Neurodiversity: 5 ways to support a neurodiverse workplace

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Debbie Bullock, Aviva’s Head of DEI and Wellbeing Lead, on how to create an inclusive neurodiverse wellbeing strategy.

Every person is unique. We all have different traits and ways of doing things. A goalkeeper doesn’t need the pace of a winger, but they do need swift reactions and agility. A tall, powerful centre half wouldn’t need the ball skills of a top-class striker to do their job well – they bring their own strengths to the party. Each player is an asset to the team, and it’s their differences that make them more than the sum of their parts. But some people have their own unique challenges and opportunities because their brains work differently to other people. This is known as neurodivergence.

Neurodiversity describes people who experience the world differently to others in social, education and workplace environments. It can include people with autism, dyslexia, ADHD and dyspraxia, amongst other conditions.

Why neurodivergent employees are important to your business?

With around one in seven people estimated to be neurodivergent [1]Footnote 1, it’s more than likely that you will have employees with a neurodiverse condition. Because neurodivergent think differently to neurotypical people, they can be invaluable to a business as they may approach situations differently. Often, their capacity for thinking in an unorthodox way means neurodivergent employees can be skilled at things as varied as thinking creatively, solving complex problems, identifying patterns and trends, or paying attention to detail.

This difference in approach could help you find an edge in business. By bringing together different cultures, backgrounds and personalities to share their thoughts, this can reflect the customers and communities that a business operates in.

How to support neurodiverse employees

Protecting the wellbeing of an employee is crucial if they’re to remain engaged and happy in their work. It’s important to remember that every person has different needs, and each neurodiverse employee will have their own struggles and challenges. Ask people with lived experiences to shape help how you support your employees and consider establishing communities or getting external support. Here are some specific strategies and practices you could consider to support your employees:

  1. Different people need different things from their workplace environment

    It’s easy to forget the physical environment when considering how to support neurodivergent people, but it can be an important factor. Employees may be sensitive to noise and light, so setting aside quieter, less brightly lit areas is something to consider. Desk assessments can help identify whether computer screens are the right brightness level, and whether employees have the right equipment – anything from trays and drawers to daily planners and screen overlays. Providing some opportunities to work flexibly which works for both the individual and the business can be particularly valuable in the case of neurodivergent people.

    It's well worth documenting any agreed changes – Aviva does using a Workplace Adjustment Passport, designed to make it easier for individuals and managers to understand specific needs and how to meet them. Our Workplace Adjustment Passport moves with the employee if they change role, so that they don’t have to explain the same information to a new manager or team.
  2. Make your communications clear and unambiguous

    No matter what form your communications take, it’s important to say exactly what you mean – some neurodiverse people may not pick up on nuances in the same way a neurotypical person might do. Varying the format of your communications can also help people who digest information differently.
  3. Help all your employees to understand neurodiversity

    Offering training in neurodiversity can help clear up potential misconceptions, making it clear that neurodiversity isn’t an illness or a single condition. This includes promoting the use of positive language – so employees never refer to neurodiverse colleagues as ‘suffering’ from something or having learning difficulties. It’s also important to encourage an open, inclusive culture and to train managers to assign work tasks appropriately, meeting needs and playing to strengths.
  4. Take a long hard look at recruitment processes

    A broad brush approach to recruitment could lead employers to miss out on the opportunity to recruit talented individuals. Not everyone is an all-rounder. For instance, a candidate may not perform brilliantly across areas like communication, being persuasive or in situations requiring a high degree of emotional intelligence – but other strengths may more than make up for this. Equally, some neurodivergent individuals may not ‘interview well’ if they avoid eye contact or stray away from the question being asked. A more flexible recruitment process – perhaps involving time spent at the potential workplace rather than a formal interview – may be a better way to understand what a candidate can do.
  5. Create a workplace policy on neurodiversity

    It may help to draw up a framework for managers and employees to follow, setting out steps to help prevent discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. This could also be a good place to signpost useful resources or support networks.

    Building a winning team is all about coaching the individuals within it in ways that bring out their own particular strengths rather than expecting them all to be good at the same things. Neurodiversity – like other forms of diversity – can bring a business the fresh perspectives that give it a competitive edge. Let’s make sure we support it.

To discover more about neurodiversity in the workplace, take a look at our guide.

Debbie Bullock, Head of DEI and Wellbeing Lead at Aviva, leads the strategy and delivery of Aviva’s wellbeing and diversity, equity and inclusion programmes. She regularly shares her knowledge and experience of Aviva’s progress and learnings for the benefit of both individuals and corporate organisations.

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