It’s estimated that 1 in 5 people are living with a neurodiverse condition today, and yet, according to City & Guilds, between 30 and 40 per cent of neurodivergent people in the UK are currently unemployed.
This is at a time when the ONS reports there are a staggering 19.1 million people across the country who are economically inactive, which is causing huge challenges for the jobs market, given that the number of current vacancies stands at 1.1 million.
The truth is, neurodivergent people bring enormous value, skills and contributions to the workplace, whether that’s energy and creativity from someone with ADHD or hyper-focus and analytical skills from someone with an Autistic Spectrum Condition.
These vital skills and attributes too often go unrecognised and it’s clear that across industries there is simply not enough training around neurodiversity.
In fact, a recent report by City & Guilds, Increasing neurodiversity in the workplace, found that, despite 41 per cent of employers having adapted recruitment processes to accommodate neurodivergent traits, only 23 per cent of HR professionals and 29 per cent of senior leaders have had any specific training in relation to neurodiversity.
With so much to offer the workplace, what can be done to better support neurodivergent people to encourage them back into the workforce?
Universal design for workplaces
First things first, it is vital that across all levels of an organisation there is greater recognition that neurodiversity exists. With this must come an understanding that certain elements of the workplace may have to be adapted for employees with neurodiverse conditions.
This might be around the internal design of the office, such as quieter areas, breakout zones, and consideration around certain types of lighting. Or it might be around the processes put in place at individual or team level, such as avoiding long intangible deadlines, which someone with ADHD might find challenging, or exploring different meeting formats to best-suit someone with a neurodiverse condition. A meeting via Zoom may be particularly challenging for someone with ADHD who might find it more difficult to communicate and therefore by removing face-to-face contact you are removing a crucial layer of communication.
Above all else, employers need to take a person-centred view, recognising that different jobs require different adjustments, and encourage flexibility amongst the team to work in ways that best support neurodiverse colleagues.
Inclusion is central to performance
When looking at performance assessment, it’s important that any neurodiverse condition is taken into account by the assessor; there may well be certain types of struggles they have in relation to their work. Crucially, the line manager who is assessing performance needs to have an understanding of the specific neurodiverse condition of their team member and how it manifests, because not all cases are the same.
Take ADHD. There’s a huge amount of misunderstanding around what the condition is and also how it affects different people. In females for example, it can look like daydreaming, which might give the impression they are flaky, whereas they may actually be struggling to retain information and are feeling overwhelmed. Women often mask their neurodiverse characteristics, can retreat into their own world, or demonstrate impulsive behaviour, whereas men might appear more hyperactive. There is no one-size-fits-all, and so each employee needs to be assessed on an individual basis.
It’s also worth mentioning that women with ADHD are often undiagnosed, and in the working environment this can present problems when it comes to performance management. They may be considered blunt, not good at working to deadlines and too confrontational with colleagues. Take the time to consider why employees may be behaving in certain ways and try to find solutions to resolve any difficulties.
Bias surrounding diagnosis
There’s a huge amount of complexity surrounding the diagnosis of neurodiversity, from people using the internet to inaccurately self-diagnose, to workers not revealing their neurodiverse condition to their workplace and even people with ASD remaining undiagnosed.
What’s clear however is that companies are not considering neurodivergent people as part of their D&I agenda. Instead, D&I tends to focus on gender, disability, ethnicity or sexual orientation. But why not neurodiversity? I doubt that many – if any – companies would be able to say how many of their workforce have a neurodiverse condition, whereas they could easily reveal data around gender or ethnicity. Evidently, neurodiversity is not given enough consideration within the workplace, and as a result there remains a stigma attached to certain conditions, often resulting in workers hiding their characteristics for fear of what their manager or team may think of them.
Attracting and retaining talent
The simple most effective way for employers to step up and both attract and retain neurodiverse talent is to celebrate the staff they already have with neurodiversity. It’s about encouragement to speak up and a focus on the positive attributes rather than just the challenges they bring.
Companies should start by educating their team, empowering them to stand up and talk about their neurodiversity and celebrate it as part of their corporate brand, in the same way they would for other minority groups within the organisation. This celebration needs to come from the top, with senior leaders having courage to speak out about their own neurodiversity. If Sir Richard Branson can tell the world that his dyslexia is his superpower, then surely other business leaders can follow?
To support this, it can be beneficial to bring in professionals to talk to the team about the different neurodiverse conditions that exist, what they are and what they are not. From there, you can bring in team members to talk about their own conditions, the challenges they may have faced and the opportunities that they bring, encouraging an open forum for discussion to enhance wider understanding and celebration of neurodiversity. Only then can we truly start to shift the dial and bring more able people with neurodiverse conditions back into the workforce.
Dr Alison McClymont
Alison originally trained as a psychodynamic therapist prior to training as a chartered psychologist. Her clinical specialism is trauma, using approaches such as EMDR, Trauma-focused CBT, Schema Therapy and Narrative Exposure Therapy.
Alison supports adults who’ve experienced sexual abuse and assault as well as couples, adults and families for a range of conditions including fertility issues & infidelity and has a particular interest in maternal mental health. She has worked in the UK and Hong Kong.
Her areas of specialism also include: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD); Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).