Embracing Neurodiversity: Building an Inclusive Workplace
By Cybill Watkins, Payroll Legislation Manager at Moorepay
In our ever-diverse world, it's essential to recognise that no two minds are identical. This foundational truth highlights the significance of embracing neurodiversity – a concept that's increasingly gaining more importance in the modern working environment.
In spite of the increasing recognition of neurodiversity, a study commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) unveils a disheartening fact: only 10% of employers take active measures to integrate neurodiversity into their people management strategies. This data highlights a notable deficiency in addressing and adapting to the requirements of neurodivergent employees within the workplace, despite their growing prevalence.
DEFINING AND UNDERSTANDING NEURODIVERSITY
Neurodiversity recognises the inherent variation in thinking processes and cognitive functions across individuals. While the majority can be classified as neurotypical, roughly 15% of the UK's population belongs to the neurodivergent category. This diverse group includes individuals with conditions such as Autism, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and a range of other neurological conditions. It's crucial to emphasise that neurodivergent individuals may experience multiple conditions, and these conditions can manifest in distinct and individualised manners.
NAVIGATING UNIQUE CHALLENGES
Neurodivergent employees often encounter distinctive challenges in the workplace. These include an increased susceptibility to mental health issues and a tendency toward quicker burnout. These challenges often arise from the need to mask their neurodivergent traits in order to conform to a neurotypical environment. This becomes even more complex when an individual contends with multiple conditions that may interact or conflict with each other, requiring a delicate balance in addressing their needs.
THE COMPLEXITY OF SOCIAL INTERACTIONS
Furthermore, individuals who are neurodivergent may encounter social challenges, including anxiety in interactions with others, discomfort within groups, or unease in unfamiliar environments. These particular difficulties can contribute to prolonged periods without diagnosis, especially among older individuals and particularly among women.
NAVIGATING LEGAL RESPONSIBILITIES
Neurodiversity is often referred to as a "hidden disability." While the sunflower lanyard serves as a symbol for hidden disabilities, many neurodivergent individuals do not wear this badge. Consequently, employers may not be aware of the neurodivergent individuals in their workforce. However, in accordance with the Equality Act 2010, neurodivergent conditions are categorised as disabilities when they substantially impact daily functioning. Employers should recognise that disabilities, whether apparent or concealed, merit equal treatment and require reasonable accommodations to ensure fairness.
Reasonable adjustments must be made under legal obligations. These can vary from person to person, but might include:
- Allowing employees to have their cameras off during virtual meetings to reduce sensory overload.
- Providing assistance if they need to go into the office.
- Addressing light sensitivity by adjusting office lighting.
- Offering noise-cancelling headphones to help employees concentrate on their work.
But, aside from adjusting an individual’s physical surroundings, employers need to ensure that there is a cultural shift within the workplace, and it must occur from the bottom up. All staff should be educated on neurodiversity and how to support their colleagues with respect. Stereotypes and misconceptions about neurodivergent individuals can persist, leading to stigmatisation and discrimination, and this should be avoided at all costs.
HOW CAN ORGANISATIONS SUPPORT NEURODIVERSITY?
Creating an inclusive culture and welcoming environment for neurodivergent employees is paramount. Therefore, to effectively support these individuals, proactive steps must be taken:
- Revise the hiring process
Modify the recruitment process to guarantee its accessibility to neurodivergent candidates. This may involve delivering transparent and succinct job descriptions, facilitating casual meet-and-greet sessions as part of the onboarding process, and exploring the possibility of conducting interviews in a less intimidating environment.
- Foster inclusive work environments
Craft workplaces that address the varied requirements of your staff. Incorporate quiet zones or designated areas where individuals can seek refuge in case of sensory overload. Adapting to diverse work preferences, such as offering flexibility between remote and in-office work, can also be considered.
- Provide customised IT solutions
Offer a selection of IT tools that are customised to individual requirements, encompassing features like screen readers, voice-to-text software, and other assistive technologies designed to enhance the manageability of tasks for neurodivergent employees.
- Training and education
Consistently educate all personnel, with a particular focus on managers, about diverse neurological conditions. Provide them with the necessary knowledge and resources to cultivate an inclusive workplace culture that celebrates neurodiversity. Encourage managers to inquire about formal diagnoses and whether colleagues would appreciate additional support, and avoid surprising them with unexpected meetings, deadlines, or tasks without prior communication.
- Open lines of communication
Maintain transparent communication channels and engage in empathetic listening when attending to the requirements of neurodivergent employees. This approach fosters a work environment that is both inclusive and conducive to productivity. It's also important for managers and employees to be mindful of potential trigger phrases and be proficient in adjusting their communication style to prevent causing distress.
- Harness individual strengths
Acknowledge and capitalise on the distinctive strengths and competencies of neurodivergent employees. Distribute tasks that align with their individual strengths within the team, engage in collaborative efforts to tackle challenges and establish well-defined, attainable objectives.
- Set clear expectations
Offer precise guidance regarding what is expected and the associated deadlines. Managing expectations in this manner can effectively alleviate anxiety and stress for neurodivergent individuals. And be aware of performance management stress, as things like performance reviews can be a tipping point for some neurodivergent employees.
- Provide coaching opportunities
Extend the option of coaching sessions, as these additional sessions can aid neurodivergent employees in honing their skills and overcoming obstacles. These sessions offer a nurturing environment to address their requirements and explore avenues for personal growth.
A MORAL DUTY FOR EMPLOYERS
Creating an inclusive and supportive environment for neurodivergent employees is crucial. Employers who embrace neurodiversity benefit from a diverse, innovative, and inclusive workforce. By proactively supporting neurodivergent employees and meeting legal obligations, businesses unlock their full potential while fostering compassion and understanding for all.