How should employers embrace neurodiversity?

‘Neurodiversity’ is a modern term to refer to individuals who have neurological conditions such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia. The term is now used to emphasise that these conditions create advantages, such as creativity, consistency and lateral thinking, as well as disadvantages.

neurons lit up in a graphic of a brain


Research carried out by the CIPD, and referenced in a guide published this week has found that 72% of UK employers have workplace policies that disregard neurodiversity and, even though 10% of individuals in the UK are neurodivergent, only 10.2% of organisations have a neurodiversity policy in place.

Following the research, employers should consider how they can make their business more inclusive for neurodivergents. The first step is to increase awareness of neurodiversity and the benefits this can bring. Employers, and managers will benefit from a clear understanding of how neurodiversity impacts individuals at work and what business practices can present difficulties. Providing training to members of staff who are working with, or line managing, a neurodiverse individual will help these understand how the condition has the potential to affect the individual, creating a more supportive and accepting culture.

Employers can review their current business practices to assess whether they are inclusive for neurodivergents or if they present a barrier to these individuals. Where barriers are identified, employers can review whether this is a necessary part of the practice or if alternatives can be used. For example, recruitment processes may present barriers for neurodiverse individuals. To avoid this, employers can ensure the job advert contains clear and specific information about the job role and review the type of tasks they set applicants during interviews. Tests, such as psychometric tests, have been found to disadvantage neurodivergents so employers can review whether they can change the format of these tests, i.e. by allowing written answers, or can increase the time available to submit answers.

Reviewing processes and practice: one size doesn’t fit all

Performance management is also likely to be an area which employers struggle to make inclusive. Any capability or performance management policies should set out how neurodiversity will be taken into account when undertaking procedures, ensuring clear, unambiguous language is used. An examination of whether support and further guidance is needed, rather than formal procedures, should always be undertaken as a first step to resolving any underperformance. Communication also needs to be sensitive, ensuring focus is also given to the strengths of the individual and their positive impact.

The most inclusive and supportive employers will be aware that they need to tailor their management style to the needs of each individual. Neurodiversity is not a uniform condition that affects each individual the same way meaning a one-size-fits-all approach will not suit all situations. Ensuring periodic discussions are planned with the individual, and a degree of flexibility is present in decision-making, will help ensure business practices are supportive. Taking a positive and proactive approach to the legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, rather than seeing it as a restrictive and cumbersome obligation, will also help create a more inclusive and supportive workplace.

*Alan Price is HR director of Peninsula UK, an HR, Employment Law and Health & Safety Consultancy. Picture credit: Wikipedia.

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