Neurodiversity in the workplace

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Neurodiversity in the workplace. A TOPIC that keeps cropping up for me in the workplace is neurodiversity. So, let’s give you the lowdown …

What is neurodiversity?

Well, it’s an ‘umbrella’ term which refers to individuals who behave, think and learn differently to those who are ‘neurotypical’ (which itself refers to those whose brains function in what society would deem the usual way).

Examples of people who might be considered neurodivergent include those who are autistic, dyspraxic or dyslexic, and those who have ADHD.

Why is this important?

Understanding neurodiversity is really important for employers. Recent studies have shown that 65% of neurodivergent employees fear discrimination from management and 55% fear discrimination from their colleagues. That same study found that 40% of neurodiverse employees didn’t feel that there was enough understanding around neurodiversity to ensure that they were properly supported in the workplace.

At the same time, studies have shown that employing neurodivergent individuals and having a diverse workplace fosters a better working environment and can drive up productivity.

Getting it wrong can be costly. You’re likely to lose staff so will lose experience and will also incur costs in relation to recruitment and training. Getting it REALLY wrong can be even worse; you could end up with a tribunal claim for constructive dismissal or disability discrimination.

Top tips

Now this is important, and it will help you to get the most out of your employees and avoid costly and time-consuming litigation.

I recommend that you …

Raise awareness: You’ll see from the figures above that there is a lack of knowledge around neurodiversity. It’s really something that should be spoken about openly on a general basis, and it’s also something that you should incorporate into your equality and diversity training.

Talk to staff: If staff are neurodiverse, having an open conversation with them about this and what it means for them is going to go a long way. Remember, not everyone is the same and what works for one person may not work for all.

Talking to your staff to discover what they need is a simple but effective technique.

Make adjustments: Those who are neurodivergent may well fall under the disability provisions of the Equality Act 2010 so you may have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help them overcome disadvantages they might face because of their neurodiversity.

Doing this generally, though, can make for a positive work environment. The sort of adjustments you might consider could include looking at adjusting the way you deliver information; should it be written or orally? Also maybe look into giving staff special equipment to help them with their daily tasks, for example dictation software.

This is one of those tricky to navigate topics, particularly at these early stages of awareness amongst employers.

It’s also wise to look through any policies and procedures that you have in the workplace. Are they relevant and up to date?

In February 2024 the government published the outcome of what it described as a ‘landmark’ review by Sir Robert Buckland KC, designed to boost the employment prospects of autistic people in the UK.

The review sets out 19 key recommendations for employers – including the government themselves – and whilst they won’t be appropriate for every employer, they include encouraging career progression by developing packages for training focuses on autistic staff, and improving recruitment by ensuring career advisors can provide appropriate advice to those who may not necessarily have an autism diagnosis but who may well be neurodiverse.

There is lots of further reading available, too, plus studies which show the contributions and strengths that neurodiverse individuals can bring to the workplace when supported correctly. There are some small simple wins for employers that will reap massive rewards so it is worth getting your head around this.

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