At the Safety Forum’s annual conference, held in Stavanger on 6 June, Cay Nordhaug and Lene Gjødestøl gave a presentation of their dyslexia project and what it has meant to the company.

It all started on the initiative of Roald Sandal and Arild Magnussen – two Glencore machine operators who both encountered major challenges at work because of their dyslexia.

Watch the video about the dyslexia project

Roald Sandal’s issues with dyslexia heralded the start of the world’s first dyslexia-friendly workplace.

Roald and Arild

It all started when the two experienced operators and friends decided to challenge the ways in which their work routines were changing. What had previously been practical work now required an increasing focus on reading, writing and reporting.

“Roald is a specialist”, explained Cay Nordhaug, formerly head union representative at the Glencore Nikkelverk plant, during his presentation at the conference. “He knows his machine inside out. Very few people can operate that machine as well as he does. But what he can’t do is write. Arild, on the other hand, was also hiding his greatest secret. He is unable to read”.  

The impact of the changes to their work routines caused both men much frustration. Roald struggled to write up his daily reports on the notice board, while Arild had problems reading instructions and forms. Their problems only got worse when the company increased its focus on nonconformity reporting and introduced bonus schemes linked to the number of reported nonconformities.

Finally, their frustrations led Roald and Arild to bite the bullet, make their issues known and open up about the feelings of shame they had carried with them throughout their lives.

“Roald said that he had been called stupid”, said Nordhaug. “His teachers marked him out as a problem child and told him that he would end up a criminal”.

A unique collaborative project

The two men’s fear of losing their jobs had caused them to keep their issues hidden for years.

“The union had known about their problems for some time”, explained Nordhaug in his presentation. “But we weren’t permitted to notify management. Roald and Arild were terrified of losing their jobs because of their difficulties with reading and writing”, he said. 

But when in 2017 the secret was finally made known, the three parties succeeded in coming together as part of a unique collaborative effort. First of all, a committee was established comprising employees, union representatives and company managers.

The committee set in motion an intensive effort to educate itself about dyslexia, open up about the problems and identify practical solutions. The project had the backing of top management and all employees with personnel responsibility underwent training in the issues.

Nevertheless, the most important task was to create a shared culture of openness in which no-one ever again should need to feel ashamed. In this regard, the close ties between employees and their union played a decisive role.

“What happened when we divided the training process into small groups was fantastic”, said Nordhaug. “At every meeting, there was always someone who opened up either about their own or their children’s dyslexia, or said that they knew others with related issues. We succeeded in establishing a high level of openness”, he said.

So, from being a taboo issue, dyslexia suddenly became everybody’s property and something to be proud of. This resulted in spin-offs far beyond what anyone had imagined.

Help at hand

Today, Glencore Nikkelverk has adopted a number of aids to help it meet the challenges presented by dyslexia. Lene Gjødestøl, who is currently coordinating the project, spoke about this at the conference.

“We’ve developed a Safe Work app in which forms are displayed digitally, supported by a ‘text-to-speech’ function. We also have scannable QR codes distributed around the various facilities”, she said.

Gjødestøl has dyslexia herself and chose to be open about the issue when she joined the company as a trainee.

“My dream is to produce videos about our work procedures, showing how they should be correctly carried out”, she explained.

A boost for corporate culture

However, the biggest winner at Glencore has been the company’s new corporate culture.

“This isn’t just about digitalisation”, said Nordhaug. “At its heart, it’s all about promoting openness on this issue. As a union, and together with the company and its employees, we’ve really succeeded in cracking the code on this. When people took the plunge and started to share their experiences, we all sensed a tremendous feeling of openness. Establishing a culture of this kind represented the real heart and a breakthrough in the process – much more so than any of the technical systems”, he said.

Nordhaug also highlighted all the positive spin-offs that the new culture of openness has brought with it, including safer and more efficient operations, as well as an enhanced sense of well-being and pride in the workplace.

“In this culture of openness, even men are feeling able to talk about their feelings and mental health”, he said.