Written by Nicola Gater | 20th September 2023

According to UK charity ADHD Aware, 30-40% of the population are neurodivergent – a term that the National Symposium on Neurodiversity says includes “Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, ADHD, Dyscalculia, Autism, Tourettes and others”.

The reality is, therefore, that almost all organisations either already have employees with a range of neurodivergent conditions or undoubtedly will do in                                                                                          the future.

Yet a CIPD poll of UK HR professionals found that 72% said that neurodiversity was not part of their organisation’s people management practices.

It’s clear there is often a lack of understanding about neurodivergence in the workplace and the benefits and contributions it can bring to the workforce.

We have joined forces with Simpila Mental Health to provide guidance on the importance of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace. Matthew Holman, Founder of Simplia commented: “The challenge that I have seen is that with most of these topics we only ever know what we need to know, when we know that we need to know it.  The future is about having a greater awareness in advance of experiencing challenges. The future is about helping adults to rekindle their interest in learning more about these topics, it all starts with raising awareness.”

What are the benefits of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace?

The benefits of having neurodivergent colleagues are of course the same as you would expect from a diverse and inclusive workplace – everyone brings different skills. And given the uniqueness of each and every person and the fact we are all so diverse in many aspects (not just our brains and our minds), everyone has the potential to contribute in a valuable way to organisational success and be recognised for this.

As an employer, you can play a crucial role in supporting neurodiversity by creating an inclusive environment that breaks down stigma and makes individuals feel valued, supported and understood.

How can you support neurodiversity?

  1. Awareness training

Being inclusive of those with neurodivergent conditions, means that it is important to have an awareness of some of the more common conditions.

Awareness training can help employees and managers to understand their neurodivergent colleagues and so enable them to be more supportive, respectful and recognise the value each person adds to the team.

It’s also important for every employee to learn and understand their colleagues’ ways of working and how best to communicate with them, and this might be quite different for neurodivergent employees. It could include learning how to give very clear instructions, how to best support them with challenges or ensuring change is introduced sensitively because some neurodivergent people may find this particularly difficult, although these are good practices for all. Remember though that what works for one person won’t necessarily apply to everyone, it is important to understand what each individual needs.

Through our partnership with Simpila Mental Health we are able to provide companies with 2 alternative neurodiversity awareness and education programmes.

Introduction to Neurodiversity – 30-45 minutes – Available for all staff and focused on creating a foundation of awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace.

Neurodiversity Awareness – 2.5 hrs – Available for those who would like to know more about neurodiversity and how to make changes to provide support to those who need additional help at work.  Creating an inclusive workplace.

  1. Advocacy

It is important for an organisation to ensure neurodiversity is reflected positively internally and externally throughout its business. This can be achieved in several ways, such as speaking, blogging, sponsoring, mentoring and providing a neurodiversity-at-work programme.

Make sure you use positive, easy to understand and inclusive language in all your communications, whether that be your HR policies, procedures, employee handbook, adverts, job descriptions. Consider whether you would benefit from a specific policy on Neurodiversity.

Be aware that it isn’t just enough to talk and write about a positive attitude to neurodiversity – it must be put into practice at all levels and at all times. If your employees, and in particular your neurodivergent employees, do not see what you are telling them being lived day to day, they will know they are not in a genuinely inclusive and equal place to work.

  1. Reasonable adjustments

In some instances, the nature of someone’s condition can qualify as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

This stipulates that employers have a legal obligation to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support people with disabilities in the workplace – job applicants, as well as employees.

Making these accommodations are often cheap and easy, such as office lighting, noise levels and equipment.

You could also allow breaks for a change of scene, provide physical activity, and offer flexibility in where and when the work is carried out. These can be free adjustments to make, while potentially boosting both comfort and productivity.

Even if the condition they have isn’t deemed a disability, they may require more support to work.

The best way to ask employees about their needs is to create an open and safe environment where neurodivergent employees feel comfortable speaking up about their accommodations.

Managers should be well trained in awareness and in having sensitive conversations with their employees. You should ensure that there are no repercussions for asking for or discussing adjustments to be made and should make sure that all conversations regarding neurodiversity remain confidential. The process of requesting accommodations should also be clear, direct and simple so that employees know the expected procedure.

  1. Supporting and mentoring strategies

As well as being supported by a line manager, extra help can be provided from job coaches, affinity groups, and external mentors.

An affinity group is a space for people with similar goals and identities. These can allow employees to connect, gain support, share positive experiences of work and allow them to voice their concerns.

There are also a variety of support programmes, such as The Brain Charity’s employment projects, which can give access to valuable support and guidance to neurodivergent individuals.

  1. Recognise and reward

It is important to recognise the strengths of neurodivergent employees.

Recent CIPD research on performance management suggests organisations should take a strength-based approach, so they can become more inclusive and get the best out of their workforce.

This consists of focusing on people’s strengths and positives, rather than things that they can’t do or aren’t very good at. For example, those with ADHD often hyperfocus on tasks, while employees with autism may have strong attention to detail. These are valuable traits in the work place.

Also ensure that all employees are treated fairly when opportunities arise, whether that be for promotion, training and development or flexible working. Recognise when a neurodivergent employee has done a good job, even if it were something that you would normally expect from an employee.

  1. Attracting great candidates

Taking positive steps to engage and attract neurodiverse candidates at recruitment stage is a great way of sending a positive message to both existing employees and potential candidates that you are an inclusive employer.

If you are recruiting for a role that requires a unique set of skills, consider how you can engage and reach out to those who are neurodivergent. You may want to advertise on niche job boards, such as Evenbreak – an inclusive job board for people with disabilities.

Remember to think about adjustments during the recruitment process and identify ways to alleviate anxiety – a common feeling during interview for candidates with neurodivergent qualities. We know of more and more employers who are providing interview questions to candidates before the interview so they can prepare, which not only is a reasonable adjustment for neurodiverse candidates but is actually good for all – interviews should be a genuine conversation about what the candidate can do or has done, rather than testing how well they can answer questions on the spot in the pressure of an interview!

7. Commit as a company to truly embrace change

As an organisation you can commit to making the adjustments necessary to implement a culture of inclusivity for all by becoming a corporate member of Neurodiversity in Business (NiB) – https://neurodiversityinbusiness.org/

If you have any questions or would like support with supporting neurodiversity, please get in touch with our team at [email protected]