Dr Sarah Bate on prosopagnosia in the workplace for Harvard Business Review

Posted on Thursday, August 28 2014

Dr Sarah Bate, lead researcher in the Centre for Face Processing Disorders at Bournemouth University, has written an article for Harvard Business Review, discussing how prosopagnosia can affect people in the workplace.

More commonly known as face-blindness, prosopagnosia is a cognitive condition that is characterised by the inability to recognise the faces of familiar people.

It is thought to affect around 1 in 50 people – meaning 2 per cent of the workforce are likely to have some form of face blindness.

However, people with the condition often experience embarrassment and anxiety due to low public awareness, with some workplaces causing particular challenges.

People with Prosopagnosia “may struggle to recognize colleagues when encountered in an unexpected or generic location, such as at the coffee machine,” Sarah explained in the article.

She added: “Difficulties are exacerbated in occupations where there are fewer non-facial cues to recognition. Think, for example, of workplaces where uniforms are worn.

“For that matter, men’s business suits offer few distinguishing characteristics to aid person recognition.”

Situations without prearranged seating, such as meetings and hot desks, can also cause difficulty for an individual as location does not hint at a person’s identity.

Sarah stated that, although there has not yet been much research directly focused on the effects of face-blindness in the workplace, one study concludes that “the occupational difficulties are potentially as great as those posed by stuttering and dyslexia”.

But many workers with prosopagnosia choose not to reveal their condition, often fearing that low managerial and public awareness would act against them, or that they would be unable to receive support.

Sarah indicated several measures that can be implemented to assist face-blind colleagues in the workplace, such as portable name plates for workspaces and meetings, and a secondary staff member to assist with client identifications.

She said: “Regardless of the setting, a face blind person should feel able to disclose his or her condition to an employer.

“There can then be a carefully considered decision about how widely to share this information – and, regardless of disclosure, certain measures can be taken to assist the individual.”

Read the Harvard Business Review article in full

By Harriet Gilbraith

Harriet is a student at Budmouth College in Weymouth, who is working at Bournemouth University in the Press and PR Department. She joined BU on a Sir Samuel Mico Scholarship, which provides 10 students from the college with work experience for four weeks over the summer.