Neurodiversity Celebration Week 2024

Stephanie Thomas

Written By Stephanie Thomas

19th March 2024

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Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Between 18th – 24th March we are celebrating different minds for Neurodiversity Celebration Week.

The initiative advocates for the acceptance and celebration of neurodiversity. This includes creating inclusive environments where everyone feels welcome and supported.

In order to champion inclusion for neurodiverse people, in this blog, we take a look at what neurodiversity is, what workplaces can be like if you are neurodivergent, and we’ve put together five strategies that organisations can adopt to support neurodiverse employees.

What does it mean if someone is neurodivergent?

Neurodiversity is a term used to explain the wide range of normal in how people’s brains work and celebrates the unique differences in individual’s cognitive processes and behavioural traits. It acknowledges that not everyone’s brain functions in the same way.

While neurodiversity encompasses the diversity of all people, it’s often discussed in the context of conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurological variations.

In the UK alone, it’s estimated that around 1 in 7 people have some form of neuro-difference, making it a very common human experience. Yet the workplace is often designed for neurotypical people, leading to challenges for neurodiverse people who may not have their needs accommodated.

Therefore, it’s crucial for employers to recognise this and ensure there is a culture of inclusion and support for all employees, including those who are neurodiverse.

What is it like being neurodivergent in the workplace?

By having a work environment not set up for neurodiverse individuals, organisations risk missing out on a diverse talent pool and unique characteristics that could enhance business performance.

Some key attributes of neurodiverse people include:

  • Enhanced attention to detail Individuals may exhibit a heightened ability to focus on specific details or tasks, allowing for thorough examination and analysis. However, some neurodiverse people may exhibit an impaired working memory, which could make it difficult them to follow instructions or remember some key background information.
  • Heightened sensory awareness Some may possess a keen sensitivity to their surroundings, enabling them to notice subtleties that others might overlook, contributing to a rich and nuanced understanding of their environment. However, some people on the Autism spectrum have increased sensitivities to light, noise, smells and touch which makes working in an open plan environment, as an example, difficult for them.
  • Immersive engagement Some people have the capacity to deeply engage with tasks or topics of interest, demonstrating an intense level of concentration and dedication. For some individuals with ADHD this can mean they struggle with focus or become focused completely on a topic to the exclusion of all else – this can mean forgetting to eat and drink.
  • Honest communication Some neurodiverse people may approach communication with authenticity and directness, valuing straightforwardness over social niceties, leading to clear and meaningful interactions. However, for some people, they may struggle with the social ‘norms’ such as small talk and find it confusing, pointless or even stressful.
  • Diverse learning preferences Individuals may benefit from a variety of learning formats and approaches, allowing for a more inclusive and adaptable educational experience that accommodates different cognitive styles and preferences. Organisations need to ensure they have flexibility in the way they present information to neurodiverse individuals to ensure the format is best suited to their way of working.

Five ways to support neurodivergent people in the workplace

1. Prioritise an inclusive hiring process.

To attract a diverse range of applicants, it’s crucial to establish an inclusive hiring process and work environment that respects and accommodates the differences neurodiverse people have. Demonstrating the company’s dedication to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) initiatives in job postings, website content, and social media channels can attract talent from various backgrounds. Employers should also regularly assess their hiring procedures to eliminate bias and focus on relevant skills and competencies.

Some neurodivergent individuals may struggle during traditional interviews due to behaviours like avoiding eye contact or deviating from questions. Therefore, it’s beneficial to consider flexible recruitment methods, such as allowing candidates to spend time in the potential workplace perhaps as a trial in the role setting. Providing accommodations during interviews, such as offering additional time or support, reflects an inclusive culture and demonstrates attentiveness to individual needs.

2. Set neurodiverse people up for success.

Providing support from the outset is crucial to help neurodiverse employees feel welcomed and valued. Personalised onboarding processes that consider individual needs, such as introducing Personal Passports to capture specific requirements, can help employees feel supported from day one. Regular check-ins and adjustments to accommodate evolving needs are also essential.

Managing a team compassionately involves asking the right questions – ‘what is the best way for me to support you?’. This encourages open communication and ensures there is support for the person’s unique needs. Consider that neurodiverse people may require structure and routine and advanced warning of any changes. Additionally, it’s crucial to also recognise that needs may change over time. Regularly assessing employee satisfaction and adjusting support measures accordingly helps maintain engagement and ensures ongoing fulfilment of needs.

3. Promote an inclusive culture 

Invest in training and resources that promote inclusion and raise awareness about neurodiversity. By establishing a culture of acceptance and understanding, organisations can create a more welcoming and positive environment for neurodiverse individuals. Providing ongoing diversity and inclusion training for all employees can help debunk misconceptions and encourage open dialogue.

4. Create a comfortable and productive work environment.

Regular communication with employees about their needs and preferences is a great way to support the entire workforce, not just neurodiverse employees.

Accommodations that support employees may include minimising distractions, providing quiet spaces to work, establishing routines, and offering flexibility in work arrangements.

Tailoring these reasonable adustments to individual preferences and regularly evaluating their effectiveness is key. Physical adaptations to consider include things like noise cancelling headphones, tinted screens, or making it standard practice to provide transcripts or subtitles on things like team meetings.

5. Ensure legal compliance

Although neurodiversity may not always be physically apparent, it can still qualify under the Equality Act 2010 if it significantly and persistently impacts an individual’s ability to carry out daily activities.

Once this threshold is met, individuals with neurodiverse conditions are entitled to protection under the Equality Act, safeguarding them against discrimination because of their neurodiversity.

It is important to ensure HR policies are modernised, accessible and easily understood by neurodivergent employees, should they need to access them.

Organisations should also have the means to capture data which relates to issues that are raised relating to neurodiversity, as this can highlight areas where further training, such as disability awareness training, is required.

Employers have a legal obligation to actively explore and implement reasonable adjustments. Determining what constitutes ‘reasonable’ adjustments varies depending on the individual and should involve discussions with the affected individual and professional medical advice, such as from their GP or Occupational Health services.

Championing inclusivity

By embracing neurodiversity in the workplace and implementing these strategies, organisations can create an environment where all employees feel valued and supported. Not only does this benefit individual employees, but it also contributes to the overall success and resilience of the organisation.

To find out more on how to create a inclusive workplace to attract, develop and retain a diverse workforce, view our HR consultancy services or get in touch with our HR solutions Manager.

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