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Blog • 26.06.24

Championing neurodiversity in the workplace

Craig W
Senior HR Consultant

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Organisations have started taking neurodiversity more seriously and have begun to recognise the advantages of harnessing the untapped potential of neurodivergent individuals. Neurodiversity Celebration Week is a great example of the growing focus on how workplaces can support and become more inclusive for neurodivergent employees. Clearly, it makes good business sense to do so, as there is a vast pool of untapped talent that, if accommodated correctly, can bring significant benefits.

What is neurodiversity?

The term ‘neurodiversity’ refers to the natural variation in human brain function, where the range of behavioural traits is infinite. It was originally used to describe people on the autistic spectrum, but whilst the definition if often still debated, it has grown and generally includes:

  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Sometimes even personality disorders, and social anxiety disorders.

A more general description would be that neurodivergence is simply having a mind which functions in a significantly different way from ‘normal’ societal standards. Clearly, there is no single “normal” way of thinking or one “normal” brain. While those who do not fall under the description of “neurodivergent” may be referred to as “neurotypical,” it’s crucial to remember that we are all unique.

Essentially, atypical brain function means that neurodivergent people experience the world differently to neurotypical people. They may see and feel things differently, which often allows them to work unconventionally and approach problems—and therefore solutions—from a fresh perspective compared to most.

What is ‘neuroinclusion’?

Organisations have begun to recognise the importance of ‘neuroinclusion’. It only takes small amount of time and effort to adapt workplaces and processes to make them inclusive. This is relatively insignificant when you consider the advantages that can be e gained from a more neurodiverse workforce – one that is more creative, focussed and innovative.

Job candidates are changing too, not only are more of them neurodivergent themselves, but the average job candidate is more socially aware and more likely to want to work for an organisation that is socially responsible. A key values can be a workplace that values all individuality and allows people to be themselves.

Ultimately, if you don’t make your workplace neuroinclusive, you are going to fall behind in terms of creativity, you’re likely to have a narrower pool of thought to mine, in terms of productivity, you’ll be less able to attract talented, forward-thinking individuals, you’ll have a smaller pool of potential recruits, and when you do decide to adapt, you’ll be playing catch-up.

However, you must take your approach to neurodiversity and inclusion seriously to reap the rewards. It isn’t just flavour of the month, or a passing fad, but an opportunity to create an inclusive workplace culture that supports all types of thinkers to deliver their best work in an environment that encourages and breeds success.

How to make your workplace neuroinclusive?

1. Flexibility

You’ll need to consider flexibility across the board; how and when people work, how you accommodate all communication preferences, how meetings are conducted, how contribution is assessed, etc. Some people may need more individual support, designed specifically with them in mind, and it’s important to include them in this process rather than making assumptions. It’s important to be adaptable and willing to try things out. It can be a real challenge for managers, but a great skill for them to develop; what is a good manager if not someone who creates an environment which brings the best out of their team?

2. Understanding

Communication and education are crucial in this process. Improving general understanding and awareness of neurodiversity can enhance empathy among colleagues. This is essential for developing an open and accepting culture where individuals feel comfortable asking for the support they need, without fearing negative repercussions. It also helps managers and employees understand that struggling with certain aspects of a job may be due to factors beyond lack of effort or a poor attitude, and that simple adjustments can lead to significant improvements.

Making neurodiversity a part of everyday language can facilitate discussions about the associated challenges, making them easier to overcome. It’s important to educate and promote awareness of the benefits of a neuroinclusive workplace, rather than just emphasizing the need for diversity and inclusion.

3. Recruitment

A further challenge for organisations looking to improve their neurodiversity is recruitment. Traditional recruitment methods were very much designed with the neurotypical in mind and may not be helpful in attracting a more neurodivergent workforce. When considering a typical interview from the perspective of neurodiversity, it becomes apparent that it often evaluates social compatibility and the ability to ‘fit in’ as much as it assesses competency for the specific job role—perhaps even more so biased towards the social aspect. You should train those involved in the recruitment process about neurodiversity. Review the recruitment processes themselves, and consider using work trials and practical assessments.

It’s important to be cautious of first impressions, as they often don’t provide a genuine indication of aptitude. Consider how relevant eye contact truly is in most jobs. You should clearly communicate what candidates can expect from the process. Encourage candidates to request reasonable adjustments if needed. Additionally, reconsider how rigid job descriptions need to be; there may be greater value in hiring a neurodiverse individual who is 80% suitable for a job, but who may not meet every requirement on the job description, over a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ who meets every requirement but only performs each task adequately, without excelling in any particular area.

In conclusion

So, there are many benefits to making your organisation neurodivergent:

  • Take the time to look at how you could make your roles, your environment, you communication more diverse and inclusive.
  • Develop and educate your managers.
  • Explore ways in which flexibility in work practices and processes could benefit individuals and the team.
  • Be prepared to adapt and change your approach as necessary.
  • Learn from your mistakes.

Creating an environment where everyone, whether neurodiverse or neurotypical, feels psychologically safe and can work in a way that suits them best, will enable them to give their best efforts individually and collectively. Ultimately, this can only benefit your organisation.

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