Why neurodiversity support in the workplace should be high on your workplace agenda

Neurodiversity refers to the different ways that we perceive and interact with the world. This article will take you through what neurodiversity means, why you should be providing workplace support, and how your company can benefit from having a neurodiverse workforce.

min read

Neurodiversity refers to the different ways that we perceive and interact with the world. No two people will see things the same way, as we're influenced by a mix of our genetics, upbringing, and life circumstances. Creating a workplace that is inclusive and supportive of different ways of thinking is beneficial not only for those people who don’t process information in the “typical” way, but also for our workplaces, improving creativity and innovation.

What do we mean by neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is about celebrating neurological differences. Research has found that up to 20% of the population in the UK are neurodivergent. Neurodivergent people include those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia (also known as developmental co-ordination disorder) and dyscalculia.

There are other examples of how our brains process information differently which are sometimes considered to fall under the neurodiversity umbrella, like cognitive functioning difficulties or executive dysfunction, dysgraphia, stammering, and Tourette’s syndrome.

These conditions often occur together and many of their symptoms overlap.

Neurodiverse people can offer unique perspectives and enhance teams. Just like a neurotypical person will bring their own skill sets to work, there can be many advantages of neurodiversity. Offering support for neurodiversity in the workplace will allow these individuals to shine, and create the best possible work environment for all of your employees.

How can neurodiversity impact someone at work?

Neurodivergent people can face significant barriers to employment, before they can even start work or enter the workforce. This can be a result of the general stigma that they face in day-to-day life, or from challenges posed by hiring processes, such as social and communication barriers or difficulty accessing online systems for applying for jobs.

Once in the workforce, each condition will present its own difficulties. For example, people with autism spectrum disorder may find it hard to communicate and interact with colleagues or might find bright lighting or loud noises overstimulating. People with dyscalculia may have trouble understanding or working with numbers.

> According to the National Autistic Society, 45% of neurodivergent people have lost or left their job because of challenges due to being misunderstood.

> 65% of neurodivergent employees fear discrimination from management

A more general issue is that many neurodivergent people will try to hide their differences or modify their behaviour so that they “fit in” better with colleagues.

This coping mechanism can result in stress, depression and fatigue, so if it’s something you’re affected by, don’t suffer in silence – contact your GP or another healthcare professional for help. If you’re a team manager or an HR leader, these coping mechanisms are something to be aware of when thinking about supporting employees through these challenges.

How can neurodiversity be supported in the workplace?

To create an inclusive workplace, it's essential to make reasonable adjustments throughout the hiring process and beyond to accommodate neurodiverse talent. This not only supports the mental health and wellbeing of neurodivergent individuals but also cultivates an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and supported.

By understanding the unique challenges that neurodiverse conditions may present in the workplace, employers can take proactive steps to create a supportive environment for a neurodiverse workforce. From providing clear communication styles to offering flexible work arrangements and implementing assistive technologies, these adjustments can make a big difference in promoting diversity, creativity, and innovation within the organisation.

1. Inclusive recruitment

This is the first step in creating a neurodiverse workplace. For example, when employment opportunities arise, explicitly expressing that neurodiverse candidates are welcome to apply and offering neurodivergent applicants the possibility of adjusting the interview process.

It may be necessary to find an altogether different way to assess applicants who are neurodivergent, if that’s what will work best for them.

It's equally important to look into your onboarding process once someone has been hired, to make sure neurodiverse individuals have an equal chance at success when joining the company.

2. Training and educating employees

The next step is improving understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace, by starting the neurodiversity conversation, training staff and appointing neurodiversity champions. If you’re neurodivergent yourself, you might consider sharing your story with others around you – even if you’re not an expert on the topic!

Managers should have an understanding of neurodiversity in general, but also of specific conditions, so that they can protect the psychological safety of their neurodiverse colleagues and make sure that everyone is happy and feeling supported. Being able to read body language and understand eye contact will allow managers to facilitate better communication with their employees.

Lots of neurodivergent people see their neurodivergence as a fundamental part of themselves, so using positive language is crucial. Remember you can just ask somebody how they like to be described.

3. Workplace adjustments to help neurodivergent employees

Workplaces can also implement small adjustments to help neurodiverse people. These will vary according to each person’s requirements, so it's important to assess this on a case-by-case basis, based on individual needs.

Examples include providing flexible work patterns (like allowing people to take extra breaks, work shifts, or specific hours), providing assistive technology such as speech-to-text software, and offering quiet office spaces and noise-cancelling headphones.

4. Clear communication styles

Some ways that you can improve communication for neurodiverse employees include using concrete language (rather than figurative language or idioms), breaking down complex information, and providing visual aids like diagrams or illustrations. More generally, introducing clearer styles of communication (both written and verbal), clarifying workplace guidelines, and giving advance notice about plan changes can be helpful not just for neurodiverse employees, but for everybody!

Why should companies be prioritising support for neurodiversity?

As well as creating an inclusive and supportive environment for neurotypical employees and neurodivergent individuals alike, there are some business advantages to neurodiversity in the workplace too.

Many managers and HR professionals are already aware of the benefits that come from having a diverse team, which includes having employees with varied backgrounds, expertise, gender, culture, and other unique qualities. The same goes for neurodiversity.

Research consistently demonstrates that companies with inclusive cultures and diverse teams have a competitive edge, and outperform their competitors. By embracing a neurodivergent team, your company can unlock a wealth of perspectives, experiences, and ideas that will lead to more creativity and innovation. Creating an inclusive environment where neurodiverse individuals feel valued and respected enhances employee satisfaction and happiness at work, leading to higher retention rates and increased productivity.

Additionally, prioritising neurodiversity makes your company more attractive to top talent, especially among younger generations who prioritise diversity and inclusion in the workplace. By encouraging neurodiversity inclusion, your company not only contributes to a fairer society but also positions itself for long-term success and growth.

If you're a manager and interested in supporting neurodiversity at your company, be sure to read through HR guide for some impactful, practical steps you can take. If you're interested in supporting neurodiversity within your company, or want to discover how Fertifa can help you meet your HR goals, please don’t hesitate to get in touch 💜