Supporting Neurodiversity in the workplace – What can you do?
What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiverse [“ND”] and neurodiversity refer to the infinite variation in cognitive functioning that can lead to differences in thinking, attention and memory.
‘We need to admit that there is no standard brain,’
- Thomas Armstrong in his pivotal work The Power of Neurodiversity.
The reality of treatment towards Neurodiversity…
People work, and function at their best ability in different ways. People with dyslexia, ADHD, autism (those who are Neurodiverse) often struggle in the workplace to perform to their best ability.
A large majority of people do not disclose a neurodiverse condition to their employer or indeed are undiagnosed so unaware for many years. It’s common for adult diagnosis for many ND conditions. Figures vary from sector to sector. In the tech industry non-disclosure is 40%. Others report figures as high as 73%. The fact that so few employers know how many ND individuals are in their organisation is a concern. It makes it harder to provide appropriate help and support.
A lack of support could increase the levels of stress and frustration among individuals who feel they are stuck with no choice but to accept the environment they work in and have to adapt themselves with little support or awareness that they are suffering, or that they feel at a disadvantage.
Why is it important?
‘While neurodivergent people may face their own, specific challenges in the workplace environment, or with particular tasks, they can bring unique and valuable strengths to their work.’
Given the overall prevalence of neurodivergent people, there are clear risks of not taking steps to ensure your workplace is truly diverse and inclusive.
You should think about what it will cost your business when you don’t get most out of your employees in terms of productivity because they are unsupported or can’t show up to work as their true self, or when you lose talent to more diverse and inclusive employers?
You could miss out on the ‘diversity of thought’ that neurodiversity can deliver, and that other firms are setting themselves up to benefit from. This could even affect you in terms of your customers and loss of cost in terms of lost revenue, and even brand reputation.
You should also be aware that a person’s neurodivergence may be regarded as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
The Equality Act defines disability as a ‘physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.
Employers are obliged, under the Equality Act 2010, to ‘make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, aren’t substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs’. This means employers need to take consideration of reasonable adjustments seriously.
Neurodivergent people will have transitioned to home working differently to Neurotypical employees, checking in on each employee to assess their needs is so important.
The full benefits of neurodiversity inclusion are still being explored and understood, but it’s increasingly clear that this can have benefits both internal and external. One clear advantage is in attracting new talent – a talent that has been substantially overlooked as well as thinking differently to the rest of the workforce giving a completely different perspective.
How can you be more supportive of your neurodiversity employees and colleagues?
‘A lack of awareness and understanding has led to hiring processes, management practices and workspaces being designed only with neurotypicals in mind.’
- Break down the stigma; you can help more people where talking about being neurodiverse is accepted at work. work towards breaking the stigma and normalising the conversation.
- Think holistically; this change can benefit the whole organisation, not just the individual.
- Talking is contagious; organisations that talk about neurodiversity via awareness sessions and staff training not only raise general understanding, they create an environment that better enables individuals to disclose a condition.
- Avoid ring-fencing; create environments where all staff can flourish.
- One size never fits all; organisations need to be flexible – in terms of workspace, conditions, communication, management and more – in responding to individual needs.
- Keep talking; maintain regular dialogue across each stage of the journey to be more inclusive, tailor to the needs of the individual and implement necessary changes.
- Resist imposing solutions; ask your own staff for ideas and adjust based on those. It’s important not to generalise. Change or support designed by staff working together will be more successful.
- Deliver neurodiversity awareness education to all employees: initiate a clear and open strategy to increase understanding by taking neurodiversity training and awareness company-wide, so individuals can understand their colleagues’ needs but also articulate their own.
- Foster a safe, understanding environment: this can help create an environment open to disclosure.
- Create a neurodiversity policy or make neurodiversity a distinct part of your current inclusion policy: you could even add this to your emails or send this out to the whole organisation to make raise awareness and openness for talking.
- Create an action plan for neurodiversity inclusion: alongside offering mentors within the team, consider nominating or training a ‘point person’ or ‘neurodiversity patron’ from senior leadership to sit on a neurodiversity board. If you have a helpline/employee wellbeing service, ensure the service has had ND training.
Diversify the way you advertise – receive applications and assess applicants so opportunities are accessible to everyone.
- Look beyond ads on text-heavy sites like Twitter and LinkedIn. Use visual platforms like Instagram too.
- Promote yourself as a neurodiversity inclusive employer: and then make sure your actions back that up.
- Rework job descriptions: split job skills into necessary and desirable. Keep the format clear and concise. Remove unnecessary wordiness because asking overcomplicated questions can lead to working memory overload. Remove references to any specific cultural fit of the company.
Diversify your assessment process:
- Offer flexible application formats be open to alternative application processes (e.g. video or artwork). If you use an online form, ensure it can be spell-checked and grammar checked.
- Carefully consider the use of psychometric tests: they can ‘disable’ those with neurodiversity conditions.
- Revise candidate selection: use a diverse panel to avoid unconscious bias creeping into the selection. Even better, consider removing details like name, age and gender from the applications the panel see as they can all feed bias.
- Offer interview alternatives: consider whether a trial, a presentation or short placement would deliver better results than an interview. Ask the individual what would help them deliver their best self.
- Offer interview alternatives: consider whether a trial, a presentation or short placement would deliver better results than an interview. Ask the individual what would help them deliver their best.
- Keep improving gather feedback on the changes you make and explore alternative processes for continual improvement.
Tips for neurodivergent employees:
Where you work has a huge part to play in your well-being, ability to concentrate and overall performance. Here are some tips to help you create a more productive environment…
- Clear out. Choose and area of the house that you can clear of clutter as much as possible. Your brain will be more focused. The simpler your view, the more you’ll be able to stay on task.
- Try working with the noise in the background. Some people find small noises really distracting so providing some white noise can help to disguise infrequent sounds and aid concentration.
- Headphones and earplugs. A great way to control auditory input.
- Open a window. Natural light is so much better for sleep patterns and energy levels.
- Move your body. Yoga and mindful classes are also great ways of neurologically resetting.
- Take breaks: using your favourite mug can be a lovely treat whilst working, schedule in coffee breaks with colleagues for 20 mins twice a day so you can engage with others.
- Be patient. We know that workplace arrangements can take some time before you know how you work at your best. Don’t beat yourself up if you, at first, can’t structure your day or struggle to concentrate. Be kind to yourself and try something different. We can adapt our environments to suit our heads, try to have an open mind.
Please note this blog is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. Please contact us if you have any questions on firstname.lastname@example.org