Supporting Neurodivergent People to Perform Their Best at Work
Recruiting neurodivergent people and including them as part of the workforce has improved in recent years. This movement has been propelled by well-known companies such as SAP, Virgin and Microsoft offering neurodivergent inclusion programs, which highlights the significance of employing neurodivergent people . In this article we will be exploring the advantages of having a neurodiverse workforce and what support can be provided to employees.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity refers to differences in how a person’s brain functions and is wired. Those with neurotypical brains process information differently to those who fall within the spectrum of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity includes conditions such as, autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia . It is estimated that 15% to 20% of the world’s population are considered to be neurodivergent. While the employment rates have improved and many inclusion programmes have been developed in the organisation, managers may still be making mistakes in how they deal with any issues arising with neurodiverse members of their teams. This can cause employees to leave organisations. In this article we will be exploring the advantages of having a neurodiverse workforce and what how to support our neurodivergent colleagues.
Advantages of welcoming neurodiversity into the workplace
Neurodiverse individuals bring unique perspectives and specialised skills into the workplace. This includes their ability to hyper-focus. This refers to them being able to have an intense and deep concentration on a certain task for an extended period of time hence, having increased productivity . Similarly, another advantage is increased rate of innovation. Neurodivergent individuals tend to work unconventionally, they make think in tangential ways which brings a new perspective to issues and opening doors for them to develop innovate ideas.
How can we support neurodivergent colleagues?
Although there are many advantages of having a neurodiverse workforce, it is important to create an inclusive environment to support and help facilitate higher performance for them and their colleagues. For example, some employees may have the symptoms of autistic inertia. This refers to individuals experiencing difficulty performing or getting started on a task without a full understanding of what needs to be done and why . Workplaces can support individuals by understanding and accepting the challenges they are facing and ensuring that there is access to support and that adaptations have been made to facilitate them to function at their best. For instance, having visual timers available and receiving help to create easy-to-follow plans breaking down their tasks into manageable components can be hugely beneficial. Other adjustments can include being flexible and not always adhering to a 9-5 working structure and allowing them the space to work independently when they are functioning at their best.
Some neurodiverse people can also experience hypersensitivity which refers to people being more prone to overload, due to too much sensory input . Small but effective changes that can be introduced to the workplace environment to accommodate for the effects of hypersensitivity include:
- Creating quiet zones and pods to accommodate for noise sensitivity
- Limiting hot food in the office to accommodate for smell sensitivity
- Having an open plan working environment to accommodate for light sensitivity
All these changes can be hugely beneficial to both neurodiverse and neurotypical individuals but come at low expense to organisations.
It is also important to not make assumptions about neurodiverse people as everyone is unique and must be allowed to be themselves and feel supported in doing so. Strategies used to improve performance for neurotypical, and neurodiverse individuals can be different, therefore, to achieve high levels of performance for all individuals, it is important to create an inclusive working environment that is flexible and benefits everybody .
How can Impact help you?
We at Impact Psychology for Business actively promote the importance of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace and recognize the immense value that it brings to organisations. We use evidence-based tools and techniques to support clients designing and delivering assessment methods that are inclusive. We further offer development support, on an individual and team basis, including coaching and team/leadership development programmes to help individuals recognise their strengths and the unique contribution they make to the success of their organisations. To find out more about how we can support you and your business, get in touch with us here.
- Doyle, N. (2020). Neurodiversity at work: a biopsychosocial model and the impact on working adults. Br Med Bull 135(1):108-125. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldaa021.
- Sutherland, A. (2016). Time to celebrate neurodiversity in the workplace. Occupational Health & Wellbeing, 68(11), 11.
- Austin, R. D., & Pisano, G. P. (2017). Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage. Harvard Business Review, 95(3), 96-103.
- Steelman, Z., & Jia, R. (2022). Remote Work Overload: The Differential Effects of Neurodiversity.
- Phung, J., Penner, M., Pirlot, C., & Welch, C. (2021). What I wish you knew: Insights on burnout, inertia, meltdown, and shutdown from autistic youth. Frontiers in Psychology, 4981.
- Cassidy, M. K. (2018). Neurodiversity in the workplace: Architecture for autism(Doctoral dissertation, University of Cincinnati).
- Rao, B., & Polepeddi, J. (2019). Neurodiverse workforce: inclusive employment as an HR strategy. Strategic HR Review.