Seven workplace changes to let neurodiverse talent thrive
One in seven people across the globe are neurodivergent, meaning it’s more than likely you already have a neurodiverse workforce, whether you know it or not. Neurodiversity is the concept that no two brains think alike and describes individuality in cognitive functioning. The term neurodivergent, however, means that a person's brain processes and learns differently from that of a ‘typical’ brain.
In order to create a neuro-inclusive workforce, where your neurodiverse talent will thrive, you must firstly promote an environment of open communication and safety for your employees and potential candidates. There is much more you can do though and, although the concept of neurodiversity might be new for many, none of these seven workplace changes requires huge learning curves or budgets.
As we are all aware, the pandemic threw nearly every office worker into WFH. This was welcomed by many, but companies must ensure to take extra thought for their neurodivergent employees. Many neurological conditions such as ADHD require a consistent work pattern and strong communication lines with managers, which need to be taken into consideration when distance working comes into play. If this can be ensured WFH can become a great benefit to neurodivergent and neurotypical employees alike by giving them a sense of control over their lives.
Beyond making employees feel more comfortable in their job and helping prevent social burnout for neurodivergent individuals, WFH can also mean working without experiencing sensory overwhelm during a commute or in an office; not feeling the weight of having to “mask” their true selves in order to comply with unwritten in-person social rules; or gaining more time to support relatives who might have similar neurological differences. By working with an employee and their needs rather than against them, a now small adaptation such as WFH can make a huge difference to neurodivergent employees’ sense of belonging, morale and productivity.
Increased overall flexibility can significantly improve the experience of your neurodivergent and neurotypical employees. Flexible start times, for example, can allow your employees to work at times when they are most productive and reduce the stress associated with lateness. Often neurodivergent conditions are linked with sleeping conditions and differences in circadian rhythms. Demanding a neurodivergent employee to be productive out of their ‘peak’ focus times just doesn’t make sense. This is especially prevalent for individuals with autism or ADHD. Offering more flexible working hours would allow employees to work at times they feel most productive.
Actively educating yourself on as many neurodiverse conditions is key to providing better accommodation and support to your employees. Just 22% of autistic adults are in employment and 60% of adults with ADHD state they have lost/ changed a job due to their ADHD symptoms, leading to a huge waste of creative talent because of a lack of awareness. Take time to delve deeper.
Researching that which can help your neurodiverse talent, like assistive software, is also a great way for you to proficiently help your neurodivergent employees with their day-to-day. How you research neurodiversity can be varied. For me, learning from my own employees was massive and played a significant role in why I set up Ayoa as a piece of assistive software. I learned that there was nothing out there specifically for neurodiverse workforces to thrive via, something which offered support to both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals, not just one or the other.
Know that your investment in research will be time well spent. Doing so and prioritising neuro-inclusion in teams has been shown to create companies which are six times more likely to be innovative and agile.
4. Access to Work Scheme
In the UK there is actually a government scheme to aid with any physical or mental health conditions or disability which employees might have. It’s called the ‘Access to Work Scheme’. This offers support via a grant to help pay for practical support with work, support managing mental health at work and money to pay for communication support at job interviews. Examples of this include BSL interpreters, note takers, adaptations to a vehicle an employee uses to commute, support workers to help in the place of work and more. This extraordinary aid applies to neurodivergent employees and beyond. Although accommodations for neurodiverse talent are rarely expensive, such a grant makes them even easier to acquire. It’s also worth noting that the scheme stresses that “workplace” can include a person's home.
5. Willing to accommodate
As an employee comes to grow in your organisation accommodations may need to change. If an employee is learning about themselves in a healthy way which embraces their neurodivergence, they will learn what their needs are in more depth. As I mention in my book, The Creative Thinking Handbook, long-standing assumptions keep you trapped in the mindset of ‘business as usual’ when there’s a much bigger picture to explore. As an employer it's important to get to know your employees on an individual level, and this will most likely include learning from them about themselves. This can not only make your employees feel more comfortable in the workplace, it will lead to a more productive work environment.
6. Hiring process
One of the easiest ways to create a more neuro-inclusive workforce is to amend your hiring process, starting with job adverts. Firstly, the careers page on your company's website needs to be accessible. A lot of neurodivergent people can be overwhelmed by visual stimulants, so if your careers site is not clearly labelled this may make people ‘give up’ and exit your website, costing you the prospect of a neurodiverse workforce before you even know it. Secondly, your job adverts must use clear, concise language. Cutting down on fluff will condense your job descriptions, making it easier for people with dyslexia to read. The removal of unnecessary words will also leave no room for ambiguous statements, allowing candidates with autism to pre-plan for interviews without gaining any anxiety over how to interpret applications.
Also, make sure that any evaluation tests are specific to what the advertised job entails. For example, if you’re hiring for a job in coding there is little point in putting candidates through a verbal reasoning test! If you’re seeking a neurodiverse workforce which thrives, it’s all about allowing people to play to their strengths.
Finally, the interview process for neurodivergent individuals can be a very daunting experience. There is no one size fits all approach; however, there are many ways to make the process easier. What’s best is to ask direct questions. For instance, if you wish for candidates to talk about a time they were under pressure, include a specific situation such as “under pressure in your waitressing role when the restaurant was extremely busy”.
It’s also really important to avoid relying on social cues. Typically, eye contact and body language are labelled as two of the most important things to look at when interviewing a potential employee. However, this can discriminate against a high percentage of neurodivergent individuals. A lack of eye contact can mean something as simple as a candidate experiencing higher levels of anxiety in a stressful situation, which an interview could be for somebody with autism. Additionally, just like everyone has their own unique voice and delivery when speaking, some people with dyslexia can more fervently communicate via body language, particularly hand gestures. This isn’t due to trying to distract, it’s typically a way which helps expression of thoughts alongside words.
This list isn’t exhaustive on how you can support neurodiverse talent to excel at work but you can be sure that from implementing these suggestions the number of benefits which will arise will be far greater than seven. You’ll be helping a large percentage of your workforce reach new levels, in the process assisting neurotypical talent as well and becoming a workplace which more neurodivergent talent will want to work for. As you increase the diversity of your neuro-capabilities that’s when exponential positives for employees and employers alike really take off.