There is a growing awareness of the benefits a neurodiverse workforce can bring to organisations.
The competitive edge it can offer has been well documented, with Siemens reporting a 50% increase in productivity.
However, there has been little research into the lived experiences of neurodivergent employees.
As more employers look to nurture a neurodiverse workforce, more education is needed on the strengths of neurodivergent talent and the challenges, so businesses can effectively build an inclusive, productive workforce.
Diverse thinking is often after all, progressive thinking.
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term for several neurodevelopmental areas including dyslexia, attention deficiency hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).
Approximately one in seven people in the UK is regarded as neurodivergent. However, many people who are neurodivergent may not have a formal diagnosis.
Some may be pleased to receive a diagnosis to reframe their own life story and feeling ‘different’ while others don’t consider themselves neurodivergent at all.
Alternatively, for some, seeking a diagnosis can require addressing feelings of stigma, both real and perceived.
Even though characteristics can be grouped, there can be crossover or very little impact.
This highlights the importance of moving away from simplistically grouping people as either neurodivergent or neurotypical to avoid stereotyping or applying one-size fits all approaches to supporting neurodiversity in the workplace.
Supporting a neurodiverse team
Employing and embracing a neurodiverse workforce requires a shift of perspective from a world historically built for neurotypical individuals.
Businesses should provide education and training to empower managers and employees to provide the right support to colleagues, spot potential barriers and break down stigma and preconceptions.
A workplace assessment by an experienced independent assessor can help identify needs and reasonable adjustments to improve working life.
Such adjustments may include a quiet room that all employees find beneficial, screen filters to aid reading and text distortion, adjustable lighting or options to work in less busy areas or snugs.
Offering flexible hours could be useful for those who find rush hour crowds overwhelming while the introduction of a neurodiversity champion can assist with onboarding and beyond.
Providing structured and frequent feedback and check-ins should increase communication channels to ensure employees feel fully supported. The smallest adjustments can make a world of difference.
Someone with ASD may have difficulty with understanding unspoken office rules or politics and assume a literal stance, whereas an individual with ADHD may become time ‘blind’ while working on a project.
Being conscious to these differences and providing employees with information needed, such as how long a task should take, can help employees thrive.
Running short coaching courses can also provide positive coping strategies.
These sessions could share tools that will help employees reach their potential, such as mind mapping techniques, software that can aid concentration or the benefits noise cancelling headphones can bring.
Demands on neurodivergent people
The impact of trying to fit into societal norms while not having their own needs met, can be stressful and tiring for those with neurodivergences.
A Willis Towers Watson study found 70% of neurodivergent employees experience mental health issues, and 50% reported feeling burnt out at work, compared to just 38% of neurotypical employees.
It is therefore important for employers to be aware of the increased prevalence of burnout, anxiety and depression and ensure mental health support is signposted and available to all.
Employing and embracing a neurodiverse workforce brings many benefits but requires a shift of perspective from a world historically built for neurotypical individuals.
Often systems fail to acknowledge that many policies and practices have been designed for one type of brain and thinking.
As corporates look to increase neurodiversity, there is a need for expert education and training to ensure they have the right policies in place to empower colleagues to thrive.