Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace

4 min read  |   20 May, 2022   By Aimée Brougham-Chandler

Two men and a woman are in an office, sat around a table, looking away from the camera and at a graph on a laptop.

It’s estimated that 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent in the UK – that’s around 15% of the population.

In this blog, we cover an overview of neurodiverse conditions and why awareness of neurodiversity matters, along with how workplaces can build more inclusive environments that support staff.


What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the umbrella term that covers all neurocognitive differences, from autism and ADHD to dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia.

Neurodiversity refers to the many different ways brains can process information, think about things, learn and generally understand the world around us. Our brains being different is one of the reasons why some people are better at certain things than others.

People that are neurodivergent process information differently than neurotypical people might. They may also learn differently too, as their brain functions in a different way.

As humans are individuals, so are our brains – everyone’s works a little differently.


Why does neurodiversity matter?

Neurodiversity matters because the world would be dull if all humans thought the same way. Understanding neurodiversity promotes inclusiveness and fosters better working relationships. Being aware of differences in how people communicate, for example, can improve the capacity of what teams can achieve if everyone understands other people’s abilities.

A neurodiverse person might communicate differently than a neurotypical person. There are benefits for everyone in recognising different styles of communication, especially at work.

Neurodivergent people have a lot to contribute and shouldn’t be dismissed or not recognised in their careers because of the way their brain might work. Neurodiverse people have been known to display skills more advanced than others in certain areas, such as problem-solving or may be particularly good at maths or logical tasks.

Understanding where any employee’s strengths lie is a great way to advance the progress & capabilities of your team.


Why neurodiversity awareness is important in the workplace

With neurodiversity-related discrimination claims up by a third, raising awareness and increasing understanding of neurodivergent conditions and how many conditions fall under this umbrella is crucial for inclusive workplaces.

And awareness starts from the top. Being open & talking about neurodivergent conditions benefits everybody.

John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco, says “25% of CEOs are dyslexic, but many don’t want to talk about it.”

If more leaders self-identified as neurodivergent, it can only encourage more people to talk about their own neurodivergences too – increasing understanding and fully appreciating people’s differences, as well as their potential.

A better knowledge of the potential of neurodivergent employees could also ease the current recruitment crisis, bridging the gaps between job vacancies and skills gaps.


Creating workplaces that support neurodiversity

There are many ways in which SMEs can support neurodivergent employees. Whilst we’ve suggested a few, we’d always advise speaking with your employees directly to find out what’s best for them before making any assumptions.


How SMEs can build an inclusive working environment for neurodivergent employees:

  • Always include agendas for meetings so everyone can prepare and knows what’s coming up, reducing anxiety - this likely also benefits most neurotypical employees, too.

  • Offer additional support for events or larger company meetings. New situations, or those out of a usual routine can cause stress. Offering the support of a colleague to act as a ‘buddy’ during events can work well to provide familiarity & consistency (if this is something your neurodiverse employees would find helpful). 

  • We all know that flexible working boosts productivity & a better work-life balance, but flexible or hybrid working policies can be a great support to neurodiverse employees. Working from home allows quiet focus time amongst an individual’s own surroundings, without extra stimuli - such as a noisy office environment.

  • If there are any neurodiverse employees that struggle with hot-desking (and the constant change & lack of routine that brings) ask them if they would like a designated area or space that they know they can always work in.

  • Provide stress balls in the office - these can be useful to neurodiverse people who fidget or may want something to focus their energy on when anxious or feeling overwhelmed. They can also come in handy for neurotypical employees as well.

It’s always best to check with your neurodiverse employees on an individual basis as to what they might need from their working environment as everyone is different - just because something works for someone with a neurodiverse condition doesn’t mean this will be the case for everyone. They may not want to be singled out and be the only person who doesn’t hot-desk, for example.


Building inclusive workplace cultures

Whether you’re looking to improve your workplace culture or are proud to say you’ve already committed to putting your people first, you can join the Breathe Culture Pledge for free.

The Pledge provides you with free resources & tools that help achieve a happier, more inclusive workplace.


Author: Aimée Brougham-Chandler

An IDM-certified Digital Copywriter as of February 2023, Aimée is Breathe's Content Assistant. With a passion for guiding readers to solutions for their HR woes, she enjoys delving into & demystifying all things HR: From employee performance to health and wellbeing, leave to company culture & much more.

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