Neurodiversity in the Workplace

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Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns

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01 Oct 2021

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Any business concerned about diversity and inclusion needs to consider neurodiversity in the workplace. An estimated 1 in 7 people in the UK present neurodiverse conditions.

Neurodiversity refers to range of neurodiverse conditions, that range from ADHD and autism to dyspraxia and dyslexia. Different neurodiverse people experience relevant traits at different levels of intensity. Not all neurodiverse people manage these traits and/or struggle in the same way.

Neurodiversity in business, in sports and on the screen

Did you know that Emma Watson, Michael Phelps and Jamie Oliver have all been diagnosed with ADHD? Richard Branson has spoken openly about his dyslexia. And Emma’s Watson’s on-screen colleague, Daniel Radcliffe, has dyspraxia, and has been hugely successful.

All these positive examples highlight that neurodiversity does not make individual less capable.

In the workplace, reasonable adjustments will help your neurodiverse people perform at their best. It’s possible that you have neurodivergent employees and aren’t aware. Staff often avoid talking about their neurodiversity at work, due to fear of misjudgements about their mental health. By supporting them, you ensure there isn’t unintentional discrimination against your neurodivergent workforce.

Inclusion: support neurodiversity in the workplace

Your staff do not have the legal obligation to disclose their neurodiversity or mental health difficulties. However, lacking support and simple adjustments can negatively impact on their performance, particularly in stressful situations.

Support neurodiversity in the workplace

Research shows that a considerable percentage of employees feel uncomfortable talking about their mental health with their manager. By not talking about difficulties they might face, they risk getting trapped inside a vicious cycle. That’s why it’s important to encourage an atmosphere of open discussion around these issues. If the employee opens up, you can make appropriate adjustments.

October 2021 is ADHD Awareness Month, with Dyspraxia Awareness Week starting on October 3rd and Dyslexia Awareness Week on October 4th.

Let us take this opportunity to talk about how your business can better support neurodivergent employees. By increasing awareness and training managers to recognise where staff need support, you increase business inclusiveness and productivity.

How neurodiversity affects people

While attention deficit might sound scary in the workplace, this doesn’t mean an employee with ADHD simply cannot focus. It identifies that the person might focus on tasks differently than other people do. There is a positive flipside to it too. Many individuals with ADHD also experience hyperfocus.

When a person goes through a period of hyperfocus, they concentrate hard and for a long time on what they do. It is called hyperfocus because, when people experience this, they tend to be oblivious of everything else through that period.

It might be hyperfocus that contributed to Michael Phelps becoming one of the most decorated Olympian of all time! That, and the high levels of energy that people with the diagnosis experience.

Spontaneity and creativity, as well as the capacity to notice details others miss, are also typical of people with ADHD.

While dyslexia reduces fine detail perception in reading in spelling, let’s focus instead on the strengths of dyslexic people. They reportedly excel at abstract thinking, puzzle solving, spatial reasoning and seeing the bigger picture. Did this make Branson the business tycoon we all know?

Great resilience, good long-term memory and seeing details that others miss applies to people with dyspraxia too. Like other neurodivergent people, they tend to see things “outside the box”, a great strength to have on board.

Make your business inclusive of neurodivergent employees

Neurodiversity in the workplace

Neurodivergent employees benefit from working in an environment inclusive of their strengths and weaknesses.  Let us look, as an example, at reasonable adjustments that help employees with ADHD.

Individuals with ADHD generally need high levels of stimulation, and for their tasks to change frequently. A dynamic, ever changing, fast paced working environment tends to fit them best. Many have a great attention to detail and work hard on tasks they are passionate about.

Keeping this in mind, here are some examples of adjustments that would benefit them.

  • Allow and encourage them to work on multiple tasks, while swapping frequently between them. This helps maintain better focus as it reduces the likelihood of their brain being under stimulated.
  • Break projects into stages and tasks into steps.
  • Offer flexible start and end times, as well as working from home days. Individuals with ADHD struggle with very precise time keeping. The bigger the stressed caused by this, the more likely they become to run late.
  • Allow short regular breaks which will help your employee work more efficiently. Remember they focus better when they do not have to work on the same, monotonous task for a long period of time.
  • Allow the use of headphones, earplugs or other noise reduction technology. Working in an environment with reduced levels of distractions will benefit them.

Other adjustments will help neurodivergent employees with other neurodiverse conditions in the workplace. Your business will only benefit by supporting them to work better and making them feel valued.

Create an inclusive work environment for your staff to increase productivity and retention. You can offer coaching for your neurodivergent employees, as well as mental health training for your managers and team leaders.

We can help via with advice, assessment, short-term counselling or referral services via our Employee Assistance Programme. Access our Health Assured services today by calling 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns has practical experience in Health & Safety and Risk Management having worked for major insurer prior to joining Croner.

She has gained extensive helpline experience offering competent advice and timely support to large number of clients, in various industries and at all levels.  Completed the NEBOSH General Certificate, also passed NEBOSH Environmental Diploma Unit A, (IOSH Managing Environmental responsibilities). NEBOSH Fire and Risk Management Certificate, FPA Advance Fire Training, NCRQ Diploma – Distinction currently completing IPD and volunteering for Community project in Atherstone also as a Dementia support worker with CWPT.

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Fiona Burns

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