Neurodiversity In the Office

We tend to hear the word “diversity” all the time regarding workplace culture. Typically, diversity refers to the ideal environment of people from different backgrounds, with a range of characteristics and life experiences, who all feel respected, included, valued, and comfortable at work. Of course, this is what every employer should strive for. But there is often one characteristic that is often missed. 

What Is Neurodiversity?

According to Harvard Health Publishing, neurodiversity is defined as “the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one ‘right’ way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.” 

This includes those with neurological conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism. 

In the United States, almost 20 percent of the population is neurodiverse in some way. For decades, these potential hires have been rejected from the candidate pool. However, in a world dominated by rising technological advancement and automation, the benefits of the neurodiverse workforce have never been greater. 

Different vs. Disabled 

Contrary to popular opinions of past generations, the neurodiverse population is often not disabled. Instead, they are simply differently-abled. Most of this population may struggle with social skills, they may rock or tick or avoid eye contact, but they also have above-average abilities in other areas. Drexel University’s National Autism Indicators Report says 51% of workers on the spectrum have skills higher than what their job requires. Meanwhile, fewer than one in six adults with autism even has full-time employment.

What Makes the Neurodiverse Unique? 

Hiring the neurodiverse is not just a way to check the “inclusive and diverse” box. It is a meaningful way to bring significant benefits to your organization. A report by JPMorgan Chase found in Financial Times (paywall) that professionals in its Autism at Work initiative made fewer errors and were 90% to 140% more productive than neurotypical employees. Typical characteristics of the neurodivergent population include the following: 

  • A highly attuned central nervous system. 
  • Excellent at pattern recognition and spotting irregularities
  • Can be both highly sensitive and high achieving.
  • The ability to focus on complex and repetitive tasks over a long period of time
  • More likely to produce innovative and creative ideas

Creating an Inclusive Environment

It is also important that employers recognize some of the challenges that neurodiverse people could face in a typical business setting. Understanding these can help you create a more inclusive workplace. 

  • Understand your neurodiverse employees. Get to know them. Learn their special skills and the ways that they work and communicate. 
  • Have quiet areas where employees are expected to maintain a quiet volume and slower pace. 
  • Be flexible when it comes to break times and taking a walk if they have to stay still for longer than 45 minutes. 
  • Provide access to an EAP or set up a mentoring program to help employees grow and succeed.
  • Use simple adjustments such as having a dark mode on screens and apps or color filters to alleviate vision strain. 
  • Provide noise-canceling headphones when necessary.

Tips on How to Make it Work in Your Company

Creating an inclusive working environment where employees feel open and comfortable isn’t always achieved overnight. There will never be a one-size-fits-all approach to accommodate neurodiversity because everyone has different needs and should be treated accordingly. Here are four tips to get started: 

Get everyone on the same page

Engage with leadership and have conversations about what it means to have a neurodiverse workforce and why it’s important. Be open and transparent in your language. Create a space where neurotypical employees can ask questions and neurodiverse employees can speak up. 

Use Your Local Community

Oftentimes, government agencies, non-profits, or educational institutions will be able to help you find the talent you’re looking for and help them transition into the workplace. They may also be able to provide training and valuable advice to your current workforce. 

Look Past a Resume

Hiring neurodiverse populations may look different than your typical job interview. Most of the superficial norms won’t be evident. Chances are, you won’t get a firm handshake or someone looking you in the eye when they speak. Many neurodiverse individuals are often self-taught or possess transferrable skills that are difficult to explain on paper. Get to know them and those they spend time with. Ask about their hobbies, special interests, and skills. 

Organize Two-Way Training

Soft skill training is critical for building a neurodiverse workforce, but training should go both ways. Managers should be educated about how best to work with those on the spectrum. 

Company-Wide Benefits of the Neurodiverse

Creating a neurodiverse working environment can provide benefits to everyone who has the opportunity to work with this population.  Neurodiversity created better managers who look at the individual needs of all of their employees. Because working with neurodiversity requires clear communication, shorter words and direct instructions tend to benefit both neurotypical and neurodiverse employees. In short, hiring employees who see things differently can benefit all of us in unique ways. This special population of individuals may just be the change you are looking for.