Regular guest blogger, Nikki Dallas, provides five ways that companies can help to improve the working lives if those with neuro-diverse conditions.
According to the government department ACAS, who give advice for employers and employees on improving working life, it is estimated that more than 15% of the UK (which is 1 in 7 people) are neurodivergent. This includes a range of diagnoses including Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia.
With numbers this high, supporting neuro diversity is not a luxury, it is a necessity to get the best out of your staff. In addition to this, creating a workplace that attracts and supports neurodivergent staff members can benefit your business.
Greta Thunberg, when speaking about the developmental disorder Asperger’s said “I have Asperger’s and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And given the right circumstances being different is a superpower.”
This statement is backed up by companies who have already implemented policies to support Neuro Diversity. SAP, who have the longest running policy among major businesses (although this is just four years old) say it is paying off in employee engagement, productivity gains, innovative capabilities, and quality improvement.
So how do you support Neuro Diversity in the Workplace? We have 5 ways to make a positive difference.
1 Workplace Design
Everyone can be affected by an unsuitable workplace, and this can be even more so in neurodiverse staff members, but help is at hand - the BSI has recently announced a new project to create guidelines for the design of buildings to address the needs of the neurodiverse.
“PAS 6463: Design for the Mind - Neurodiversity and the Built Environment” is due to be published soon. Jean Hewitt, a Senior Inclusive Design Consultant Trainer at Buro Happold (one organisation sponsoring PAS 6463) commented “In addition to designing places to accommodate our diversity in form, size and physical ability, there is also a profound need to design for neurological difference.”
According to ACAS, ideas that you can use in your own workplaces include reducing the amount of information/artwork displayed on walls, putting up dividers to block noise and having designated quiet areas, displaying clear instructions next to equipment and machinery, allocating work areas with more natural light to staff that struggle with office lighting and providing staff with cabinets, lockers, and name labels, to aid them in the organisation of their work and equipment.
Creating a supportive environment is about more than just the building; the culture of a workplace can have a big impact on how well people perform. According to Allison Brooks, a licensed psychologist specialising in neurodevelopmental disorders, “it is important to make cultural improvements in an organization as well as teaching employees with neurodevelopmental differences the skills they need to self advocate, because often times the flip side of our greatest weaknesses is often our greatest strength”.
You can achieve this by ensuring that, if line managers change, information about the employee and any adjustments are passed on, creating a support network for neurodivergent employees including a mentor or buddy, providing training for employees to become neurodiversity champions, and rewarding staff who support their colleagues and regularly highlighting what support is available inside and outside the organisation.
Most recruitment processes ask applicants to advise if they have a disability, but applicants with neurodiversity may not realise it is considered a disability or be reluctant to reveal it due to prejudice. ACAS believe that “If a recruitment process is not actively designed to be inclusive, it is likely to unintentionally disadvantage neurodivergent applicants and be discriminatory”.
As an employer you can help by providing examples of reasonable adjustments that are used by the organisation to reassure candidates that invitations to disclose are genuine, using the phrase “do you have a disability, a form of neurodivergence (e g ADHD, autism, dyslexia or dyspraxia) or any condition that affects you at work?". You can also give guidance on the structure of the interview and include example questions and answers, and allow applicants to know the questions they will be asked before the interview.
Useful for all kinds of diversity is training interviewers in unconscious bias and how to avoid making assumptions based upon an applicant's body language or social competence, asking clear and specific questions and avoiding open ended or hypothetical questions and considering alternative options to interviews, such as short paid work trials or practical assessments.
4 Job Role
Effective job design does not have to be uniform. Although it may seem fairer (not to mention easier) to design similar roles at each level of an organisation, some elements can be varied to suit the employee. For example, autistic employees can find line management responsibilities difficult, so creating tailored roles without this responsibility would remove the issue and allow employees to focus on their strengths.
Employers can improve how they design roles by finding the main purpose and tasks of the role and considering whether they need a broad range of skills or more specialised skills They can enable more tailored positions by trusting managers to spot and make the most of employees' strengths and minimise any difficulties and allowing managers to set appropriate objectives that can fairly assess performance.
Your company could offer diagnostic assessments to evaluate the employee's abilities and skills by conducting a number of tests. These are specialist tests, performed by a psychologist or a specialist teacher on the particular form of neurodivergence, such as dyslexia or ADHD that will formally diagnose if staff members are neurodivergent. They will outline strengths and identify areas of difficulty making general recommendations but not specifically focus on their work.
You could also consider a workplace-needs assessment, bringing on a specialist assessor to interview the employees and gather confidential feedback from the manager or HR regarding performance. They would evaluate the requirements of the staff member’s role, the difficulties they experience and their performance to date and give recommendations.
The Jobscribe Fox says – diversity is about more than just the visible and the obvious and it is important that we are all providing a fair opportunity for all employees and job seekers. Adjusting the way that we work and recruit, in order to put neuro-diverse people on a level playing field is something that all companies should be looking at.