How to effectively support neurodiverse people in the workplace

There has been much talk of diversity in the workplace, with organisations embedding equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategies. But little has been done around neurodiversity.

Hafton recently worked with clients who had staff with dyslexia and ADHD. The clients weren’t sure how to support them, so turned to us for advice. In one case they were about to embark on a capability process, before support could be found which resolved the situation. In the UK it is estimated that more than 15% of the workforce is neurodiverse. Diagnoses of autism, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and dyslexia have risen exponentially as we have learned more about them.

So, what do we mean by neurodiversity? It is a broad spectrum and includes autism, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia, among others. While dyslexia is a learning disability that is characterized by poor spelling, reading, and writing, dysgraphia means that the person has difficulty writing by hand. This means the two are often lumped together when finding solutions.

What kind of environment is needed for those who are neurodiverse to flourish? There are many simple interventions that employers can make to support neurodivergent employees to thrive. In fact, these interventions will also make the working environment far better for neurotypical employees as well, and may already be part of your EDI strategy.

Here are some interventions you can make:

Everyone is an individual

Although using categories such as ‘neurodivergent’ or ‘ADHD’ is helpful for ease of reference to specific groups, all human beings are individuals and need to be treated as such. Just as no two neurotypical employees have the same needs or abilities, the same goes for neurodivergent people. Know your team, and understand their unique strengths, areas for development and the tools and support they need to be successful in their role.

Don’t make assumptions

There are a lot of misconceptions about what neurodivergent people can and can’t do. In an inclusive culture, where diversity of thought, views and approach are the norm, organisations should embrace the strengths that neurodivergent people bring. This might include, for example, pattern recognition, out-of-the-box thinking, laser focus, resilience, and no-nonsense honesty.

Make communication clear, concise and unambiguous

Don’t over-complicate internal staff communications. Make sure deadlines are agreed, expectations are understood, and policies and processes are clearly articulated. Check in with individuals to ensure that they have everything they need to get on with their jobs.

Provide quiet spaces

Many neurodivergent people find it difficult to concentrate in busy offices. Providing a quiet space or noise-cancelling headphones can really help.

Ensure regular breaks

So many of us do not take regular breaks. Remind both neurodiverse and neurotypical staff to take regular breaks throughout the day.

Encourage flexible working patterns

While recent legislative changes in requests for flexible working have changed to be more accessible, many neurodivergent people also have differences in their sleep and circadian rhythms. Allowing them to work at times when they are most productive and in locations where distractions are minimised can hugely increase productivity, even if it means working outside normal working hours.

Support wellbeing and mental health

Many neurodivergent people experience mental health challenges, particularly if they have been blamed and judged for their work. Make sure that your work environment fosters a sense of belonging, and support is in place for employee wellbeing and mental health, so that neurodivergent people are not expected to fit into a non-existent homogenous culture.

Please contact Hafton for a free consultation about supporting neurodiverse employees and how to ensure a fully inclusive workplace at [email protected] giving your name, business and contact number.