Creating an accessible workplace for neurodivergent employees

Mpg Neurodivergent Employees 1920
19 February 2024 by Experis
resource featured business-transformation Talent Shortage

As businesses begin to better recognise neurodiversity in their workforce, so it becomes more important to present neurodivergent employees with a level playing field.

What is neurodivergence?

Neurodivergence (ND) is a non-medical term that describes people whose brains work differently from the average individual. This means an ND person has different strengths and struggles than people whose brains work more typically. While some neurodivergent people have medical conditions, it also happens to people where a medical condition or diagnosis has not been identified. It is estimated that 20% of the UK population is neurodivergent, meaning it is more common than many business leaders may realise.

Learn more about ND here.

In the past three years, global talent shakeups have intensified skill shortages, prompting organisations to explore different strategies to attract and retain employees. Part of this process has focused on individuals who may have historically been overlooked, essentially recognising the importance of better supporting employees who identify as neurodivergent (ND).

This shift is crucial, not only for fostering greater inclusivity and equality in business, but also for unlocking the full potential of a diverse and dynamic workforce. Giving ND employees equal opportunities, rewarding their many talents, helping them to overcome their challenges, and supporting their career growth can be positive for all. When neurodivergent workers win, businesses win. There is no downside.

However, before businesses can achieve this welcome scenario they must first recognise what they are doing wrong.

You can’t overcome the challenges for neurodivergent workers until you know what they are.

From a poorly configured floor plan to outdated hiring practices and unconscious bias, ND workers face a variety of challenges that limit their ability to progress. Common problems include:

  • Limited awareness of ND at work
    Business leaders and other key personnel will often be unaware of exactly what neurodivergence is and how it can be successfully managed at work.

  • Unconscious stigma attached to the term ‘neurodivergence’
    Some managers and HR leaders may consider neurodivergence to be a disability, when in fact, it is simply a difference. Unconscious bias and stigma that is attached to the term can severely impact career progression and the productivity of ND workers.

  • Lack of flexibility in work arrangements and environments
    Badly designed workspaces. Harsh lighting. High levels of ambient sound. Hot desking. These and other physical issues can have detrimental impact on neurodivergent employees.

  • Social interaction challenges
    Neurodivergent people may struggle with simple social interactions. This can be misconstrued, with the ND individual being judged as ‘not a team player’, ‘stand-offish’ or even ‘rude’ by observers who are unaware of the effects of neurodivergence or that the person they are observing is neurodivergent.

  • Inadequate hiring processes
    Many organisations use recruitment processes that are decades old or lacking in flexibility. Stiff questionnaires, formal interviews, tight time constraints and more interest in a candidate’s story instead of their skills can tip the playing field away from neurodivergent candidates.

Fortunately, solving these types of issues may not require a complete business overhaul. Many of the challenges neurodivergent people face may be overcome through simple process adjustments and the training and educating of business leaders and managers.

How to create an accessible workplace for neurodivergent workers

Build safe spaces at work

  • Think about the work environment
    Many workplaces are designed and operated on an efficiency basis, with little room to accommodate differences in the employee population. However, ND workers may be severely impacted by lighting, floor plans, sound levels and other physical aspects of their workplace. Businesses should move from a ‘one size fits all’ attitude to their working environments. Ask what are the psychologically safe spaces for ND people? Create open dialogue with ND employees before implementing any physical change to the workplace.

  • Use a growth mindset to conduct change
    Many ND people struggle to accept change. Instead of simply announcing amendments to your organisation’s way of working or the physical workplace and then implementing them, first experiment with pilots and smaller groups to better understand the potential impact on ND workers.

  • Listen to ND needs and stay well connected with your ERG
    Give ND employees the opportunity to express their concerns. Understand their different points of view. Talk to your Employee Resources Groups (ERG) about intended adjustments. Implement change that supports Group consensus and makes your organisation better for all, not just a few.

  • Evolving the hiring process
    Train your hiring teams to adapt their processes for neurodivergent candidates. This means setting ND candidates up for success and understanding that generic hiring processes may not work for the neurodivergent. Part of this process may require the reskilling of HR managers to interview ND applicants – educating managers to the different tactics and strategies they must apply.

  • Provide flexible onboarding
    Providing an onboarding experience that reflects the needs of ND workers is critical for success. Small but important adaptations can include:

    • Create a ‘buddy system’ to provide extra guidance in the onboarding process

    • Make sure the ND person has clear points of contact for questions and concerns

    • Minimise the paperwork you need from the ND candidate

    • Even if their role is remote, invite the ND worker into the office to meet all the team

    • Find out what type of support works best for the ND person and create a process to deliver that

    • Present information in a clear, easy to digest format – infographics and conversation can work better than reams of written instructions

    • Ensure timelines and deadlines are always clear and understood

    • To overcome social challenges, create community groups – hobbies, activities, etc. Consider remote versions and use tools, such as Slack, where people can easily connect and communicate.

Although there is greater recognition of neurodivergence in the workplace today than there was only a few years ago, building accessibility for ND workers is still in the early stages. Businesses must continually adapt to stay abreast of coming change – so what can they expect in the future? We asked a panel of experts in our recent webinar to find out.

Future trends in the race to create greater workplace accessibility

  • More companies will become involved, increasing the understanding of neurodivergence and creating more pathways for ND people

  • Employers will do more to accommodate and attract neurodiverse talent

  • Technology will play a big role in this process. This is already apparent with initiatives such as Microsoft launching products that make their suite more accessible for ND workers

  • A strength-based view will dominate. Employers will turn their focus to ND candidate strengths and what they may bring to the organisation instead of concentrating on the challenges.

Ultimately, their urgent need for skills will force businesses to increase accessibility for the neurodiverse. Organisations that move fast and move first to fully support ND candidates will gain a valuable advantage in the race to secure top talent.

Watch our webinar on-demand to learn more about managing neurodivergence in the workplace. 

Listen now

ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions and Experis are committed to a world where fair and decent work is available for all, regardless of individual differences or challenges. From employee recruitment and retraining to reskilling and retention, we are ready to support organisations in their drive for a more diverse, more successful and more productive workforce.

Please contact us to find out more about how ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions and Experis can help your business to secure and build the talent you need.