Many businesses celebrate workplace diversity and inclusion. But that doesn’t just cover sexuality or gender terms. It also includes neurodiversity.
Sociologist Judy Singer first used the term 'neurodiversity' in the late 1990s. Since then, more of us encourage ‘neurodiversity acceptance’ in our everyday life.
Employers must know the rights of neurodivergent workers. If not, they could face discrimination claims - leading to major business losses.
In this guide, we'll look at what neurodiversity means, different psychological conditions, and how to support neurodivergent employees.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity refers to a person who thinks 'differently' compared to society.
All human brains have individual physical and mental traits. And each ‘difference’ shapes the way we behave, think, and speak.
Neurodivergence presents these subtle differences in people’s brains. In reality, you can label these as conditions like ADHD, autism, and dyslexia.
Being neurodivergent doesn’t mean a person is less capable or inferior. Every human brain describes people and what makes them unique.
In the workplace, employers should recognise neurodivergence. By doing so, you’ll be able to utilise individual skills you won’t find in a neurotypical workforce.
The history of the neurodiversity movement
Australian sociologist Judy Singer found the neurodiversity movement in 1998. Singer herself had autism spectrum disorder. After years of research, she introduced the term 'neurodiversity'.
Her idea described human diversity within the mind. People used to think there was only one type of normal brain (anything else was unusual). But Singer’s research found that 'brain differences' were completely normal.
Most people are diagnosed with neurodiversity symptoms as children in junior school or higher education. After leaving school, people were able to explain their conditions fully.
Developmental disorders allow people to understand how their brain is wired. With a name to their condition, they were able to use their neurodiverse traits in their everyday life.
What are common neurodiverse conditions?
There are many conditions that sit under the term neurodiversity.
People with developmental disorders or learning disabilities may show a variety of symptoms. After formal diagnosis, people often learn how to manage these symptoms and utilise their condition.
Here are examples of conditions that come under neurodiversity:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is a condition that changes a person’s behaviour or manner.
ADHD affects around 2.6 million people in the UK (according to ADHDUK.co.uk). Common symptoms of ADHD are being hyper, impulsive, and having little patience. But these symptoms vary from person to person.
In the workplace, a person with ADHD may find it hard to sit for long hours. However, people with ADHD have hyper-focus abilities which can help them to complete work quickly and efficiently.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability. There are all kinds of autistic people, but differences in their brain differentiate them from others.
In the UK, 1 in every 100 people are on the autistic spectrum (according to Autism.org). Autistic people struggle with repetitive movements and have specific interests. The autistic community uses ‘identity-first’ language to describe their 'intellectual disabilities'.
In a workplace, autistic workers have high focus levels and attention to detail. But they're often uncomfortable in social situations.
Dyslexia is a learning condition that affects a person’s ability to read or spell.
It’s often found in children during their school years. But 1 in 6 adults suffer from it throughout their life (according to Dyslexia.uk.com). Common challenges that dyslexic people face is understanding words and processing language.
In a workplace, a person with dyslexia may struggle with their writing abilities. But they do have a competitive advantage. Dyslexic people have excellent puzzle-solving and visual memory skills.
Dyspraxia is a learning difficulty that affects a person's coordination and motoring skills.
Like autism and dyslexia, dyspraxia is usually seen during school. But in the UK, 6% of adults experience it (according to dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk). Common difficulties include hand-to-eye coordination and being aware of their surroundings.
In the workplace, these employees can struggle with concentrating and social interaction. But they can be excellent critical thinkers and extremely motivated.
Tourette Syndrome is when a person has difficulty with controlling tics.
Around 300,000 people live with tic disorders in the UK (according to Tourette-action.org.uk). Tics are repetitive words or actions, like whistles or swears. They can develop at any point in a person's life and people have little control over them.
In a workplace example, a person's tics may shock first-time customers. But people with Tourette have able adapt to new environments or ‘awkward’ situations.
UK laws on neurodiverse employees
In the UK, there is no specific law on neurodiversity. But there are relevant legal rules that apply.
Not all neurodivergent people believe they have a 'mental disability'. But neurological conditions can class as a disability under the law.
The Equality Act 2010 states that a disability must have a:
- 'Substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to do normal daily activities’. The definition applies to both physical and mental conditions.
It’s possible you have neurodivergent employees and aren’t aware. Some people avoid talking about their conditions at work. That's because they're worried about being judged or alienated based on their mental state.
If employees are unfairly treated because of their disability, they could raise a discrimination claim. If the claim is upheld, you could be forced to pay compensation - resulting in major business damages.
Legal rights to protection
Under the law, disability is a protected characteristic. You cannot treat any employee unfavourably because of their conditions.
Under the Equality Act, employers must:
- Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, and victimisation.
- Provide equal opportunities for employees with disabilities.
- Grow comfortable work environments for employees.
Legal rights to reasonable adjustments
Under the Equality Act 2010, you will need to offer these employees reasonable adjustments.
These employees have a legal right to ask for work changes. Like, changes to their contract, environment, or duties.
How to support neurodiversity in the workplace
Every business should recognise their employees as individual beings. No two workers are the same - both physically and mentally.
Embracing neurodiversity is so valuable for your business. You should celebrate every individual difference - in both ability and disability.
Just to note, the opposite of neurodiversity is 'neurotypical'. This is when a person acts in the same way as the rest of society. But who wants to build a workforce based on that?
Let’s look at how to support neurodiversity at work:
Encourage their differences
Neurodiversity isn’t an illness – it’s simply about being different.
It doesn't matter if an employee has autistic behaviours or uncontrollable tics. Every business should encourage employees and their differences.
Don’t focus on the negative side of neurological differences. Instead, you should promote the advantages that come with them. By encouraging employees, they’ll be able to achieve anything and know their value.
Remember, neurological conditions can have its downsides. They might have uncontrollable tendencies or suffer daily (like those with autism).
So, be understanding and remind them that you don't need a neurotypical workforce.
Keep open communication
Neurodivergent people often find it hard to communicate and lack social interaction skills. (This is especially common for people with ADHD or those on the autism spectrum disorder).
Employers should keep open channels of communication with neurodiverse staff. They might find it hard to speak out in front of their co-workers. So, speak to them in quiet areas, away from distractions and noise.
But communication isn't just about regular catch ups. If an employee uses identity-first language, you should as well. This means understanding their conditions and supporting their specific needs.
Remember, employees legally don't need to mention their neurodiverse conditions to you. So, make your staff aware of what support you can provide to help better their working conditions.
End stigma on mental health conditions
Many people lack a clear idea for what neurodiversity is.
People assume it's linked to mental illnesses or learning disabilities. This type of misunderstanding can lead to negativities or ignorance around neurodiversity conditions.
As an employer, you must help end stigma around mental health. Inform all employees about the correct meaning of the term neurodiversity and what it involves.
In the end, it'll help build a better understanding of neurodiverse employees. And help them collaborate with their co-workers in harmony.
Offer neurodiversity training to managers
One of the best ways to promote neurodiversity is by communicating with your line managers.
You should offer them education on neurodiversity and training so they can better understand the conditions better.
Managers can help anyone with a disability on a daily basis. They should also eliminate any cases of bullying towards neurodiverse workers.
Improve personal well-being
As an employer, you're not expected to heal their condition. But you do have a legal duty of care for employees.
You should safeguard employees with social challenges or neurodiverse conditions. A great way to do this is by improving their personal well-being.
For example, offer them medical referrals, in-person counselling, and employee assistance programmes (EAPs). Talk to them about how you can help make their work-life easier.
In the end, employees will feel valued and respected. And employers are rewarded with higher retention, output, and business revenue.
Use their skills for business success
Neurodivergent employees prosper in environments that promote their strengths. To achieve this, you can grow business success by using their skills.
For example, employees with ADHD strive in dynamic, face-paced workplaces. To use their skills, encourage them to take on multiple tasks. It'll help them remain focused and keep their 'brain' active.
For those who struggle with multi-tasking, provide short regular breaks. This can help break up their day and work more efficiently.
You can also offer flexible start and end times to anyone with time-management issues. By eliminating struggles, employees can focus on completing their tasks to the best of their ability.
Get expert advice on neurodiversity with Croner
Every employer must work to support neurodiversity at work. Whether they're autistic or have ADHD, encourage the idea of individuality in the workplace.
Without the right support, neurodiverse employees may feel isolated and alienated from their colleagues. This could mean that you end up losing staff - along with their respect and loyalty.
Croner offers expert advice on neurodiversity. From initiating changes to equal opportunities, our HR advisors are here to help.
Have questions about neurodiverse employees? Speak to a Croner expert for HR or employment law advice today on 0800 470 2755.
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