Neurodiversity in the workplace: great minds don’t all think alike

It’s thought more than 10% of the population are neurodiverse – including your customers, your friends and family… your employees?

Neurodiversity refers to those with cognitive functions that differ from what is traditionally seen as neurotypical. It may affect how they think, how they process the world around them, and their interactions. Conditions like dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, and ADHD are all examples, and there are more.

Traditionally, these have been thought of as an obstacle, something to fix. But that is changing. Everyone is different, everyone has strengths and weaknesses and those who are neurodiverse have much to offer. Recognising this now could give you an extra competitive advantage.

How can you benefit from embracing neurodiversity in your workforce?
Like other forms of diversity, embracing neurodiversity comes with a host of benefits for employers keen to make it work. These include:

More innovative, more creative – When you form a team of people with different backgrounds, characteristics, and skills it gives you more chance to be innovative as new ideas and ways of working go into the melting pot.

Less risk of group think – The converse is also true. By having a broader base of people on a team, it reduces the risk of group think where poor decisions are made because of a lack of perspective.

Skills matches – People with neurodiversity can be very suited to specific roles. For example, one bank found that autistic workers were up to 50% more productive than neurotypical colleagues in the same technology department.

Widening your talent pool – If you are struggling to recruit, simply giving off the signal that you welcome neurodiverse candidates may help you widen your talent pool and solve your recruiting issues.

Connecting with a wider customer base – Diversity in any form can help you connect with, and appeal to, more customers, who see themselves reflected in your business.

Managing neurodiverse employees for success
Managing people who are neurodiverse does not have to be a huge additional burden, but it may require some adjustments. Studies in America found that nearly 60% of common adjustments actually cost nothing to the employer.

Here are some general areas of management to consider:

The sensory environment
Some traits of neurodiverse conditions may include sensory overload. For example, greater difficulty operating in a noisy, open-plan workplace. Consider how you can give employees who need it a calmer environment, such as a quiet room, flexible working options, or some noise cancelling headphones.

Skills matching
There is often a bias towards hiring generalists who can do everything reasonably well, but there is a lot to be said for defining job roles more clearly to attract people with niche skills. Restructuring workflows to allow specialists to perform specialist roles could be a game changer for your business’s productivity.

Nothing is guaranteed, but by way of example research suggests that some autistic people are better at jobs which require a lot of concentration and others at problem-solving and analytical thinking. Dyslexic people may excel in creative roles and qualitive reasoning while those with dyspraxia may be great strategists.

Avoid labelling
While there is a benefit to recognising neurodiversity, this will diminish if you think too rigidly. It is not a cliché to accept that everyone is different, and even if two people share the same neurodiverse ‘label’ it does not mean they will share the same skillsets or needs.

Processing information
Everyone will have their preferred ways of learning, and neurodiverse employees can particularly struggle where others can manage. For instance, dyslexic people may struggle with written instructions while those with dyspraxia may find it difficult when given lots of different tasks at once. Being understanding of this and offering information in formats they are comfortable with is usually a simple workaround.

Creating an inclusive environment
Neurodiversity can come with different ways of interacting with the world – perhaps struggling socially, like finding eye contact difficult. Creating an environment where everyone understands this and accepts that these differences are nothing personal, will go a long way to making neurodiverse people feel welcomed and comfortable on your team.

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Neurodiversity in the workplace: great minds don’t all think alike

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