Four simple ways to embrace neurodiversity in the workplace

Around a fifth of people have some form of neurodiversity, so it's essential that the workplace is as welcoming as possible It is thought that up to 20 percent of the UK population is neurodivergent and while many companies now are more educated on the need for diversity, many still have some way to go to adapt their workplaces both culturally and physically to ensure these individuals feel they are truly supported, valued, respected and able to the excel in their role. Sadly, a recent study by Birkbeck found that 65 percent of employees with a form of neurodiversity fear discrimination at work, despite companies increasingly recognising the need for inclusivity.

Many countries have laws and regulations in place to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. In the UK this is covered by the Equality Act 2010 which protects employees against both direct and indirect discrimination. Embracing neurodiversity is not only ethically right but also helps organisations comply with their legal requirements.

Neurodiversity covers a range of conditions including dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dyslexia, autism, ADHD, and other cognitive conditions. These individuals possess valuable skills and talents that can contribute to the success of a company. For example, neurodiverse employees can be more attuned to pattern recognition, attention to detail, and analytical thinking. These strengths can be particularly valuable in roles that need complex problem-solving.

Having a neurodiverse team can improve team dynamics allowing for a variety of perspectives and collaboration, encouraging employees to learn from each other’s strengths and differences.

So, what can employers do to support these individuals?


Recognise biases in recruitment

Supporting diversity of thought starts at the point of entry. It’s important that employers recognise the barriers within their hiring practices. For example, ensuring adverts are written using clear and concise language to avoid confusion. Once a job seeker is invited for an interview, provide clear details for what they can expect in the process to avoid any surprises and help them prepare ahead of time.

The interview process traditionally relies on social cues like eye contact and body language. Hiring managers and interviewers should be trained to instead focus on the key skills needed for the role and identify any potential biases. It’s also worth asking those attending interviews if they need any additional support in the process for example having additional time to complete a test.


The work environment

Wellbeing is how each employee perceives the state of their own physical, psychological and social selves. How people feel greatly affects their day-to-day contributions at work. It influences their job satisfaction, their productivity and ultimately how long they’ll stay with a company.

Employers should consider how the physical design of a workplace can impact the comfort of neurodiverse individuals. Designing with impact is key. For example, sensory distractions may impact the productivity of these employees, cause distress and more absences, so it’s worth exploring ways to minimise distractions such as bright lights and colours, loud noises, and strong smells. Employers should look to provide options for adjustable lighting and soundproofing materials in workspaces.

For larger offices or open-plan spaces, alternative work environments such as quiet rooms or designated areas for focused work could support those who need it. Some neurodiverse employees could find having access to chairs with acoustic screens designed to limit noise distractions and reduce external stimulus during tasks beneficial. Employees could also find sensory products on their work desk useful as an outlet for stimming.

When it comes to furniture, employers should also allow for flexible seating arrangements, ergonomic chairs, and equipment that can be adjusted to individual needs to accommodate individual preferences and personal comfort levels. It’s worth considering placements of desk and the textures of the furniture chosen as this may also overstimulate individuals.


Create a culture of acceptance and understanding

Everyone has biases and they can be useful on some occasions to save time and energy, providing a mental shortcut when making decisions. It’s important however that we recognise the problematic ones. Workplace culture is crucial for creating a welcoming and understanding environment for all. Leaders play a critical role in this so training and awareness programs must be available so they understand limiting biases, and how to support employees with additional needs.

Depending on the size of the business, employers may also consider establishing employee resource groups for neurodiverse employees. This can include offering access to wellness programs and external resources that support mental health and stress management. Point employees to where they can receive information about available support services, including employee assistance programs and counselling services if needed.


Embrace change

The ability to embrace change is a key ingredient for a successful business. Instead of being unsettled by uncertainty, not knowing where to start, focus on navigating and embracing change and design for flexibility. In fact, research from McKinsey found that among today’s most productive organisations, 16 percent embrace this view by continually iterating or tweaking processes in response to changing external factors. Every employee will have different needs but by working with them, making adjustments where needed, and constantly looking to evolve, companies can guarantee they remain competitive and support staff wellbeing.

Employers have a duty of care to allow everyone to thrive in the workplace – ensuring that they limit barriers to entry while also building a workplace that is welcoming, understanding, and adjusted based on individual needs will go a long way toward inclusive workplaces.


We are hosting two sessions on Designing for Neurodiversity with Josh Artus at our London showroom on 5 June. Click here for more information.