Neurodiversity in the Workplace

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Health Assured team

31 January 2023

Every employee in your workplace is unique, and requires different levels of support. Some may only need minimal supervision. Whilst others may need more training and guidance.

Some employees may even be part of the neurodivergent community. This means their brain functions, learns and processes information differently than neurotypical people. It also means they may need further adjustments to do their role.

As an employer, you must provide support for your neurodiverse workforce. Without support, neurodivergent team members could have poor mental wellbeing at work and high levels of stress. Not to mention, you could face disability discrimination claims and unlimited compensation fines.

In this guide, we'll discuss what neurodiversity is, the benefit of it in your workplace, and how your business can manage it.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a fairly new term. It simply recognises that each person's brain works in different ways. It ties into the way we think, process, learn and behave. Anyone can be neurodivergent and some people may not even realise this until later in life.

Supporting individuals who are neurodivergent

Watch Health Assured's Head of Clinical Support, Kayleigh Frost, discussing with counsellor Martin Spencer, about how neurodivergent people can get support in the workplace.

Who is affected by neurodiversity?

Most people are neurotypical - which means their brains work in a way that society expects. But, neurodivergent people's brains do the opposite. In fact, an employee's neurological differences could cause them to struggle at work without the right adjustments.

What does the law say about neurodiverse employees?

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination at work, if they have a protected characteristic.

These include:

  • Gender reassignment.
  • Being married or in a civil partnership.
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave.
  • Religion or belief.

Disability may include people with neurodivergent conditions, such as autism. And therefore protects some neurodiverse people from discrimination.

Types of discrimination include:

  • Direct discrimination.
  • Indirect discrimination.
  • Perceived discrimination.
  • Discrimination arising from disability.
  • Failure to make reasonable adjustments.

Let's explore these in the context of neurodiverse employees.

Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination is when an employer treats a disabled worker less favourably than other employees.

For instance, an employer decides to discipline a neurodivergent worker for being late regularly. But, doesn't punish their neurotypical colleague for also being late regularly. This would be an example of direct discrimination.

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination is when an employer has a policy or practice that puts a disabled worker at a disadvantage.

For example, if an employer has a loud working environment, but doesn’t allow workers to use ear plugs -even if some are sensitive to noise. The employees could then class this as indirect discrimination.

Perceived discrimination

Perceived discrimination is when an employee is treated unfairly, because their employer believes they have a protected characteristic. For example, if an employer believes a worker to have dyslexia, they may stop them from being promoted.

Discrimination arising from disability

Discrimination arising from disability happens when an employer treats a disabled person unfavourably. And the reason for this treatment connects with the individual's disability.

This differs from direct discrimination because the worker's treatment isn't due to their disability. But something that happens as a result of their condition.

For example, if an employer refuses to give a neurodivergent worker a bonus - because of time taken off to seek ADHD treatment - then this is discrimination arising from disability.

Failure to make reasonable workplace adjustments

Another action employers are prohibited from performing, is the failure to make reasonable workplace adjustments.

Disabled workers are often at a disadvantage compared to able-bodied employees. So, workplace adjustments level the playing field. Without workplace accommodations, disabled people at work may struggle to perform their duties.

For example, a neurodivergent person may ask their employer if they can take longer breaks to help with concentration. If the employer were to dismiss this request without consideration, this would be failure to make a reasonable workplace adjustment and breaches the law.

To decide whether a workplace adjustment is reasonable, employers must consider:

  • If it is effective in removing the obstacle.
  • If it's practical.
  • If there's a cost. And if so, how big.
  • The organisation's resources and size.
  • The availability of financial support.

an employee working at a desk

What struggles do neurodivergent employees face?

Neurodivergent employees face several issues at work. These can happen when an employer doesn't manage neurodiversity in the workplace effectively.

These struggles include:

Poor employee wellbeing

Neurodiverse people need a supportive employer in order to thrive at work. Without it, they may have high levels of stress and mistrust in their employer. And this could result in poor wellbeing.

For example, if an employer doesn't give a neurodivergent employee the proper tools to do their role, they may not be able to perform to the best of their ability.

This could cause the employee to become stressed and they may worry about losing their job. They could also develop a mistrust in the employer for not treating their condition seriously.

Consequently, they may become withdrawn and anxious at work.

Difficulty performing workplace responsibilities

Neurodivergent professionals may require different tools, equipment and resources in order to work. This is because they process and interpret information differently than their neurotypical colleagues.

Without the right support, they may not do so well in their position. And consequently, they could miss out on career progression or training opportunities.

For instance, if a neurodiverse individual has ADHD, they may have difficulty doing a task that requires their concentration. This could ultimately affect their job performance as a whole. Especially if these tasks are one of their main responsibilities.

Workplace bullying

Neurodivergent people may behave in a way society doesn't expect. And might not have the same social skills as other neurotypical workers. This could lead to workplace bullying and victimisation.

For example, a worker on the autism spectrum may have trouble understanding when another employee is making a joke. This could lead neurotypical employees to exclude the autistic worker, as they may find it difficult to talk to them.

It may also result in, or worsen, a neurodivergent worker's mental health issues.

Workplace diversity through ethnicity, age, and gender backgrounds.

Neurodiversity and mental health

Being neurodiverse means facing challenges that a neurotypical person doesn't have to. Especially as those with neurodivergent conditions are more at risk of having mental illnesses or poor wellbeing.

This is often due to a lack of support, and the stress of 'masking' — acting neurotypically in order to avoid negativity.

Neurodiverse people may have one of the following mental health conditions:

Depression

Neurodiverse people have to live in a world that is not structurally made for them. Not only could they face a lack of understanding at work, but also in their personal lives. As a result, they may feel unfulfilled with their lives and develop negative thoughts - or even depression.

Depression is a mood disorder where a person feels consistent sadness and low moods. It can affect an individual at work, as well as home.

Neurodivergent individuals who have depression may:

  • Have problems with maintaining relationships.
  • Avoid social situations (either in their personal or work life).
  • Self-harm or have suicidal thoughts.

For example, a neurodivergent worker may have problems making friends. This is because they may interact with others differently than a neurotypical person would. Which could then lead to their colleagues excluding them, due to a lack of understanding.

Anxiety

Neurodiverse individuals may have an anxiety disorder.

A person with anxiety may respond to normal situations with fear and dread. Some anxiety is completely normal. But, it becomes severe when it:

  • Interferes with a person's ability to function.
  • Causes a person to overreact when something triggers their emotions.
  • Controls a person's responses to situations.

For instance, if an employee isn’t confident in their role, they may become anxious at the idea of attending work. This could ultimately affect their performance.

The disadvantages of not supporting neurodiversity at work

Not supporting your neurodivergent workforce is not only a danger to neurodiverse employees, but to your business as a whole. There are several disadvantages your workplace could experience if you ignore the needs of neurodivergent individuals.

These include:

Employment tribunal claims

Since neurodivergence may be protected under the Equality Act, you must ensure you treat your neurodivergent employees with the right respect and care.

Otherwise, a neurodivergent employee may make a claim to an employment tribunal against you. Especially if you have failed to accommodate them. As a result, your business could experience financial loss, as well as reputational damage.

High employee turnover

You may have a high employee turnover if you don't care for neurodivergent employees. High employee turnover usually happens when employers consistently ignore problems at work. Specifically, issues that workers have raised.

For example, if an employer hires a neurodiverse person, but doesn't make reasonable adjustments, the worker may leave. This can make it difficult to retain staff. Especially if they witness, or are a victim of, discriminatory behaviour at work.

The benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace

There are many benefits to hiring neurodiverse talent. Neurodivergent employees may process information in a different way. But they also bring their own set of extraordinary skills. Some of which their neurotypical colleagues may not have.

And whilst it is your legal duty as an employer to support neurodiverse employees, it's also a moral duty to promote a more diverse workforce.

Benefits of hiring neurodivergent people include:

New perspectives

Neurodivergent professionals may have special skills. These skills can include a strong memory, pattern recognition and excelling at mathematics.

Neurodiverse people can have more creative insight in comparison to their neurotypical peers. For example, neurodivergent professionals may have different approaches to problem solving. And this could be more effective than a neurotypical worker's solution.

Ultimately, your workplace will benefit from having neurodiversity in the workplace, as it may bring new perspectives that boost your business model.

Increased employee loyalty

If you provide enough support and care to your neurodivergent workers, they'll likely stay employed with you for a long time.

It can be difficult for neurodivergent professionals to find a workplace to support them. So, when they do, it's likely they will want to stick around. This is because they may not know if the new employer would be as considerate.

three people having a meeting

Different types of neurodivergent conditions

Neurodiverse people will have one or more neurodivergent conditions. But, the severity of these conditions will vary.

The conditions include:

ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects people's behaviour. People with ADHD may find it difficult to concentrate, appear restless and act on impulse.

Other symptoms include:

  • Having a short attention span.
  • Making careless mistakes.
  • Appearing forgetful or losing things.
  • Constantly fidgeting.
  • Excessive talking.

Typically, medical professionals diagnose ADHD at a young age. But, it’s common for adults to be affected by ADHD too.

Autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorders are a complex, lifelong condition. Autistic people may process information differently in comparison to neurotypical people. As well as interacting differently with others. For example, autistic people may have difficulty recognising the emotions of others.

It's likely your workplace will hire autistic employees at one point or another. So, you need to ensure you make them feel comfortable.

Signs of autism include:

  • Difficulty with social skills, communication and interaction with other people.
  • Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors.
  • Any other personality traits that affect their ability to function. For example, in school, work, and other areas of life.

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects an individual's reading and writing skills. Signs usually become apparent within childhood.

A person with dyslexia may:

  • Read and write very slowly.
  • Confuse the order of letters in a word.
  • Have poor or inconsistent spelling.
  • Not be able to tell the difference between similar looking letters. For example, 'b' and 'd'.
  • Understand information verbally, but not as much when written down.
  • Struggle with planning and organisation.

Dyspraxia

Dyspraxia is a common condition that affects a person's movement and coordination. Whilst it has no effect on intelligence, it can be difficult to live and work with.

An individual with dyspraxia may find it difficult to:

  • Write and type.
  • Cook and do other household chores.

Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia is a specific condition that affects a person's ability to understand numbers. This can then create problems with mathematics.

Signs could include:

  • Difficulty reading numbers.
  • Forgetting basic maths's facts.
  • Forgetting/ losing information. For example, log ins, pin numbers, even deadlines.

Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia is a specific learning disability that affects written expression.

A person with Dysgraphia may have trouble with:

  • Putting thoughts on paper.

Tourette's syndrome

Tourette's syndrome causes an individual to make involuntary movements and sounds. People with the condition refer to these as tics.

Involuntary movements may include:

  • Eye blinking.
  • Neck and head jerks.
  • Arm and leg movements.

Vocal tics may include:

  • Throat clearing.
  • Repeating words or phrases.

How to support neurodiversity in the workplace

You don't need extensive training to support neurodivergent employees. In fact, there are several ways you can assist neurodivergent workers in your business.

These include:

  • Providing workplace adjustments: As an employer, it is your legal duty to provide neurodivergent employees with workplace adjustments. Whilst it is the law, it can also build a better relationship with your neurodivergent workforce. And helps them to thrive at work when they have the tools they need.
  • Maintaining open communication: You should maintain an open channel of communication with your neurodivergent employees. This will help them feel comfortable enough to share any issues with you. It also makes it easy for them to ask for help when they need it.
  • Offering training to managers and employees: To create an inclusive environment at work, you should ensure everyone is given diversity training. This will help neurotypical employees know what behaviour and language is appropriate around neurodivergent workers. And will create a more inclusive workplace.

Promoting a neurodiverse workforce

  • Raise awareness with internal communications: You should spread neurodiversity awareness internally. This may include creating internal communications or infographics explaining neurodiversity. And what it looks like. This will help neurotypical employees work more effectively with neurodivergent workers as they have a better understanding of their behaviours and how to interact with them.
  • Change your hiring process: To promote neurodiversity at work, you should hire neurodivergent workers. You can create hiring programs specifically aimed at neurodiverse talent. For example, hiring managers could encourage neurodivergent workers to apply in their job descriptions.

three people having a meetingEmployee smiling during a meeting

Get expert guidance on neurodiversity at work with Health Assured

Employers should support neurodivergent workers in any way they can.

Whilst it is your legal duty to consider reasonable adjustments for your neurodivergent employees, supporting neurodiversity benefits your employees and your business. As well as creating a more inclusive workplace.

With the right sort of help, neurodiverse employees can gain confidence in their abilities and improve their wellbeing. As well as thrive in an environment that supports them. If you fail to provide support, you may lose employees, face financial losses and even risk damaging your business's reputation.

Our Employee Assistance Programme provides manager guidance on neurodiversity and wellbeing at work. We can help you create a safe, productive workspace that supports all employees.

We also provide a 24/7 helpline that’s open 365 days a year–helping you care for your staff all year round. Arrange a call back from an expert today on 0844 891 0352

How can you support your neurodivergent employees?

Our Employee Assistance Programme provides manager guidance on neurodiversity and wellbeing at work. We can help you create a safe, productive workspace that supports all employees.

We can also support neurodiverse employees with any problems they might be facing in their professional or professional lives with our 24-hour counselling helpline. 





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