections, and concise shorter paragraphs can help focus workers, especially ND staff, and lead to a situation where more of the workforce will get through the entire document and be able to determine the important information that is relevant to their work.
Applying KISS (Keep It Simple and Significant) represents an easy way for senior management to greatly improve the likelihood of engagement with companywide emails. (*And yes we know the original acronym’s meaning)…
This will go a long way to improving neurdivergent inclusion in the workforce and, quite frankly, make it easier for EVERYONE to be on the same page about significant updates and projects for the company.
What do you think – should/can companywide emails include TL;DR and short concise paragraphs?
- Neurodiversity in the Workplace | Statistics | Update 2023. On MyDisablityJobs.com Originally published October 14, 2022. https://mydisabilityjobs.com/statistics/neurodiversity-in-the-workplace/
- Forrin N. D. Forrin, Mills, C., D’Mello, S. K., Risko E. F., Smilek D. & Seli P. (2021) TL;DR: Longer Sections of Text Increase Rates of Unintentional Mind-Wandering, The Journal of Experimental Education, 89:2, 278-290, DOI: 10.1080/00220973.2020.1751578
- Franklin, M. S., Mrazek, M. D., Anderson, C. L., Johnston, C., Smallwood, J., Kingstone, A., & Schooler, J. W. (2017). Tracking Distraction: The Relationship Between Mind-Wandering, Meta-Awareness, and ADHD Symptomatology. Journal of Attention Disorders, 21(6), 475–486. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054714543494
- Thomson, D. R., Besner, D., & Smilek, D. (2013). In pursuit of offtask thought: Mind wandering-performance trade-offs while reading aloud and color naming. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 360. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00360
- Forrin N. D., Risko E. F., Smilek D. (2019) On the relation between reading difficulty and mind-wandering: a section-length account. Psychol Res. Apr;83(3):485-497. doi: 10.1007/s00426-017-0936-9.