November 19, 2021

Neurodiversity at Work: Turning Difference into Strength

Neurodiversity at Work: Turning Difference into Strength featured image
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When you’re trying to create a psychologically stimulating work environment, to help every employee reach their potential, you can’t go for a uniform one-size-fits-all solutions. People think differently — literally — and you’ll get the best results from your team members if you support and plan around the needs and preferences of neurodiverse employees.

A neurodiverse individual, with a neurological condition such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or those on the autism spectrum, may approach the workday differently from neurotypical peers. When your organization is flexible enough to accommodate these neurodiverse workers and help them thrive, overall organizational productivity can stand to benefit.

Neurodiversity at Work: What Do Employers Need to Know

Dealing with neurodiverse employees isn’t a rare edge case. According to research by the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of ADHD diagnoses among U.S. children aged 5-17 rose from 6.3% in 1997 to 10.7% in 2017, the latest year of data available. The same agency found that rates of autism rose from an estimated 0.1% in 1997 to 2.3% in 2017.

Forbes contributor Rebekah Bastian explained some of the steps companies can take to ensure their workplace cultures are flexible and adaptive enough to suit neurodiverse employees. This includes offering a variety of options for people who may not feel suited to the standard office environment — dedicated quiet spaces for relaxation and company-purchased noise-canceling headphones are a few of the investments businesses can make.

Bastain added policies should be flexible regarding meetings or communication. Making everyone adhere to the same guidelines could end up alienating workers with divergent communication styles or learning approaches. Training on predictive collaboration and interaction may prove valuable, including for neurotypical employees.

If your business is committed to making itself a welcoming place for neurodiverse employees, it should advertise this fact early. Efforts to attract neurodivergent talent don’t have to be complex to be effective.

This means during the hiring and interviewing process, your company should clarify what resources it has on hand for neurodivergent employees, and your HR department should format the hiring process in such a way to help candidates feel comfortable from the start.

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How Empowering Neurodiverse Employees Helps Companies

Once your organization has found ways to integrate neurodiverse work styles into the flow of productivity, you may quickly unlock the tangible business benefits of that decision.

Having people on staff with different perspectives and approaches to concepts like problem-solving can keep your business from becoming too mired in conventional thinking. Furthermore, you’ll often find neurodiverse employees bring valuable cognitive skills to their teams.

As Harvard Business Review pointed out, there are correlations between having a neurological condition such as ADHD, dyslexia and autism spectrum disorder and displaying above-average competency at work. When these employees have the support they need and an environment that suits their unique learning and work styles, they can reach their full potential as contributors to team productivity.

Becoming a welcoming employer for neurodiverse employees is also a way to reach an untapped talent pool. HBR noted that in many cases, neurodiverse candidates are passed over for roles that suit their talents and competencies because they are unable to fit in with a standard work style.

HBR cited the example of the Australian Department of Human Services, which hired over 30 neurodiverse employees for software-testing jobs. The teams with these workers on them ended up 30% more productive than wholly neurotypical groups, showing the business benefits of creating the right environment for neurodiverse talent.

Training to Understand and Support Neurodiversity at Work

How does your organization get started at embracing and welcoming neurodiversity in a formal capacity? Employee education is a useful part of such a strategy. 

Neurodiversity may not be thought about as often as other kinds of workplace diversity. Presenting it through formal training allows your team members to understand what the concept entails, and what their role can be in supporting it.

An overview course on the subject, such as the online, video-based Neurodiversity at Work, breaks down neurodiversity into relatable lessons. The course shares examples of neurodiverse people who have succeeded and describes the ways in which different conditions help or hinder neurodivergent individuals in certain activities.

Training can bring workers of every level up to speed on neurodiversity, especially neurotypical workers who haven’t had to deal with a neurodiverse condition firsthand. With this information in hand, they can work on building and supporting a welcoming, inclusive workplace.

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