As we face job flux and a rapidly changing workforce, it is important that leaders think critically about what makes work environments healthy, functional, and attractive to key talent. It’s no secret that developing inclusivity at work is a crucial component of catering to younger generations of workers, but what does promoting neurodiversity have to do with this?
According to Deloitte, we are currently navigating a worker’s market, so it’s more important now than ever to create the kind of work environment that will attract and retain top talent. Creating space for and hiring neurodivergent thinkers can improve functioning around creativity, problem-solving, and innovation, helping to give your organization a competitive edge. Organizations like SAP, Dell, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, JP Morgan, EY, and Google Cloud are all making a push to include and employ the roughly 20 percent of people who are neurodiverse thinkers and have noticed improved creativity and quality of work in their projects.
What is Neurodiversity
In order to recruit and support neurodiverse workers in our organizations, it is crucial that we understand what neurodiversity is. According to Psychology Today, neurodiversity refers to the idea that neurological differences reflect normal variations in brain development. This can include conditions such as autism, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, Tourette’s, and other learning and developmental differences. Neurodiversity rejects the medical model of disability, which suggests that these conditions are illnesses that should be cured, prevented, etc., and instead embraces a nuanced perspective that normalizes and celebrates the innate differences in how our brains develop and function.
An important aspect of neurodiversity to understand is that we are all, to some extent, “differently abled.” This is due to our development, the experiences that shaped us, and our environments. Following this line of thinking, there is no reason to “other” people who have certain conditions that lead them to approach work differently than the established norm. Unfortunately, the talent pool among neurodiverse individuals is largely overlooked, with up to 80 percent of neurodivergent individuals facing unemployment.
What Are the Benefits of Neurodiversity in the Workplace?
Now that we understand what neurodiversity is, generally, you may be wondering “what is neurodiversity in the workplace, in particular?” Let’s explore an overview of some examples of how neurodiversity may look in a workplace setting.
Many neurodivergent people are overlooked for jobs that they could do extraordinarily well because their behaviors and habits seem strange and/or unfamiliar to leaders, who are looking for employees with strong communication skills, solid teamwork abilities, emotional intelligence, influence, or social skills. While these skills are not necessarily lacking in neurodiverse individuals, they may be expressed in different ways than most people are accustomed to. When we shift our focus more to innovation, we can see how having people who see things uniquely and approach problems differently can benefit our organizations.
Furthermore, neurodiverse people can and usually do bring a new perspective to a company’s efforts, helping to drive new efforts and initiatives in projects. Many autistic people, for example, are especially adept at noticing patterns that others do not see. In fact, data also shows that neurodiverse teams at work are 30 percent more productive than neurotypical teams. While ADHD is known for causing one to be unfocused and disorganized, many people with ADHD are actually able to hyper-focus, meaning that they can start a task and finish, uninterrupted, more quickly than a neurotypical person might. So, looking for these traits and helping an individual play to their unique strengths and talents can go a long way for productivity and strong output.
4 Ways to Support Your Neurodiverse Employees
It is important to not only recruit and hire diverse thinkers, but your organization will also need to adequately support, challenge, and encourage them in order to retain them. This means that building a vocabulary around neurological differences into your existing DE&I efforts will go a long way. Embracing neurodiversity awareness at a high level in your diversity initiatives will help contribute to an inclusive, healthy culture. Let’s start with a few targeted actions that you can implement and practice right away.
- Respect different working styles
All workers, whether neurodivergent, neurotypical, or somewhere in between, will have different working styles that should be respected. Some people prefer to work in very independent conditions, and others may need more guidance from leadership. Managers will want to observe their employees at work, create a dialogue around management needs, and regularly check in with employees on what is working well for them and what is not.
It is not hard to allow accommodations, both official and non-official, in the workplace. For example, many people with ADHD and autism benefit from clear, step-by-step instructions from higher-ups. This is because of the way they perceive communication and interpret incoming information. Managers who truly care about and cater to the needs of their employees will be happy to make minor adjustments like this for the benefit of their employees.
- Provide mentorship
Mentorship should be an initiative that your organization strives to offer to all employees. Do not single out your neurodivergent employees and offer them a mentor, as this can seem infantilizing and demoralizing. However, allowing your employees to work with trusted peers who can help them navigate some of the complexities of the workplace that could be inherently challenging will foster confidence, independence, and productivity.
- Be flexible but provide structure
While we all need a healthy balance of flexibility and structure in our workplaces, this may be even more important for some neurodivergent thinkers. This will vary according to the person and their unique set of abilities, but introducing options such as a flexible schedule, optional levels of team participation, and helping to define routines can go a long way. Many people with ADHD may benefit from a flexible schedule, for example, while many people with autism may thrive more with a set, rigid routine.
A great way to build and provide structure is to put efforts into fostering a culture of acceptance and belonging. Perhaps one of the most important things you can do for your neurodivergent workers is to help them feel valuable and that they belong to the broader social order within your organization. Having a sense of satisfaction in one’s work, a sense of friendship and trust amongst coworkers, and pride in what one does are all important traits that we need at work. This may look different for some of your neurodiverse workers than it will for your neurotypical employees, so keep an eye out for ways to continually include everyone and to avoid any “othering” effects.
- Allow neurodivergent workers to define their own success
One of the worst things that you could do for your neurodivergent employees would be to assign roles or goals to them that weren’t requested or don’t feel productive. Try not to assume what is best for your neurodiverse thinkers—they are more than capable of assessing their needs and wants on their own. Instead, invite them to participate in conversations with you about what they wish to achieve, what work they’re proud of, and how they would determine whether they have been successful in a project. Remember, success will look different for everyone, regardless of their neurological conditions.
Access Support and Further Education Around Issues of Neurodiversity in the Workplace
If you are feeling overwhelmed with this information or uncertain how to build better support and recruitment efforts into your workplace, you’re not alone. Widespread conversations about and inclusivity around neurodiversity are new, and we are all still learning together. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you approach learning and improvement with a sense of openness and humility.
Kickstart your learning process with KnowledgeCity’s new courses Promoting a Diverse Team Culture and Diversity, Team Identity, and Organizations. These courses will provide robust and expanded definitions of what diversity looks like to our current workforce, context around how we form identities at work and beyond, how to become a diversity-minded manager, and how we can promote appropriate behaviors for both our neurodivergent and neurotypical workers and leaders.
This Free Whitepaper Can Help You Access Further Resources
In addition to our online courses developed by leading professionals, we also encourage you to check out our whitepaper on Building A Healthy Workplace: Five Tools to Increase Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Any Organization. This free resource will help you organize your teams around issues of DEI with a shared vocabulary and common goals. The key result of using this resource will center around opening up dialogue and creating space for asking important questions, leading to a deepened and shared sense of inclusivity in your teams.