Stammering, or stuttering, is largely a neurological condition. It often runs in families – around 60% of adults who stammer have another family member who stammers. Stammering affects the flow of speech, where the person knows exactly what they want to say but has difficulty producing speech sounds in that moment. This isn’t the occasional hesitation or repetition everyone experiences, but something that involves a greater sense of feeling momentarily ‘stuck’.

Everyone stammers differently, but commonly it will involve repeating or prolonging sounds or words, getting stuck without any sound, adding extra sounds or words and losing eye contact. Some people go to great lengths to hide their moments of stammering, perhaps switching words, saying less or avoiding certain situations altogether. Stammering varies from person to person in manner, frequency and how long moments of stammering last and can be frustratingly unpredictable. Individuals who stammer may be fluent one minute and working hard to speak the next.

Like other conditions which fluctuate and may not always be visible, stammering can have a significant impact on people’s lives at work. Centuries of portraying people who stammer as comic, criminal or nervous have left us with a legacy where people too often feel ashamed of their stammer. Misconceptions, stigma and sometimes prejudice, discrimination and bullying mean it takes a good deal of courage to talk openly about stammering.

Whether people stammer obviously or not, fear and anticipation of stammering and of people’s negative reactions can cause strong feelings such as frustration, anger, hurt, sadness, embarrassment and shame. The stigma that often accompanies stammering can further undermine self-esteem and self-confidence, increase feelings of isolation and adversely affect interactions. Yet stammering can also bring some real strengths. These include creative use of words and language, interest in the thoughts and experiences of others, and opportunities to be dynamic, memorable speakers.

You can play an important part in creating an inclusive and supportive working environment for people who stammer. Even small things can make a real difference and help them perform at their best.

Stammering facts

• At least 1% of adults stammer. This means that there are probably people in your organisation who stammer even if you don’t know it.
• Four times more men stammer than women
• Stammering is the same as stuttering
• Stammering is neurologically-based and is not caused by stress or anxiety, although it’s common for people who stammer to stammer more when they’re stressed or anxious
• People who stammer are found in every walk of life, and can be successful as CEOs, air traffic controllers, teachers, doctors, in the army, navy and air force, customer services and communications.
• In a recent British Stammering Association survey, 89% of respondents have felt frustrated by the way other people have reacted to their stammer (78% awkward, 65% anxious, 59% depressed).

Be a great colleague

Stammering can be a sensitive personal issue that some people may not want to discuss. You may also find it difficult to discuss something you know little about. But the best way to help an employee fulfil their potential in the workplace is to show them how you’ll support them be at their best. Some ideas include:

• Value stammered speech. This is the way some people talk. Think of it like an accent and make space for the stammering in conversation. Show patience and active listening by focussing on what the person is saying and not their stammer.
• Don’t finish a person’s sentences or ‘fill in’ words. This can be disempowering and unhelpful. Also, maintain natural eye contact, listen, and wait until the person has finished speaking.
• Advice. Don’t go there. Don’t tell the person to ‘slow down’, ‘take a breath’, or ‘relax’.
• Stammering varies. People who stammer can have most difficulty when starting to speak and less difficulty once underway.
• If it seems appropriate, ask the person about how best to respond when they stammer. Or if you are not sure, ask “How can I make this easier?” or “Would you prefer to go somewhere quieter?”

Reasonable adjustments for employers

There are a number of reasonable adjustments which can be considered for implementation by your business or organisation. What needs to be remembered is that different adjustments are appropriate for different people, with the employer and person who stammers discussing what will be helpful and what support can be implemented and how. In the case of a job interview, it is a good idea to arrange any adjustments in advance. It may also be good to consider incorporating any reasonable adjustments made into standard procedures as they can often benefit lots of other people too, not just those who stammer.

Examples of reasonable adjustments to help people who stammer:


The feeling of being rushed or under pressure can be challenging for a person who stammers and they may not be able to bring their whole self to an interview due to fear of stammering. To put people at ease, there are a number of reasonable adjustments an employer can consider ranging from giving additional time or no time limit for the interview, allowing written responses and/or written alternatives to oral tests or presentations, giving the option to take notes into interviews or offering the option of a face-to-face interview instead of a telephone interview.

Using the telephone

Using the telephone can pose a number of challenges for a person who stammers but there are things which can be done to support them such as an option to swap telephony work for emails, flexibility around the use of scripted phone conversations, for example rewording the opening line of a call to make calls less difficult for the person who stammers. A private place to make phone calls may be useful for some and the exemption from phone ‘mystery shopping’ exercises could be considered.

In person meetings

If it’s possible, look to share the meeting agenda in advance, allowing participants to let the Chair know if there are particular agenda items where they already know they wish to contribute. If appropriate, ask the Chair to introduce everyone in the meeting, rather than relying upon individuals to introduce themselves.

The Chair could look to agree with the person who is anxious a system for contributing to the meeting (e.g. by using the ‘raise hand’ function on video calls). This system can then be used by all participants whilst turn-taking is managed by the meeting Chair.

Ensure additional time is given to talk in meetings or if requested, give permission for the person to be quiet in meetings and to contribute via email following a meeting, if appropriate.

If the person is comfortable with this, either they or the Chair on their behalf can inform other participants that the person stammers.

Video Calls

With more of us working from home as a result of Covid, video calls have been an added challenge for a lot of people who stammer. A 2021 study by The Underwood Trust found that using Zoom or Teams tends to be more challenging than face-to face interaction when you stammer. The time lags, the buffering, not quite knowing when others are going to speak and then speaking at the same time, and being forced to see yourself stammer, can lead to reduced participation in meetings, their findings showed.

How to make video calls easier for employees who stammer:

1. Making introductions

As we’ve mentioned, introducing yourself in meetings can be difficult. In Zoom, users can amend their on-screen name very easily so you could encourage everyone to update it with their name and job title. This will reduce the need for verbal introductions. If you use Teams, however, this isn’t as easy to do. You could use the chat function so people can enter their names there. Or you could have a single person making all of the introductions. If you stick with asking everyone for verbal introductions, think about going to the person who stammers first to avoid them having to wait anxiously for their turn.

2. Turn-taking

It can be tricky for people who stammer to ‘jump in’ with pin-point timing when they have something to contribute verbally in a meeting. Think about the way you manage turn-taking in online meetings. For example, you can ask participants to use the hands-up function and manage the order of turns to ensure that people who stammer are able to contribute more easily.

3. Valuing contributions in the chat

Offer participants the flexibility to contribute verbally or in the chat. This needs careful managing to ensure that all participants can also read or hear what’s in the chat.

4. Other video call tips

Keep an eye on the screen of the person who stammers for signs that they might be having a speech block. This is when they try to speak but can’t get any sound out. In this instance, when somebody else has finished speaking ask the person if they have anything they’d like to add. If the person is being quiet generally, invite them to contribute and give them the opportunity to speak.

Many people who stammer find seeing themselves stammer whilst they are talking distracting. Making sure that your meeting participants know how to use the ‘hide self’ function on video call platforms can be really useful. This way, your meeting participants can all see one another but they don’t need to ‘see’ themselves during the meeting. This could be helpful to those you don’t stammer too as lots of people find it uncomfortable to watch themselves talking during video calls.

For those who are interested, using on-screen backgrounds can be useful in letting other people know that you stammer. Stamma have backgrounds which can be downloaded and can be found here:


Speaking in front of a large group of people can be daunting for some people who stammer. Where appropriate, explore options to present with a colleague or in a group or the option to practise presentations in front of small group as opposed to a larger one. Demonstrate how you value authentic, stammered speech and your colleagues will follow your lead.

Further support and guidance

As you can see, there is so much support which can be given through your business or organisation to your employees who stammer to make their time at work productive and fulfilling. STAMMA is the national charity for people who stammer and their networks. If you are interested in learning how STAMMA’s Employment Support Service can assist you and your business further, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Lyndsay Edgington
Volunteer at STAMMA | + posts

Lyndsay works as a volunteer for, the leading charity for people who stammer in the UK. Stamma's Employment Support Service works with individuals who stammer, offering them support and guidance from interviews to on the job advice. The service also works with employers and organisations relating to stammering and employment.