Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace

range of coloured pencils symbolising diversity

by Yvonne Smyth, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Hays

Neurodiversity, meaning “individual differences in brain functioning regarded as normal variations within the human population”, is an umbrella term for individuals who live with neurological disorders such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia. How these conditions present is different for every individual, and not every person is affected by them in the same way.

Until the early 2000s, individuals with a neurodivergence tended to be viewed by society in a negative light, but as our understanding of these conditions has improved, thankfully, so have many of the stereotypes and outlooks. Medical professionals have come to realise that neurodivergences are often amplified by social misunderstandings, issues with environment and certain conditions – among many others – and with the right accommodations and reasonable adjustments, neurodivergent people can thrive.

Unique strengths among neurodivergent individuals

Interestingly, research has shown that while neurodivergent people can struggle with things that neurotypical people often don’t, their brains can possess unique strengths. Some of these include advantages around processing information; productivity and quality of work; attention to detail and dependability. Fantastic on paper, but how does that work out for individuals seeking jobs? Not always so well.

Historically, individuals that seem “different” to the norm during the hiring process have been rejected, even if their skills seem to fit the bill, and due to a lack of understanding many have even lost jobs due to things like not seeming a good company fit culture-wise.

Thanks to ongoing research and increased awareness around neurodiversity, society realises this is discrimination. Neurodivergent workers may or may not consider themselves to be disabled, but under the Equality Act 2010, they have the rights to reasonable adjustments and protection against discrimination.

We’ve broken down some frequently asked questions about how you can help attract neurodivergent employees to your organisation, and how you can better support them.

How can I make sure my organisation is truly welcoming to neurodivergent people?

Put a statement showing your commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion on your website so that potential employees can see that you are dedicated to not discriminating against differences. Make it known that all staff members should feel able to bring their authentic selves to work, and that if they feel unable to do so, that there is a manager they are able to speak to. Allow colleagues to ask for reasonable adjustments or accommodations to make their lives easier. Consider setting up a community network that champions all disabilities and conditions so people feel supported.

What do “reasonable adjustments” mean and what should I do if an employee asks for them?

A reasonable adjustment is a change made by an employer to help assist an employee in overcoming a disadvantage due to their disability. For example, if someone with autism becomes overstimulated or overwhelmed by noisy situations, a reasonable adjustment would be to allow them to wear noise-cancelling headphones as and when they need to. For someone with ADHD who struggles with auditory processing, for example, a reasonable adjustment could be sending written instructions to them after a verbal conversation. If an employee requires a reasonable adjustment and you are unsure what to do, speak with your HR team and diversity representative for advice.

What accommodations might be useful for someone with ADHD or on the autistic spectrum?

ADHD and autism spectrum disorder are different conditions, and every person is unique, so this depends on the individual in question. Some examples of accommodations you could offer, however, are the ability to wear headphones in the office; flexible working hours; the ability to take short and regular breaks; communicating in ways the employee prefers, such as via email instead of phone; a regular desk instead of hot-desking; or a quiet room in which to focus if they need. These are simply suggestions, remember that what workers need will vary from person to person.

About the author
Yvonne is Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Hays, working with clients to ensure their recruitment strategies are aligned with the latest equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) policies and initiatives. Yvonne is responsible for creating and implementing diverse recruitment strategies that effectively support the representation of more diverse staff profiles within their business.