Supporting neurodiverse employees in the workplace
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Mike Blake, wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson, looks at how companies can support neurodiverse employees in the workplace.
Although a relatively new term, neurodiversity is gaining traction in the world of work, with a growing number of employers outlining their commitment to creating a neuro-inclusive workplace.
Neurodiversity refers to individuals who have a neurodevelopment disorder, such as autism, Asperger’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, Tourette’s, and dyscalculia.
Unemployment has been a long-standing issue for neurodiverse people, particularly for people with autism, but workplaces have started to recognise the valuable addition neurodiverse individuals make to the workforce and the meaningful contributions that result from a different way of thinking.
Although companies are expanding their talent pool, keen to take advantage of the creative, innovative and highly specialised skills that neurodiverse workers can offer, businesses need to be mindful of the challenges they face, as well as unique strengths they possess.
According to research by Willis Towers Watson, one in three (32 per cent) of UK workers say their employer fails to offer additional help or support for employees who have neurodevelopmental disorders.
This is despite more than one in ten (15 per cent) of respondents saying either they or someone they work with are neurodiverse*.
Whilst one-third of the survey respondents said the affected person did not receive support, just half (50%) said they received education or advice from their employers on their colleague’s condition.
Employers should look to support employees with the issues they face, whilst leveraging their talents and helping them grow professionally.
When it comes to the wellbeing of their neurodivergent employees, companies should take steps to make them feel valued, included members of the workforce, who play an integral role in the success of the business.
But internal processes and managerial style need to be addressed for this to be achieved.
According to a recent CIPD survey, 70 per cent of HR professionals said consideration of neurodiversity was excluded from their people management process, despite an estimated 10 per cent of the population being neurodivergent in some way.
Companies should review everything from how they communicate to the physical working environment, to ensure that they are inclusive of the entire working population and considerate of potential need.
Training HR teams and line managers on the challenges associated with different neurodevelopment disorders, and the workplace adjustments that can be made to accommodate them, would also be advantageous.
Education and training can be provided to promote sensitivity amongst the wider workforce and challenge any unconscious biases that can limit access to opportunities for people who experience the condition.
Regular communications about how common such conditions are, their symptoms and the support available to those affected will help break down barriers, help to allay concerns and encourage workers to feel more comfortable about the challenges they face.
However, employers should be careful about their approach. Employers may not be aware if someone is living with a neurodevelopment condition, but supposition can be a harmful route and one that can fuel isolation.
Instead, companies should look to create a supportive environment in which people can feel comfortable and confident about being open about living with their conditions, without fear of judgement.
Companies should also steer clear of stereotyping. Although there are certain characteristics associated with neurodivergent workers, such greater attention to detail, or strong data analytical skills, each condition presents differently in each individual so assumptions should not be made.
To do so could create unrealistic expectations for the worker in question and cause undue stress or make them feel on the fringe or singled out.
Finally, but most importantly, workers should be consulted about the level and nature of support needed, as some may see their condition as a highly sensitive and private manner. These boundaries should be respected.