• Emma Osborn

I used to always be on time – why meeting padding reduces accessibility



Miraculously, for someone who’s on one of those endless NHS waiting lists to be assessed for ADHD, I used to always be on time.


It’s not without cost to me – my mum instilled all her tricks for making executive function, well, function, through years of coaching. Even now, when I mention having been struggling with procrastination she reels off the list of possible work-arounds.


At the same time, I’ve probably internalised some of her anxiety about the social consequences of not turning up on time. That’s the second thing that my mum taught me about time – everybody’s time is short and finite and it’s really rude to waste it. Neurodivergent people learn to hate being told off for getting social stuff wrong, so the clarity and certainty of what goes into a calendar appointment is also important.


So, I’m diligent about getting my admin done as it arrives and making sure that everything’s in my calendar – with a selection of notifications I can rule the world, sort of. If I can’t rely on my calendar then I either don’t function, or I spend a disproportionate chunk of my time wired with anxiety, trying to make sure that I remember things that my calendar usually allows me to forget.


In the workplace it can have real consequences, especially if you start suddenly not turning up to meetings when managers are feeling a bit vulnerable trying to oversee people who aren’t in the office. If someone fails to turn up to the wrong things they might even get fired, so it’s a really serious life skill.


Then, in the new norms of the pandemic, meeting padding became a thing. Those breaks are important to the function of the business. However, the length of time and their placement vary from business to business, and potentially also between teams. Sometimes people don’t even communicate that they’ve added the padding to a meeting … so my calendar now doesn’t tell me what I need to know.


This tool that has enabled me to function almost perfectly without anyone noticing that I had a problem for my entire working life is suddenly making me not function, because the 15-30 minutes of padding at the start of a meeting is just enough time for me to get distracted and forget that I had a place to be.


I could fix this myself – I could email every person who sends me an invite to check what type of padding the meeting has; copy across all the details to meetings that I schedule for myself; try and stay on top of changes made to the original meetings; and work out how to configure notifications for duplicate meetings in a way that’s not confusing and totally overwhelming.


That doesn’t sound very equitable … so instead, why don’t we ask how do we ensure that we’re not undermining accessibility in the workplace?


A few pragmatic suggestions:

  • Only put padding at the end of meetings, so that people’s productivity tools still function.

  • Communicate clearly how long the padding at the end of the meeting is and the actual end time of the meeting, so that people don’t expand the task to fit the time.

  • Finally (and I can say this because I’m self-employed 😉), if you’re important enough to have back to back meetings and need meeting padding to have room to breathe, are you perhaps grown-up enough to calendar your own bathroom breaks, to reduce the barriers you place on your disabled colleagues?