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Making neurodiverse inclusive workplaces

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At least 1 in 7 people are neurodiverse, so its highly likely there are employees in your organisation who are neurodiverse. Neurodiversity has been in the spotlight frequently over the last few years as we all begin to understand and appreciate that not everyone’s brain functions the same and this can make it tough for neurodiverse employees to feel themselves in the workplace or even enter jobs in the first place. 


What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the idea that everyone’s brain functions differently and therefore we all experience the world differently. As science has advanced we now know that some of these can be classified into certain conditions for example Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia or Dyspraxia.


The value of neurodiverse employees 

Just because a person is neurodiverse doesn’t mean that they don’t have valuable skills to offer, or that there is no place for them in the workplace.

Often neurodiverse people can bring a different way of thinking to your business which can only be a good thing. Some other attributes can include:

  • Pattern-spotting 
  • Creativity
  • Hyperfocus and high levels of concentration
  • Attention to detail
  • Lateral thinking
  • Reliability 
  • Excellent memory and ability to retain a large amount of facts


How employers can support neurodiverse employees

1.     Buy in from the top

2.     Adjust your recruitment processes

3.     Make reasonable adjustments

4.     Adapt communication styles

5.     Utilise technology

6.     Build a culture of inclusivity

7.     Patience & empathy!


Buy in from the top

A recent CIPD survey found that 52% of neurodiverse people don’t feel their organisation is open or supportive enough to discuss neurodiversity. 

The fact is that many people still don’t fully understand neurodivergent conditions or how it impacts day-to-day work and working relationships, so training is vital. Getting everyone in your organisation, including owners and management to have a better understanding of what it means to be neurodiverse, why a neurodiverse team is beneficial and what you can do to make people’s lives at work easier is a no brainer. 


Adjust your recruitment process

Organisations need to reframe their thinking when it comes to what a ‘good candidate’ is. Neurodiverse employees have plenty to offer employers, however, they often find barriers to entering work because they perhaps don’t interview well or don’t apply for roles in the first place because they don’t possess all the skills in the job description. 

Whilst most people get nervous during interviews, it can be even more stressful for neurodivergent people. They may find it difficult meeting new people and being in an intense 1-2-1 situation with someone they don’t know, they may feel uncomfortable making eye-contact and are able to talk more freely when they aren’t making eye-contact and physical contact may also be uncomfortable for them such as a handshake.

Businesses can adjust their hiring processes in many ways. EY send interview questions around in advance, so it gives all candidates not just neurodiverse a chance to prepare and get the best out of people who aren’t overwhelmed or stressed during an interview. Meanwhile, other organisations encourage more people to apply for roles through the language in their job descriptions. 


Make reasonable adjustments for neurodiverse employees

Being neurodivergent can often amount to disability under the Equality Act - even if the person doesn’t consider themselves to be disabled, which is one reason why it’s important for employers to better understand neurodiverse conditions. Not only to help employees succeed at work but to also avoid claims of discrimination.

Employers should understand that each individual’s different needs in relation to their condition and make reasonable adjustments to support them. Sometimes reasonable adjustments could be something as simple as providing additional IT software or adjusting their working environment. For example, some neurodiverse conditions mean they are easily distracted or have high levels of social anxiety, in which case providing noise cancelling headphones or sound-proof booths for quiet work could be an option, along with work from home options on days when you know there may be too much going on in the office. 

If you don’t feel confident making reasonable adjustments, an occupational health assessment can be hugely beneficial to employers to better understand what can be done to support each individual.



Adapt communication styles

Communication is key and certain neurodiverse conditions mean that communication styles will need to be adjusted. Employees with ADHD may struggle to take in lots of information at once, so this should be broken down into smaller chunks whilst autistic employees may struggle to understand figurative speech so you will need communicate clearly and in a concise way – the same goes for delegating tasks. 

Can you follow up verbal communication with written instructions or diagrams to help provide clarity.


Utilise technology

Technology can help certain neurodivergent employees carry out their role. For example, if they have trouble with coordination which may make using a mouse or keyboard challenging, could you use dictation tools or speech to text software? 


Build a culture of inclusivity

Sadly, many neurodiverse people have had unpleasant or negative experiences at work in relation to their neurodiversity. 1 in 5 neurodiverse employees have experienced harassment or bullying at work because of their neurodivergence whilst 33% said their experience at work had affected their mental health.

Teams need to work hard to create a safe space for everyone at work and this starts with recognising the unique skills neurodiverse people bring to the team and understanding the different neurodiverse conditions. Businesses can offer neurodiverse training sessions to help everyone improve their understanding and be empathetic to the challenges neurodiverse employees face and the adjustments that can be made to help promote a positive work environment. 

Always get approval from the neurodiverse person in question before sharing their neurodivergence with anyone wider, as they may not want their teammates to know due to previous experiences.


Patience & empathy

Not all neurodiverse people are the same! Neurodiversity takes many shapes and sizes so organisations, managers and teams need to take the time to get to know individuals to better understand how their neurodiversity affects them and their performance. 

Teams need to be empathetic and have patience with each other. Managers in particular need to be patient and approachable, so that anyone not just neurodivergent individuals feel they can speak to their line manager about issues they face with confidence. 

We won’t always get it right and conditions change over time, so it’s vital to check in with neurodiverse employees regularly to see if the adjustments in place are working for them or if they need additional support.