In the last in this series of ‘Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace’ blogs, we consider the issues around neurodiversity in the workplace, including the benefits to organisations of having a neurodiverse workforce; employers’ legal obligations towards neurodivergent staff; ways to make sure that recruitment processes are inclusive and other practical steps employers can take to support neurodivergent people to be comfortable and successful at work.
What is neurodiversity?
‘Neurodiversity’ relates to the concept that some individuals think and learn in a different way to those who are ‘neurotypical’ (ie those who interpret information in the way that is generally expected). Neurodivergence is commonly found in people who have been diagnosed with neurological conditions such as:
• attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
These neurological conditions are recognised as ‘spectrum conditions’ meaning that individuals will be affected depending on where they sit on the spectrum. So, for example, one employee with autism may be placed at a different point on the spectrum compared to another autistic employee and, as a result, their autism affects them differently.
For more information about specific forms of neurodivergence see the following resources:
- ADHD Foundation – Adults section
- British Dyslexic Association – Employer section
- Dyspraxia Foundation – Adults section
- National Autistic Society – Support for employers
- Tourettes Action – Employers section
- NHS website – search for the specific form of neurodivergence
Why should employers support neurodivergence in the workplace?
It’s important to remember that individuals may be neurodivergent even if they have not been diagnosed with a neurological condition. It is estimated that approximately 15% of the UK’s total population is neurodivergent, so most workplaces are already neurodiverse. It therefore makes sense for organisations to take steps that make their neurodivergent staff feel valued, part of the team and supported to contribute fully towards achieving the goals of the organisation.
As neurodivergent employees are classed as ‘disabled’ under the Equality Act 2010, employers also have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to address any substantial disadvantages the neurodivergent employee faces when compared to a non-disabled employee. Often small, simple changes to working arrangements or responsibilities will be all that are required. For example, allocating a work-space away from the noisier areas of the office, which may be distracting to some neurodivergent individuals, can be helpful. For the ACAS guide to adjustments that may be helpful for neurodivergent employees, click here.
In addition, failing to attract and support neurodivergent workers can be bad for business. It’s been shown that neurodiverse employees can bring a variety of benefits to workplaces including:
• higher levels of innovation
• bringing new perspectives to old problems
• creative thinking
• lateral thinking
• highly specialised skills
• analysing strategically.
Whilst it would be unhelpful to stereotype and oversimplify, there are some common strengths often associated with particular conditions. For example, people with autism tend to be logical and data-driven thinkers, who do not fall into confirmation biases readily; Dyslexics are often creative and good at identifying patterns and those with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) can be good at completing urgent, or physically demanding tasks, pushing on through set-backs and showing a passion for their work.
So, what can employers do to support neurodiversity in the workplace?
There are a range of practical steps that employers of all sizes can take to help attract, retain and support neurodiverse staff, which are summarised below. For our more detailed guide on supporting neurodiversity in the workplace click here
• Develop a Neurodiversity Policy which sets out the organisation’s understanding of neurodiversity and its commitment towards neurodiverse employees.
• Raise awareness through training and information provision, so that everyone in the organisation understands what neurodivergence is and how the working environment can affect neurodivergent employees. Knowing that they are understood and will be supported is likely to encourage neurodivergent staff to disclose their condition at an earlier stage, so that any issues can be addressed.
• Recruit the right managers who demonstrate the key skills needed to effectively manage and support neurodiverse teams, such as good communication skills and empathy
• Ensure managers regularly hold one-to-ones with team members to check on how work is going, identifying upcoming challenges and agreeing how best to support staff.
• Consider changes to the workplace environment to accommodate the needs of neurodivergent staff. For example, those with ADHD or Autism may find the noise and stimulation of a large open-plan office difficult to cope with, so it may be helpful to put up dividers in appropriate areas to block and reduce noise, or to provide dedicated quiet areas for staff.
• Review recruitment processes to ensure they are inclusive and do not intentionally, or unintentionally, disadvantage neurodivergent applicants.
• Design jobs to get the best out of individuals. Whilst some job elements may need to be similar, other parts can often be varied to suit the post holder. For example, autistic employees can sometimes struggle with line management responsibilities, so designing specialised roles without this responsibility could remove the issue and enable them to focus on tasks they excel at.
• Offer diagnostic and workplace needs assessments, which can establish a neurodivergent individual’s strengths and areas of weakness, as well as making recommendations to mitigate any difficulties identified.
• Use services such as Access to Work to help identify the most appropriate workplace adjustments for neurodivergent staff.
For our full guide to supporting neurodiversity in the workplace click here
People Based Solutions is an HR and Workplace Health & Safety support company, specialising in supporting small and medium sized businesses. If you would like to know more about how we can help you develop effective strategies and processes for managing employee wellbeing, or if we can help you with any other HR or Health & Safety matters, call us on 01925 425 857, send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to visit our website.