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5 Ways to Celebrate Neurodiverse Employees in the Workplace

Research and studies have shown that around 15% to 20% of the population are estimated to be neurodiverse – as thinking about and experiencing the world in a different way  compared to those considered neurotypical. 

That means that around 1 in 7 people in your workplace could be neurodiverse without you even being aware. And that obviously presents problems when it comes to creating a truly inclusive workplace culture and accessible organisation. 

In this blog, we’ll explore neurodiversity in the workplace and look at 5 ways that you can celebrate the contribution that neurodiverse employees make in your workplace and improve the accessibility of your organisation overall. 

The neurodiversity paradigm 

Neurodiversity can be a tricky subject to pin a definition on. The ‘Neurodiversity at Work’ guide that we mentioned above defines neurodiversity as ‘the infinite range of differences in individual human brain function and behavioural traits...’

For many decades, neurodiversity was essentially viewed as a mental health problem by society. It was medicalised and seen as something that needed to be treated rather than embraced. 

Thankfully, attitudes have started to change over the last few decades, as scientific thinking has developed and society has caught up. 

One of the most popular arguments against the traditional view of neurodiverse traits is known as the ‘neurodiversity paradigm’. This argues that neurodiversity is just a natural reflection of variation and of the diversity of behaviours that make up humanity – similar to the diversity that we see and celebrate in nature. The argument goes that this diversity makes humanity more creative, more resilient and more adaptable. 

 As the NHS outlines, there are many types of neurodiversity, like ADHD, Autism, ADD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dyspraxia. People who have one or more of these are considered ‘neurodiverse’. People who don’t are considered ‘neurotypical’. 

A group of people's hands on a table

The business case for neurodiversity in the workplace

Embracing neurodiversity means that we can build a much more inclusive, accessible and empowering society, where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential. With potentially 20% of your workforce being considered neurodiverse in some way, it’s clear that employers need to recognise neurodiversity and treat it with the respect that it deserves. 

From a business perspective, celebrating neurodiversity in your workplace is not only the morally right thing to do – it could also potentially improve your organisational performance. 

The 2018 ‘Neurodiversity at Work’ guide by CIPD and Uptimize is pretty comprehensive when it comes to exploring neurodiversity in the workplace, giving context as to what it is, why it’s important, and how employers can celebrate it. We would recommend giving it a read. 

 As it outlines, ‘’[Neurodiverse people] may experience individual challenges uncommon to neurotypicals – but they can also possess unique abilities akin to human ‘superpowers’ – abilities that can contribute to a competitive advantage when properly appreciated and leveraged by neurodiversity smart employers.’ (page 3). 

So, as well as helping your organisation more truly reflect the diversity of society, celebrating the contribution of neurodiverse employees in your workplace could help them realise their potential, helping to develop productivity, creativity and performance overall in the company. 

How to celebrate neurodiverse employees in the workplace

1. Educate your workplace about neurodiversity

One of the most effective ways that you can celebrate the contribution of neurodiverse employees is to educate your workplace about neurodiversity itself.

On average, around 15% – 20% of people are considered neurodiverse. In other words, that means 1 in 7 people in your workplace could be going without vital support. 

Neurodiversity is a much misunderstood area and you’d be surprised at the stereotypes and generalisations about neurodiverse individuals that are taken at face-value by a lot of society. The result is that neurodiverse people still face significant barriers to inclusion and can face a higher risk of discrimination. These barriers can be reduced by ensuring that your workforce are properly educated about neurodiversity in the first place. The best way to combat misunderstandings and generalisations is education!

A report by the CIPD and Uptimize, ‘Neuroinclusion at Work’, surveyed 1,000 neurodiverse employees in the UK about their experiences at work. It found that:

  • 52% of neurodiverse employees felt that their organisation had an open and supportive environment for neurodiverse people
  • 31% of neurodivergent employees hadn’t told their employers about their neurodivergence
  • 37% of neurodiverse employees felt that their organisation provides meaningful support to them

Results of surveys like this suggest that a lot more education is needed in the workplace to ensure that workplace culture keeps pace with wider societal change. 

There are a range of resources that you can consult when it comes to raising awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace. The CIPD provides detailed information about neurodiversity in the workplace, whilst ACAS has some easily digestible advice about neurodiversity and employees too. Specialist organisations like National Autistic Society, The British Dyslexia Association and The ADHD Foundation are worth consulting too, if you’re looking for more information. 

At the bare minimum, including a section in your yearly employee training programmes and your overall employee induction on neurodiversity in the workplace will help to improve awareness of neurodiversity in your workplace. 

A group of employees working together

2. Build a mentoring scheme

Mentoring can be a powerful tool to ensure that neurodiverse employees in your workplace feel supported enough to develop their skills and reach their full potential. 

It’s essentially a type of informal, one-on-one conversation between two people in a professional context, to aid professional development. Typically, the mentoring relationship involves a more experienced employee supporting the professional development of a newer employee and providing a friendly ear to listen to any concerns or issues that an employee might be experiencing. 

In the context of neurodiverse employees, mentoring could help provide third-party individual support and reassurance in a way that the traditional line-management model doesn’t.

It can also be a two way relationship too, as this great article by ABDO explores. As the author argues, whilst mentoring can help an employee to develop their own skills, it can also help a mentor identify what an employee is particularly good at. This can help inform the wider development strategy of line managers for particular employees, and can help to build more effective teams. 

3. Create an accessible working environment

Neurodiverse people can often have an increased risk of ‘sensory overload’ – of being overwhelmed by environmental factors like lights, noise, sensations and smells. As a result, they can often find workplaces particularly stressful environments to have to be in. 

Sensory overload can cause a range of symptoms from emotional distress, frustration and anger through to depression and mental shutdown. It’s a serious issue and one that employers need to treat with seriousness in order to make workplaces safer and more comfortable for neurodiverse employees. 

Here are some basic tips to help improve the accessibility of your workplace for neurodiverse workers:

  • Create a designated ‘quiet space’ where employees can go to work if they are overwhelmed by sensory inputs
  • Consider dimming the lights
  • Try and identify common triggers and preemptively address them
  • Try to reduce unnecessary noise

These are just some of the most obvious things that you can do to improve the accessibility of your workplace for those with neurodiversity. 

4. Be flexible to different working arrangements

Neurodiverse employees can have a broad range of needs and those needs might not be as obvious as those you’d associate with neurotypical people. Something that you might consider to be a standard working arrangement, like break policy, or start or finish times for example, might really cause problems for neurodiverse people.

As a result, there’s a very real need for employers to be open to doing things differently in their workplace, to help improve accessibility overall. The main way that you do that is through listening to what your neurodiverse employees are telling you, remaining flexible and keeping an open mind about solutions.

Remember that everyone is an individual and try to avoid stereotyping or generalising – what’s good for one person, won’t necessarily be good for another. 

5. Improve and diversify your communication styles

As this article by JD Goulet in the Harvard Business Review explores, society has a long-standing habit of asking neurodiverse people to change their behaviours to fit in, rather than the other way around. One of the most obvious sites of this is the way that we communicate with each other in the workplace. 

Some neurodiverse people can struggle with aspects of neurotypical communication styles, particularly things like figurative language (smilies, metaphors and figures of speech) and in interpreting non-verbal communication cues. 

As Goulet explores, adopting a more literal communication style that steers clear of ambiguity and that outlines clearly what you expect or want to know from someone can help to make communication a lot more friendly for neurodiverse people. 

Do some work to find out the preferred communication styles of your neurodiverse employees and educate your managers about different neurodiverse-friendly, communication styles. 

Treat neurodiversity with the respect it deserves

These are only a few ways that you can help to make your organisation more accessible to people with neurodiversity and really celebrate the contribution of these employees. Ultimately, celebrating neurodiversity at work means acknowledging what your organisation does well to help neurodivergent employees reach their full potential, whilst also examining barriers to participation and how you can break through them. 

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