Awareness surrounding neurodiversity is increasing in the workplace, with more emphasis than ever before being placed on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programmes. Whilst many businesses are still in the beginnings of implementing DE&I initiatives, there is greater understanding about its importance and how embracing and supporting ‘differences’ can bring many benefits.

However, there is a long way to go to improve the institutional bias and systemic failures towards neurodiverse people in the workplace, especially if an individual displays social eccentricity and may be deemed a ‘poor cultural fit’ for the business.

In actuality, research suggests that neurodiverse people can often exhibit higher-than-average abilities that can be hugely beneficial in the workplace, such as pattern recognition, analytical thinking, photographic memory and technical focus. Considering that approximately 15-20% of the population has been found to be neurodivergent, employers should embrace diversity of thought in order to unlock the future potential of their business and ensure DE&I in the workplace.

Creating a positive and inclusive environment

The term ‘neurodiversity’ refers to the natural range of difference in human brain function. In the context of the workplace, neurodiversity is an area of diversity and inclusion that refers to alternative thinking styles like ADHD, autism and dyslexia. Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace is essential for creating an inclusive and productive environment, where neurodiverse individuals can act as their authentic selves and perform to the best of their abilities. Neurodiverse people can experience a range of challenges that may make aspects of the workplace uncomfortable, or certain tasks harder or more problematic to pick up. For example, conventional interviews could be particularly challenging for an autistic job applicant, a messy spreadsheet could be problematic for certain dyslexic individuals, or static, remote work might not suit an individual with ADHD.

The first step, therefore, is for employers to forget everything they think they know about neurodiversity and get to know the individual themselves. This should include asking them what adjustments or accommodations will help support them to reach their full potential, allowing them to discuss their skills and strengths and the challenges they face. A starting point is to ditch the traditional recruitment processes – CV reviews and formal interviews – which can potentially disadvantage neurodivergent candidates. Instead, taking a strengths-based approach to recruitment creates an opportunity for candidates to demonstrate their abilities This approach is far more inclusive and enables an individual to demonstrate what they are capable of.

Mental health awareness and training for employees

Throughout the last decade there has been an increasing emphasis on delivering mental health awareness training to line managers. Whilst this has made a huge impact on how we deal with mental health in the workplace, there needs to be training and education in other areas to ensure that today’s workforce is inclusive. For neurodiversity to be understood, employers must provide neurodiversity awareness training for all employees. This could be achieved by providing training during induction whereby employees gain an understanding of what neurodiversity is and how it affects different people in different ways. Providing mental health first aid and considering implementing support groups, staff networking, mentoring and coaching systems for neurodiverse employees can also help to ensure that they feel they have a support network.

Clear policies on neurodiversity are a must so that everyone can easily access and refer to them if needed. This could include making sure any reasonable adjustments required by a neurodivergent employee are met quickly and efficiently, as well as putting plans in place so that any areas of improvement can be identified early on before they become an issue.

Unique skills benefit your business

People with neurodiversity or neurocognitive abilities have talents, perspectives and skills that can be highly advantageous in the workplace – and many more employers are beginning to understand this. To be neurodiversity smart, organisations should strive to celebrate and leverage neurodiverse strengths while taking steps to accommodate any specific challenges that an individual may face. In many cases, taking steps to be inclusive of neurodivergent people will often result in adjustments that benefit all employees, jobseekers, or customers. This can enhance existing provision for disability inclusion in the workplace which has often focused on more visible disabilities, and less on neurodivergent individuals.

Better awareness of neurodiversity means employers can now ensure that proactive adjustments to workspaces and internal processes result in truly universal benefits. Businesses can cultivate a more attractive brand to candidates, as well as existing employees, by embracing neurodiversity in the workplace. Doing so can also be linked to improved productivity, wellbeing, innovation, reputation, engagement and social value, ultimately boosting the growth of your business.

Final words

Making your workplace environment, recruitment and onboarding processes as accessible and supportive as possible for neurodivergent employees and candidates can bring with it a wealth of benefits for your organisation. In a competitive job market, this can ensure that your business can access the widest pool of talent available, harnessing the unique skills that many neurodivergent people often possess. Embracing neurodiverse ways of thinking in the workplace has long-term benefits, supporting employee mental health and improving productivity.

Tracey Paxton
Tracey Paxton
Chief Clinical Officer at The Employee Resilience Company

Tracey, with over 30 years in the NHS, is a seasoned professional in managing public and private sector psychological and occupational health services. As a qualified nurse, workplace mediator, trauma expert, menopause specialist, neurodiversity assessor, and cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist, she brings a wealth of knowledge to navigate the complexities of both sectors. Tracey, a 2020 Institute of Directors 'Director of the Year' awardee, seamlessly integrates practical experience and expertise in her roles.