Neurodiversity is the idea that there are natural variations in the way that people think and process information. Today, those neurological differences are given labels such as autism spectrum conditions, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia.

Did you know that at least one in ten working-age adults are neurodivergent in some way?

Neurodiversity has always been with us. Individuals who think differently often have pronounced strengths that can bring real value to the workplace. Unfortunately, most workplaces and working practices are not designed to be inclusive of these natural variations. Intended or otherwise, this form of exclusion can create barriers, which in turn can lead to discrimination, pressure, and underperformance.

MythBusters – moving beyond stereotypes

New research by Bupa UK has revealed there is a greater need for neurodiversity awareness in the workplace, after more people than ever turned to Google for support.

Both employees and employers have turned to Google over the last 12 months to understand more about how to support neurodivergent employees, with figures showing:

  • A 120% increase in Google searches for ‘neurodiversity at work’.
  • A 91% increase in Google searches for ‘ADHD workplace’.
  • An 86% increase in Google searches for ‘autism workplace’.

Some of the common neurodiversity misconceptions are:

  • Neurodiversity only includes autism.
  • Neurodivergent individuals are similar.
  • Neurodivergent employees are unable to succeed in the workplace.

Many people feel they have a certain level of understanding of neurodiversity. Unfortunately, these views are often based on outdated beliefs or stereotypes. When businesses rely on stereotypes, this can be profoundly damaging for individuals. It can also represent unlawful conduct and disability discrimination.

Neurodiversity and the Law

Not all neurodivergent workers think of themselves as being disabled (physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities). It is likely, however, that they will satisfy the legal definition of disability. Meeting the legal definition affords neurodivergent workers important rights and protections at work.

How to create a neuro-inclusive workplace

While there’s still work to be done, there are many steps you can take to create a safer, more inclusive workplace:

Offer flexibility: A flexible work environment reduces stress levels for neurotypical employees and helps neurodiverse individuals to navigate work better. For example, many neurodiverse people experience sensory sensitivities so they may prefer to work from home to avoid noise, distractions, or social anxiety. 

By offering flexibility, you can allow them to choose the work setting that suits their sensory needs, communication style, and work habits. Additionally, your neurodiverse employees may need more flexibility in their work schedules due to healthcare needs or fluctuating energy levels. Letting your employees complete their work at the times when they’re most productive helps them produce better results, prioritise their mental health, and avoid burnout.

Let people communicate how they want to: Flexibility isn’t just about offering remote work options. It’s also about allowing people to communicate in the way they do best. This creates a more inclusive environment and leads to higher levels of productivity. 

Some neurodivergent people may prefer written communication over verbal, or vice versa. While others may need more time to process information or respond to questions.

By allowing your employees to communicate how they want, whether it’s through email, video calls, phone calls, or face-to-face meetings, you can help them feel more valued and supported. You’ll also make it easier for them to contribute more of their unique skills and perspectives, and not feel stressed while doing so. 

Offer understanding and support: Offering adjustments and being supportive of your neurodiverse employees is key to enhancing their well-being and making your Company a great place to work. There are many ways to do this: 

  • Create transparent and fair recruitment and onboarding programs that not only welcome neurodiverse professionals, but also encourage them to be themselves.
  • Educate managers and employees alike on neurodiversity, unconscious biases, personal work styles, and how to provide feedback.
  • Include mental health support, resources, and education as part of your benefits package.
  • Provide various modes of learning and training, such as visual aids, audio recordings, written materials, or hands-on demonstrations.
  • Offer adjustments in the work environment like quiet spaces, assistive technology, noise-cancelling headphones, or ergonomic furniture.

Create an affinity group: An affinity group is a space where people with similar goals and identities can connect, offer support, and voice any concerns. It creates a welcoming and safe environment that helps people feel heard while giving you and your leadership team a way to receive feedback on how Company policies are going in practice. 

Additionally, it gives neurodivergent employees the chance to share their experiences with their colleagues candidly, without a need to “mask” or put on an act to be socially accepted. By setting up an affinity group, you can make it easier for people to be themselves and support each other. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Our understanding of other people’s experiences can only take us so far. To build a truly inclusive workplace, ask your employees directly about what they struggle with and what they need to be their best selves at work. 

  • Do they use any helpful hacks in their lives outside of work that can be adapted to the work environment?
  • Did they have access to a certain adjustment in a previous workplace that they don’t have in your Company?
  • What can you do to support them?

By having a constructive, open dialogue with your employees and building a culture of open feedback, you can make changes that improve employees’ lives. And if you need more help, get in touch!

How Hallidays HR can help:

If you would like to discuss any of the above in more detail, then please do not hesitate to contact us on 0161 476 8276 or email hr@hallidayshr.co.uk. And of course, visit our LinkedIn page.