New research has found significant barriers to neurodivergent employees disclosing their neurodivergence to employers. The research was conducted by Birkbeck, University of London’s Research Centre for Neurodiversity at Work commissioned by charity Neurodiversity in Business (NiB).
Led by Birkbeck Professors Almuth McDowall and Nancy Doyle, the research team surveyed 1117 people, 127 employers and 990 neurodivergent employees, asking about how work is adjusted, as employers need to accommodate requests, barriers and opportunities, and neurodiverse careers.
Dan Harris, Founder and CEO of NiB says:
This rigorous, first-ever gap analysis of ‘what works’ in the UK informs best practice for employers and establishes the business gain for supporting neurodiverse talent. We have identified that tailored adjustments make a difference and support a case for specialist career pathways.
Dan Harris, Founder and CEO of NiB
But first employers must convince employees that work is a safe place to be openly neurodivergent. The researchers found that 65% of neurodivergent employees feared discrimination from management, 55% from colleagues and 40% said that there aren’t knowledgeable staff to help.
Meanwhile, employers report that they experience barriers to making adjustments: 69% say that lack of disclosure is an issue, 65% that managers don’t know enough and 30% had little faith that adjustments work. So there’s a catch 22 – employees don’t feel safe enough to disclose, but without saying what they need, employers don’t know how best to support.
Neurodivergent abilities and work strengths stood out as a bright spot in the findings. Among the positive aspects of neurodivergence that employers and employees identified, over 80% reported hyperfocus, 78% creativity, 75% innovative thinking, 71% detail processing and 64% people being authentic at work.
Professor Doyle says:
These qualities speak directly to the World Economic Forum’s reported top skills for 2025. The world of work needs people who can create and are divergent thinkers – neurodiverse workers bring exactly this!
Nancy Doyle, Birkbeck Professor
If employers want to retain such remarkable talent, they must address significant turnover intentions. The researchers found people are far less likely to leave where adjustments are tailored (50%), though women and ethnically minoritized people are more likely to leave. Satisfaction with their career was the most important predictor of whether any employee thought about leaving, yet this was an aspect of inclusion which employers did not feel confident about.
Professor McDowall explains:
Our figures document that reasonable tailored adjustments are not simply a ‘nice to have’ but an urgent business need. Organisations need to upskill and support their line managers who are first responders.
Almuth McDowall, Birkbeck Professor
Worryingly, all neurodivergent employees reported low levels of wellbeing. Only half report that they feel calm and relaxed. Nearly 1 in 3 report problems with sleep. This UK data underlines that mental health at work has to remain a core priority across all organisations and all employees.
The researchers have produced an accessible report with clear recommendations which were launched yesterday at the first Neurodiversity in Business Annual Conference.