Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Jenny Jones

26th October 2023

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‘Neurodiversity’, a term used to describe the range of unique differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits. Being neurodivergent means having a brain that works differently from the average or ‘neurotypical’ brain. The word neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurological or developmental conditionals such as, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurological variations. It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people in the UK have some kind of neuro difference.

Those who are neurodivergent often have unique skills and abilities that can bring great value to the workplace; however, they may also face challenges in navigating traditional work environments that are not designed to accommodate their needs. As an employer, it’s essential to create a culture of inclusion and support for all employees, including those who are neurodiverse.

Check out these 5 tips on how organisations can support neurodiverse employees, create a more inclusive workplace, and benefit from the unique perspectives and skills neurodiverse colleagues bring to the table.

Start at the beginning, with inclusive recruitment and onboarding processes

Attracting neurodiverse applicants requires an inclusive hiring process and workplace environment that values diversity and promotes accommodations for individuals with different neurological profiles. Highlighting your company’s commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) initiatives in job postings and on your website and social channels will help to attract talent from a diverse pool. The use of language in job ads and recruitment processes is also important so employers should regularly review their hiring processes to ensure they eliminate bias and are focussed on the skills and competencies required for the role.

Be mindful that some neurodivergent individuals may not interview well if they avoid eye contact or stray away from the questions being asked so think about how flexible you can be in your recruitment processes and whether there are alternatives or additional methods to asses someone’s suitability rather than a formal interview consider for example, can the candidate have a go and spend time at the potential workplace instead?

Providing accommodations during the interview process will demonstrate that you are attentive to the needs of individuals. Asking applicants whether they need any specific accommodations for interviews and providing more time and support where needed communicates an inclusive and equitable culture.

Then, once a new recruit joins the business, providing support from the outset is essential to help neurodiverse employees feel welcomed and valued in their role. When onboarding, it’s important for employers to keep in mind that every individual’s needs may vary. Introducing Personal Passports to confidentially capture information about any additional requirements an applicant may have helps to ensure line managers are well informed and can support their employees in the right way from day one, helping to improve opportunities for success.

It’s also important to be mindful that needs may evolve over time, so to maintain employee engagement it’s important to continue to monitor measures of equity and ask employees at regular intervals whether their needs are continuing to be met.

Use positive, inclusive language and drive initiatives that help raise awareness and promote inclusion.

Investing in training and providing access to resources that promote inclusion helps to create a positive and welcoming workplace culture that celebrates diversity and empowers all employees to bring their unique perspectives and talents to the team.

By investing in ongoing diversity and inclusion training for all employees, you can help to raise awareness and encourage ongoing dialogue about these important issues, making conversations about neurodiversity less taboo. It will also help clear up any potential misconceptions for example, that neurodiversity isn’t an illness or a single condition as well as promoting the use of positive language for example, never referring to neurodiverse colleagues as ‘suffering’ from something or having learning difficulties.

It’s important to remember that every employee is an important and valued member of the organisation, and that creating a truly inclusive workplace requires ongoing effort and commitment from everyone. Research shows that businesses with more diverse workforces are better performing and better able to meet the needs of our diverse society, so creating equity for people with neurodiversity is essential. By working together to promote and build an inclusive culture, you can build a stronger and more resilient workforce that is better equipped to tackle the challenges of today’s rapidly changing business landscape and help aid managers to assign tasks appropriately, meeting individual needs and playing to everyone’s strengths.

Create accommodations in the workplace.

A comfortable and productive workplace environment encourages greater productivity and engagement, so firstly it’s important to regularly communicate with neurodiverse colleagues about their needs and preferences. Ask the questions; How can we help you? What do you need in the workplace? However, you need to also be mindful that the individual may have just been diagnosed or they may be going through a diagnostic process on this journey by themselves and therefore at this stage may not know the answers.

As an organisation you will need to think about the physical environment when supporting neurodivergent colleagues. Desk assessments may help you identify whether computer screens are the right brightness level and whether they have the right equipment. To assist you may wish to explore Access to Work and Occupational Health for guidance, however, be mindful that they may both also have challenges regarding what the workplace adjustments should look like or provide suggestions that don’t suit everyone.

Whatever adjustments that are put in place organisations need to have an understanding of the environmental impact on those individuals and how that impacts their performance and ability. Adjustments may involve minimising distractions to promote focus, providing quiet spaces to work, establishing daily routines, allocating sufficient time for tasks, and sharing information in advance of meetings to allow colleagues to prepare adequately. Once it is understood what is needed and how you can support a person’s wellbeing and productivity at work, the better it will be not only for that individual but the organisation as well.

Be aware of how you communicate and don’t be afraid.

There is a real need to have conversations and not to be fearful of starting those conversations. It is only by having these conversations you can get to the point whereby you gain a real understanding of how to support the individual.

Creating a culture of inclusion involves more than just encouraging managers and employees to make reasonable accommodations. It’s crucial to help all of your employees understand neurodiversity. This includes promotion and awareness of communication styles, including the avoidance of jokes, sarcasm, or ambiguous statements and instead, utilising clear, direct communication which says exactly what you mean. Even if certain aspects of communication seem obvious to neurotypical employees, providing guidance on communication etiquette is essential to ensure that all individuals in the workforce are well informed.

Be aware of legal obligations.

Organisations need to adhere to legal obligations to ensure that neurodivergent employees are not discriminated against. Implementing specific measures, such as conducting disability awareness training for all employees to promote a better understanding of neurodiversity, providing assistive technology and software to facilitate communication and task completion, offering flexible work arrangements, and involving neurodivergent employees in decision-making processes will all help to create more equitable working environments.

Appointing a Diversity and Inclusion officer to oversee the implementation of strategies can ensure the correct knowledge and expertise is applied to people strategies to help create psychologically safe environments. Regular reviews and evaluations of the effectiveness of these strategies can help to identify areas that require improvement and ensure that neurodivergent employees are fully supported in the workplace.

You could also consider creating a workplace policy for neurodiversity to help draw up a framework for managers and employees to follow and to signpost useful resources or support networks.

Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace is not only a matter of legal compliance but also a strategic business decision as creating an inclusive culture where everyone can contribute their best benefits the organisation as a whole. Employers can support their neurodiverse employees by providing support from the start, promoting positive language and awareness, creating accommodations, being patient and aware of communication styles, and fulfilling legal obligations. HR consultancy and policy review can help organisations in implementing these strategies effectively and ensuring that their workforce is diverse, supported, and empowered to achieve its full potential.

For more information on how we support creating equitable working environments that help to attract, develop and retain a diverse workforce, visit our ED&I Consultancy page, or get in touch with our HR solutions Manager.

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