Approaching And Managing Neurodiversity In The Workplace
Monday 28th November 2022
Neurodivergence can refer to a number of different developmental conditions including autism, ADHD and dyslexia.
Neurodivergent thinking can differ from neurotypical thinking. Although Neurodivergent conditions are often associated with symptoms such as sensory overload, anxiety or blunt communication, neurodivergent people can also benefit from intense focus, pattern spotting skills, greater creativity, and enhanced memory. Undoubtedly this can be valuable to a business and employers are becoming increasingly aware of this but the range and diversity of neurodivergent conditions can make approaching and managing them in the workplace challenging.
In certain circumstances, neurodivergence can amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010 which places an onus on employers to provide reasonable adjustments. These adjustments could be something simple such as allowing more time to complete certain tasks, or allowing the employee to wear headphones when they work. However, there is no one size fits all approach, different people will need different adjustments and it is key that adjustments are discussed with the employee.
It is important to remember that the Equality Act does not require a diagnosis for a condition to amount to a disability. While some employees will have been diagnosed with a neurodivergent condition, some employees who have not realised their neurodiversity until later in life may still be awaiting a formal diagnosis which can be a very slow process. For example, there are currently over 100,000 people in the UK awaiting an autism diagnosis under the NHS. Where an employee discloses their neurodiversity, but they do not have a formal diagnosis, Occupational Health can be a useful way for employers to gain some medical insight to their condition and any helpful adjustments.
Some employees may be hesitant to disclose their neurodiversity to their employer. They may fear that they will be treated differently or that it may harm their progression. Undiagnosed employees may feel they don’t have a strong case to request adjustments. Older employees may be less likely to have been diagnosed in their childhood and may also be more hesitant to talk about their mental health than younger employees. It is therefore important that employers foster a positive environment that encourages employees to disclose any medical conditions, particularly if they feel that changes to the way they work could help them perform better in their role.
It is important that managers recognise that some performance or conduct issues could sometimes be linked to neurodiversity. Equally, managers should avoid assuming that neurodivergent staff are capable or incapable of certain tasks because of their condition. Stereotypes should be avoided, whether it relates to capability or conduct, in a positive or negative light, managers should discuss with the employee in question rather than assuming.
When it comes to neurodivergent staff the focus should be on the in dividual. Different ages and genders will experience and be affected by their conditions in different ways. Communication is key and so is fostering an environment where employees feel confident that they will be supported if they disclose their condition.