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Neurodiversity in the workplace

Seven out of 10 employers do not include neurodiversity in the workplace – such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD – in their people management practices, research has argued. It’s high time employers recognise that, with a little adjustment and accommodation, people who are “neuro-divergent” can often bring valuable skills to the workplace.

Employee health and wellbeing – thinking differently about neurodiversity in the workplace

A poll of more than 300 HR professionals by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has concluded that “neuro-diversity” is ignored in the policies of 72% of employers.

The CIPD argued that around 10% of the population is “neuro-divergent”, or with conditions such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention-deficit disorder (ADHD).

By failing to recognise the often valuable skills or different ways of thinking these people could bring to the table, employers were therefore potentially missing out, the CIPD argued.

Its poll argued that around 17% said they did not know whether their organisation had a neuro-diversity policy, while only 10% said they did have one.

Valuable workplace strengths

Yet, the CIPD pointed out, neuro-divergent people can often have unique strengths that can be of real value in the workplace, including the ability to spot patterns and trends, sustained focus over long periods and the ability to process information quickly.

The recent BBC programme Employable Me also highlighted the barriers and challenges people who are neuro-divergent can face in the workplace, but just what they can offer.

Dr Jill Miller, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser at the CIPD, warned that employers were too often “screening out” neuro-divergent people rather the recognising the potential they could offer.

“Rather than measuring potential employees against a long wish list of capabilities, we need to be clear on the key skills each job requires and enable people who possess those to play to their strengths,” she said.

To that end, the CIPD has created a guide with Uptimize – which provides training tools for neuro-diverse individuals – to improve awareness and understanding of alternative ways of thinking in the workplace and the benefits of neuro-diverse employees.

Its recommendations include:

  • removing jargon from job descriptions and reviewing the use of competency-based recruitment frameworks
  • completing a desk assessment for new starters and avoiding bright lights in the office
  • encouraging regular one-to-one feedback sessions between neuro-diverse employees and their managers
  • making sure neurodiversity is championed by senior personnel
  • ensuring that support is available to all individuals and is clearly advertised

What, then, can or should employers make of this?

Guidance and resources for neurodiversity in the workplace

First, of course, it is simply about making use of this new guide, and recognising there are a range of other resources out there.

For example, the National Autistic Society has useful guidance for employers on how best to manage an employee with autism. Similarly, there is useful advice here on ADHD, from The Dyspraxia Foundation has advice here on dyspraxia, and there is guidance from the British Dyslexia Association here on dyslexia.

Occupational health practitioners and, indeed, occupational therapists can also provide valuable advice on adjustments and best practice. And employers, of course, need to recognise and be wary of the dangers of discriminating against people with these conditions under the Equality Act 2010.

The CIPD/Uptimize guide also suggests a range of practical adjustments that can often be helpful, including:

  • Avoid really bright lights in the office that can be distracting or lead to sensory overload.
  • Consider how noisy open-plan environments can be distracting or lead to individuals feeling overwhelmed.
  • Complete a desk assessment for any new joiners, helping them make sure their computer screen isn’t too bright and they have everything they need to aid personal organisation (such as trays and filing drawers).

Ultimately, as Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, argues, much of this is common-sense and simply about changing mindsets and attitudes as much as physical adjustments.

“A lot of it will come back to confidence – giving line managers the training they need to ensure they feel confident and have the skills to assist neuro-diverse employees at work,” she points out.

“Many, many people live with ‘invisible’ disabilities such as autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia.

“People who are ‘neuro-divergent’ think differently, perceive the world and their surroundings differently and can struggle with some tasks and, to that extent, there may need to be adjustments made to their role and how they work.

“But, equally, the skills and focus they can often bring to bear on tasks can be extremely valuable. It is high time employers caught on and recognised this,” she adds.