Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace

It is now estimated that at least 20% of the UK population is neurodiverse, however we know that there is a large number of people who await a formal diagnosis of a neurological condition.

Neurodiversity is defined by the Royal College of Nursing as “a term used to describe a range of neurological differences including: Dyslexia, Dyspraxia (also called Developmental Coordination Disorder, or DCD), Dyscalculia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC).”

What knowledge should Employers have about Neurodiversity?

 A basic understanding of Neurodiversity can allow to employers to bolster the workplace and ensure that neurodiverse employees reach their full potential in a supportive environment free of discrimination.

Given the rising diagnosis levels, it is important that workplaces understand their obligations in terms of neurodiversity and what can be done to support neurodiverse employees;

  • Legal Obligations

Many of your neurodivergent employees will be protected under the Equality Act 2010 which means that you have a legal obligation to ensure that they are not discriminated against and that reasonable adjustments are made in the workplace. All employees must be treated fairly when it comes to promotion, training, recognition and opportunities in the workplace.

  • Reaching Full Potential

When a workforce feels the ability to unmask and be their true, authentic selves, then they will thrive and develop in their careers. Employers should want their teams to feel comfortable to bring their full selves to work and they too can benefit from a happy, loyal workforce.

  • Culture

Workplaces should have an understanding and supporting culture that accepts people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. It is important that managers can harbour a culture where people are safe from bullying, judgement or confrontation, but also one where employees feel able to speak to their managers about issues they experience or how their condition might be impacting them at work.

  • Recruitment

All too often, capable neurodivergent individuals will get lost in the hiring process or feel unable to apply for certain jobs, excluding them from the workplace. It is estimated that 51% of workers on the autism spectrum have more skills than their job requires, demonstrating that many recruitment processes risk overlooking skilled employees who would deliver excellent work for the role advertised. Consider how your recruitment process can attract a more diverse group of individuals and also support anyone with more complex needs through the application and interview process.

  • Awareness Training

Understanding neurodiversity is the first step, so providing your managers or your entire workforce with some training can help them to understand neurodiversity, raise awareness and exchange ideas of how to manage and collaborate. There are many companies or charities who offer a webinar or information that can be shared with staff, or if you wanted to go one step further you could put on an in-person training session with a professional speaker on the topic.

  • Updating Your Policies and Procedures

From time to time your HR suite of documents will need reviewing or updating. It would be worthwhile making sure that all of your communications use positive and inclusive language. You may wish to include additional sections on neurodiversity in some of your office policies or handbooks given the rising awareness.

  • Offer Support

Each neurodiverse employee may have their own struggles or challenges which can impact on their mental health. Employers should ensure that they are signposting all employees to mental health support and have an open culture to talking about issues. Most employers will not have the specialist knowledge or tools to assist with every issue that crops up, but they must be able to point them in the best direction. Consider appointing a Mental Health first aider, if you don’t already have one or appointing mentors for your staff to give them a different avenue of communication.


What Can Employers do to Help Support Neurodivergent Workers?

It is important to realise that no two people are alike, and whilst the below ideas may be beneficial to some, they may not be appropriate in all circumstances and for everyone’s needs. Therefore, the below should be considered with a degree of flexibility;

  • Clear Communication

Everyone processes information differently, but those who have neurodiverse condition may be faced with challenges in the workplace due to the way in which training or communication is delivered. Try to keep emails and documents short, concise and use formatting that will help get your message across clearly. Consider different ways you can deliver information such as meetings, phone calls, Teams Calls, bulletins or the number of different software programmes that are now available.

  • Consider Your Interviews and Onboarding Process

Interviews typically tend to be lots of quickfire questions that require candidates to think on the spot. Whilst some of your more traditional interview questions can be prepared for in advance, it might be worth considering some different interview styles. You could ask candidates to prepare answers to questions before hand, giving them headspace to consider their responses or you could ask candidate to speak about themselves or talk you through their CV. Provide them with clear communication about how the interview or recruitment process will work, ideally giving timescales, details of who they will meet and what to expect. If you include tests or medical questionnaires as part of your recruitment process then you should ensure that these are inclusive too. The onboarding process usually involves lots of reading, paperwork, training and meeting of people which can be overwhelming for anyone, not just those who are neurodivergent. Consider how you can break this process down to make it more manageable. Make sure that your workplace desk assessment is inclusive so that you can quickly identify and rectify any issues right from the start of employment.

  • Be Flexible

Since the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdowns, many workplaces have adopted a more flexible working structure which can be useful but also challenging for different people. Consider how different employees will cope with flexible working structures. For example, someone with Tourette’s or tics may feel more comfortable working from home on days when their tics are particularly troublesome. However, someone with other conditions may rely on the structure and formalities of working from the same desk or workspace each day and hot-desking or working from home may prove very challenging to them.

  • Sensory Environment

Whilst some employees thrive in a little bit of chaos, indulging in chit-chat in an open plan office whilst listening to the radio in the background – this could be a nightmare for employees with acute sensory sensitivity. Often office lighting can be too bright or harsh, particularly if you have the fluorescent bulbs that also give off a sound. Try to provide natural light as much as possible or replace your bulbs for LED natural light panels. Noise is part and parcel of most workplaces, but you could consider having quiet areas such as on trains and in libraries for employees who need to focus. If quiet areas are not feasible then noise cancelling headphones could be an alternative.

  • Instructions and Directions

Employees with dyspraxia could benefit from instructions or manuals being available near photocopiers, devices and machinery. This is likely to be useful for all employees but think about the format that these take. Picture diagrams, laminated sheets etc. may be more practical.

  • Alternative Formats

Companies have a large suite of written materials for employees to read and be aware of. From your staff handbook, to all your policies and procedures and newsletters. Lengthy pages of text can be very difficult to read through for some people, so it might be worth considering if you can re-format these when you next review them. For example, some could be made into a video, an audio book, infographics or a PowerPoint presentation that many of your employees would find easier to digest.

Attracting & Recruiting Neurodiverse Staff

There are many reasons that workplaces may wish to increase the number of neurodivergent employees to improve their employee diversity. Often people with certain conditions are known for their struggles or limitations, however it is important to know both sides of the coin, as there are often strengths that neurodivergent people have which can be valuable assets in the workplace.

An example of this in shown through JPMorgan Chase who stated that “Our autistic employees achieve, on average, 48% to 140% more work than their typical colleagues, depending on the roles." Furthermore, SAP reports to have a 90% retention rate of hires on the autism spectrum because it creates a system of support around those employees through its Autism at Work programme. Meanwhile, governments, including the Australian Defence Department, are actively targeting neurodiverse talent, for example in roles linked to cybersecurity.

It is therefore clear that neurodiverse employees can be invaluable to a workforce, and an employer should ensure that job adverts and job descriptions are inclusive, clearly written and appealing for someone from all walks of life to ensure that this talent is recruited.

Employment Law Advice

If you are in need of further assistance with supporting neurodiversity in your workplace or require help with any other HR or employment law matters, then please get in touch with our friendly team of experts.

Whether you need some diversity, discrimination or management training for your team, a review of your contracts, policies and handbooks, or assistance with a dispute in the workplace, then our team can help you in a variety of ways suitable for your budget.

Please call 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online chat assistant at any time of day.

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