Neurodiversity In The Workplace

A hot subject in today’s conversation surrounding the workforce, is diversity hiring. Many organisations are making a conscious effort to integrate a diverse workforce in order to encourage innovative thinking to gain a competitive edge. To bolster these efforts hiring neurodivergent workers could be a pivotal part of the solution. Hiring neurodivergent professionals can only help businesses turn the tide on the current worker shortage, while also bringing out-of-the-box ways of thinking into their organisations and giving them a competitive advantage.

Even though a lot of companies have an increased focus on DE&I, the neurodivergent group is often overlooked when the diversity conversation comes up. Because of this, individuals within this group tend to experience higher rates of unemployment and underemployment compared to the general population. For example, in the UK it is estimated that only one in five people on the autism spectrum are employed.

Neurodivergent workers: Why Hire Them?

The biggest benefit of an inclusive work culture is that it bolsters diversity of thought, innovation, creativity, and different approaches to work. Research has found that teams with neurodivergent workers in some roles can be as much as 30% more productive than those without them. Team morale can also be boosted by integrating and including neurodivergent professionals.

Neurodivergent people are all unique, so it wouldn’t accurate to generalise their thought processes. For some individuals in this group thought processes may be more abstract, for others linear, while to some it may be a matter of reordering and changing sequences (i.e. putting step 6 before step 3 and so on).

Talents such as attention to detail, pattern recognition, visual thinking, creative thinking, and visual memory can help illuminate ideas or opportunities teams may have missed otherwise.

How To Ensure Neurodivergent Workers’ Success

Companies may need to challenge their traditional workplace processes in various ways in an effort to create a more diverse workplace. We take a look at various ways in which you can create a more diverse workplace overall, and if customised well, they can also better serve to integrate and leverage the full potential of neurodivergent talent.  

Reassess the hiring process

For the last few years, companies have been consciously looking at different talent pools for different skills and abilities. The hiring process is the first contact potential employees have with the employer, so it is essential that bias is minimised both for the recruiter and the algorithm if there is one. To avoid any algorithmic bias it is important that human recruiters validate results of one-way AI video interviews. At the same time, human recruiters may have unconscious biases, therefore it is key that hiring managers and recruiters be sensitised to various types of personalities. They should be alerted against drawing hasty conclusions based on deviations from what may be an expected response in areas such as handshakes, gestures, eye contact, etc.

Some businesses harness talent-matching software in their screening processes to get a better understanding of a person’s unique capabilities. By using this approach they can get a better overview of competencies that are harder to asses (risk-taking, emotional intelligence, logical reasoning, perseverance, etc.)

Tweak The Interview Process

Throughout your interview process, consider moving from the abstract to the specific. It’s important to not assume that everyone will connect the dots in the exact same way. Try to focus on the skills needed on the job to keep the conversation closer to reality.

Some companies have begun tweaking their interview processes to support neurodivergent applicants better, by allowing candidates to use their own laptops for tests instead of company-provided devices so they are more comfortable. Furthermore, some go as far as letting candidates have a say on how they would like to interact with the employer, in a way “co-creating” this first experience. As a business you could arrange collaborative interviews, suggest trial work periods, provide opportunities to candidates to demonstrate skills as viable alternatives to face-to-face interviews.

Building A Conducive Work Environment

It isn’t enough to simply get the screening and interview process right. You also need to create a culture and workplace where both neurotypical and neurodivergent team members can thrive. There are a few things you should take into account, to achieve this.

Regardless of whether your employees are neurotypical or neurodivergent they will have different working styles; some may need regular reiterations, others may need clear, multistep instructions once, while others will be comfortable with general asks and can break them into multistep activities themselves. Your managers should find out how each professional works best and how they understand assignments best, then mould their management style accordingly.

Mentors are an important support to the careers of all workers, but they are potentially even more important for the development of the neurodivergent workforce. Studies have found that companies that provide mentors to talent with a disability report an 18% increase in productivity, 16% increase in profitability, and 12% in customer loyalty.

Support from a mentor doesn’t only stop at career advice, they can advocate for the professional, empowering the individual to build relationships and create other professional allies across the organisation.

Like it is for many workers, flexibility can be particularly important for neurodivergent individuals. A schedule that’s flexible can allow people to take time off for self-care and therapy appointments. Rather than placing the responsibility on your workers, your business can foster this culture of flexibility by making it a part of your policy. For example a work-from-home policy may be a viable approach for those who might perform better out of the office, particularly those that are wary of travel or working in a social office environment.

On the flip side, some neurodivergent individuals may find routine is what makes them thrive. It’s not a one-size fits all. What is key is flexibility from you as the employer.

A Sense of Belonging

Simply tolerating and accepting an individual is not enough. The issue with that is that individuals determine whether they can tolerate or accept others, which means that they are in charge of the rules and norms others need to follow to be accepted. It’s important to create a sense of belonging to ensure neurodivergent and neurotypical professionals thrive in their positions.

Your organisation can do this in three ways:

  • Connection: Professionals identify themselves with a defined team (e.g. geography, department, function, etc.) and have a sense of community with their peers
  • Comfort: Give neurodivergent employees the freedom to bring their authentic selves to work and be treated equally and fairly
  • Contribution: Professionals are valued for their individual contributions and they feel aligned with the business’ mission, values, and purpose.

Custom Career Journeys for Everyone

Offering people bespoke, personalised work experiences not only gives workers the ability to better contribute and develop in the workplace and it will also help the business grow. This is a particularly relevant approach to the neurodivergent talent pool. In order for this to be viable, here are some key things to take into consideration:

A lot of businesses won’t have specific organisational policies to support their neurodivergent staff like they do for other minority groups (race, ethnicity, gender, etc.). Having clear policies can make sur that everyone understands them in the same way. Furthermore, it’s also key you codify and specify unspoken rules that some neurodivergent workers may otherwise miss. These policies can also be helpful if any intervention is needed for discriminatory behaviour. Companies may want to put privacy policies in place to protect information about neurodivergent workers’ diagnoses, given that neurodiversity is often invisible, and create tailored approaches based on individual worker’s preferences.

Businesses should consult with legal counsel to formulate and develop policies for neurodiversity, such as implementing targets for hiring candidates from that talent pool.

Career growth means various things to different people. Not everybody wants to progress to higher levels, some may view success as simply being in a role they like. Certain individuals may prefer to work in teams, while other alone. Therefore, to ensure success in a position, it’s important for businesses to consider bespoke career paths that recognise and celebrate capabilities, goals, and strength of each individual- whether they be neurodivergent or neurotypical.

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