The Importance of Recognising and Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace

16 May 2024

Organisations always look for ways to innovate, stay competitive, and foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. One significant aspect of diversity that has gained increasing recognition in recent years is neurodiversity – the way all our brains think and work differently.

An estimated 15% of the global population is neurodivergent. Neurodivergence refers to specific types of differences from the way most people think and experience the world, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more.

Despite a Deloitte report stating that teams with neurodivergent professionals can be up to 30% more productive, difficulties remain. The neurodivergent community often encounters challenges in finding and maintaining employment due to a variety of factors. These can include a lack of awareness and understanding among employers regarding neurodivergence, which can lead to biases during the hiring process.

Recent CIPD research revealed that 3 in 10 neurodivergent staff had not told their line manager or HR about their neurodivergence, with 31% of organisations not openly or formally talking about neurodiversity by HR, senior leaders, line managers or resource groups. Without formal acknowledgement or support, neurodivergents may feel marginalised or excluded.

If individuals feel that they can’t open up, employers will be unable to make strides to accommodate them and the cycle continues.

Traditional workplace structures and procedures might not always accommodate the special requirements and preferences of neurodivergent people, which can make it more difficult for them to function at their peak. Differences in communication styles, social interaction styles, and sensory processing differences can also cause obstacles. It’s crucial for businesses to proactively understand and address these issues, modify their procedures, and offer the required accommodations to create a more welcoming and inclusive work environment for all employees.

Recognising and supporting neurodivergence in the workplace brings benefits for all employees, including:

  1. Unleashing Uniqueness
    Neurodivergence includes a broad spectrum of different thinking and processing styles, each with its own strengths and viewpoints. In jobs like quality assurance, data analysis, and software testing, for instance, autistic people can excel in pattern identification, attention to detail, and problem-solving. Embracing neurodivergence allows for a multitude of new insights and approaches, which can enhance problem-solving and innovation inside any organisation.
  2. Fostering a More Inclusive Workplace
    An organisation’s dedication and commitment to valuing neurodiversity conveys a strong message of inclusivity. When individuals’ distinctive abilities are recognised and celebrated, employees—regardless of their unique thinking and processing styles—feel valued and respected. In addition to assisting in staff retention, an inclusive environment also draws in customers or potential employees who may otherwise pass over a business that does not value neurodiversity.
  3. Enhancing employee well-being
    Valuing neurodiversity at work has a significant impact on wellbeing. People are more likely to enjoy job satisfaction, reduced levels of stress, and higher morale when they are given the freedom to be who they are and the resources and accommodations they require. As a result, absenteeism is likely to reduce, and we know that when people feel able to be their authentic selves, this has a positive impact on their mental health and well-being.
  4. Increasing Productivity
    Neurodivergence can dramatically increase an organisation’s productivity. Companies can harness special talents by understanding how their neurodivergent employees function best and providing the support required to enable them to thrive. Neurodivergent individuals perform better when their work environment can be flexible according to their needs. Individualised support and focused training to increase colleagues’ understanding of neurodiversity ultimately benefits the business through higher effectiveness and productivity. Acceptance and accommodations for everyone can ensure all employees perform at their best.
  5. Tapping into an Underserved Talent Pool
    The ability to draw from a talent pool that is frequently underutilised and underserved is one of the most important benefits of recognising and fostering neurodivergence in the workplace. Neurodivergent individuals often bring unique skills and talents that are valuable to any business. Proactively seeking and employing neurodivergents gives a company access to a wider range of skills and abilities, giving it a competitive edge in the market and improving the overall representation of the neurodivergent community in employment.

Employers must comply with the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty to create an inclusive and fair working environment. Recognising and supporting neurodiversity and neurodivergence in the workplace in the UK is not only a legal requirement but an ethical imperative.

Employers could consider offering neurodiversity assessments to promote identification and understanding of neurodivergence in the workplace, as not all employees will disclose this information for fear of judgment or stigma.

Openly talking about neurodiversity and the prevalence within the workforce, either disclosed or undisclosed can help cultural change occur from all levels of the business. Employees should feel their differences are celebrated and they will not be held back because of them.

Community and healthcare services have long waiting lists for support or assessments for those seeking support. Waiting lists in the NHS for assessments vary for children and adults, many are left waiting for years.

Providing employees access to neurodiversity assessments, employers and coworkers can gain a better understanding and tailor support to meet the specific needs of each employee. These can include reasonable adjustments like flexible working, alternative communication methods, or specialised training.

Employers in the UK can get helpful guidance and advice from the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (Acas) on how to promote neurodiversity while fostering diversity and inclusion and complying with any legal requirements.

Embracing and supporting neurodiversity and neurodivergence paves the way for a brighter, fairer and more diverse workforce where everyone feels comfortable being their authentic self and sees themselves fairly represented across all sectors.