Embracing neurodiversity at work fosters diverse teams, where employees are empowered to play to their strength and complement each other’s challenges.
As 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent, this represents 15% of the population, and an opportunity to appeal to those who think differently to ‘most’ and their unique skill set. For example, ADHD has been scientifically linked to strengths including creativity, innovation, resilience, and the ability to hyper-focus.
However, it’s important for employers to remember that neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD can also present significant challenges for individuals, and to ensure these are properly understood and supported within the workplace.
Employers must recognise that they need to think differently about people who think differently. There’s no one size fits all approach, but cultures can be created where neurodivergent employees can work with their brain, instead of against it – which benefits everybody.
Have a public neurodiversity policy
As neurodivergent conditions like ADHD and Autism can be disabilities under the Equality Act 2010, employers should be conscious of their legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to remove, reduce or prevent the substantial disadvantage that a disabled person (including employees and job applicants) experiences because of their condition at work.
However, instead of treating this as an obligation, employers can embrace this as an opportunity to ensure everybody is supported with flexibility to work in the best environments for them, enabling them to do their job effectively.
By pro-actively creating policies explaining legal concepts such as ‘disclosure’, ‘disability’, and ‘reasonable adjustments’, and providing examples of support that has helped other people, employers can make support simple and accessible for everybody who needs it.
Making these publicly available, such as on a website, attracts neurodivergent talent, and ensuring these are promoted internally within an organisation retains this talent. Neurodiversity policies can cover all stages of employment for neurodivergent people, from recruitment to promotion opportunities, clearly explaining the support available – and encouraging people to ask for it.
Provide neurodiversity training
Having neurodiversity policies in place is great, but it’s important to ensure that everybody within an organisation feels confident putting this into practice. As 77% of HR professionals and 71% of senior leaders were found not to have had specific neurodiversity training, this shows a clear gap in the market for employers who truly understand how to support and harness neurodiversity at work.
Training may be applicable at all levels of an organisation, from HR to an individual’s manager. The UK Government’s Access to Work scheme can fund disability awareness training, which can be adapted to the situation required, such as having training for an individual’s team on a specific condition.
Employers can have organisation-wide neurodiversity training to raise awareness and spark conversations about neurodiversity within work, and turn this into action with more specialised training where needed.
This can also be shared to increase awareness both within and outside of an organisation, such as ADHD Works’ ADHD Champions programme, where employees who have completed training in ADHD coaching skills receive a logo and certificate to share with others.
Support employee resource groups
A great way for employers to attract and retain neurodivergent talent is to promote employee resource groups, such as those focused specifically on neurodiversity. These provide great opportunities for like-minded employees to provide peer-support and share resources.
As neurodivergent conditions including ADHD have been linked with a strong sense of social justice, in addition to strengths of compassion, curiosity, and innovation, it’s likely that many brilliant ideas about fostering a neurodiversity-friendly culture will emerge from such groups.
It’s important for employers to ensure those leading such groups are properly supported, such as with budgets to provide high quality events, and have opportunities to be heard across the organisation to ensure work is linked up. This could include having regular meetings with senior leaders, for example, to share feedback and ideas.
Share case studies and best practice
Although if you’ve met 1 neurodivergent person, you’ve met 1 neurodivergent person, it can be very helpful for individuals to see real life examples of what’s worked for other people. As ADHD has only been diagnosed in adults in the UK since 2008 for example, many are discovering they have ADHD later in life, and are unaware of what support could help them at work.
As an employee, it can also be extremely vulnerable to disclose being neurodivergent in the workplace, especially if there’s no clear benefit, or reason to do so. The best way employers can attract and retain neurodivergent talent is by creating neurodiversity friendly cultures and supporting people on a day to day basis, such as by making reasonable adjustments and pro-actively sharing examples of what has helped others across an organisation.
It can be particularly powerful for senior leaders to share their experiences of neurodiversity, often creating psychological safety and inspiration for others to do the same.
Doing so publicly, such as in a blog post or podcast (with permission!), can be a great way to demonstrate not only words, but actions, of actively supporting, harnessing, and valuing neurodivergent people at work.