Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Neurodiversity refers to neurological differences regarding social interaction, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions. These differences in individuals need to be acknowledged and given respect just like so many other differences. According to Judy Singer’s (an Australian sociologist) view,  many of these neurological differences which are considered neuro developmental disorders are due to societal barriers rather than being inherently pathological. It is true that neurodiversity is a relatively new concept yet the number of neurodiverse people in the world is fairly substantial. In the UK , it is estimated that one in seven persons is neurodiverse. So all workplaces actually have quite a number of neuro-diverse people. It is therefore in the interest of employers to spend time in understanding neurodiversity and support it.

We know that the human brain works and processes information differently in different people. People have varied interests, aims and abilities. However, most people’s brains work in line with what society expects of them. In other words, these people are neurotypical. The others (one in seven ) are neurodiverse, meaning their brains process information differently. Some examples of neurodivergence  are Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. Most of these divergences are considered “spectrum” divergences meaning there is a range of characteristics for each of them, as a result effects of one particular kind of neuro divergence can be different in two different individuals. People can have more than one kind of neurodivergence at the same time also.

We know that most workplaces already have any number of neurodiverse people. There is however little understanding among management about neurodiversity. Employers and managers must acquaint themselves with the types of neurodivergence present in their workforce. This will help them manage these employees better. A few types of neurodivergence are as follows:

  • ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder impacts attention spans, concentration and impulses. It causes people to be rash and inattentive. Their attention spans are very short.
  • AUTISM is a spectrum disorder again – it changes the way a person perceives and interacts with the world around him/her. Autistic people miss social cues and are socially awkward. They get unsettled by change and love routine.
  • DYSLEXIA is related to language processing. Dyslexics can have issues with reading, writing and spelling. In addition, they can encounter serious trouble in understanding information, writing in an organized manner and even memory retention. Their spoken language skills are inadequate.
  • DYSPRAXIA affects organization and coordination. Dyspraxic people have difficulty in muscular coordination hence, can be seen as clumsy. Anything involving sequencing, time keeping , and structuring will be extremely trying for them.

Management must take effective steps to make neurodiverse workers feel safe and valued and a part of the team. This support will enable them to participate in the progress of the organization in full measure. Making workplaces more inclusive is a win-win situation for both the employers as well as the employees.

An inclusive workplace ensures management’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Neurodiverse workers are not stigmatized and are treated fairly by their co-workers and superiors. The management benefits from the special talents of the neurodiverse workers that other workers may not have. Special gifts that are found in neurodiverse employees are creativity, lateral thinking, different way of looking at things, strategic analysis and consistency. For example, people with ADHD are very good at finishing urgent assignments working with determination, regardless of setbacks in the way. Autistics, on the other hand are methodical, painstaking and thorough workers. They follow instructions without making mistakes and develop specialized  interests . Dyslexics are great at creative thinking whereas dyspraxics have excellent literary and organizational skills. So we see neurodivergence adds to the talent pool of a workplace and effective utilization of such workers benefits the organization and the entire community of workers as a whole. Neurodiversity clearly sharpens the competitive advantage of an organization. Having neurodiverse workforce also helps in dealing with neurodiverse customers.

A study conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in 2016, found that there was a general view that to be competitive the firm needed staff with a broad range of ways of seeing things. As one of the HR managers put it ‘… if we had, you know, just a whole firm full of goalkeepers, it wouldn’t be great, we wouldn’t really win work, we wouldn’t do very well. We need a good mix of goalies as well as strikers, as well as mid field. We need lots of different people with different strengths and different backgrounds’.

Moreover, many types of  neurodivergence is actually defined and treated as disability. As such organizations  are legally bound to remove difficulties and make appropriate adjustments for the neurodiverse workers  at workplace. Managements must think proactively to do so.

Managements need to work towards creating a work environment in which neurodiverse employees feel safe and encouraged to open up and discuss various issues troubling them. These issues can be health related, work related or interpersonal. Only then necessary adjustments can be made to support them. Once the employees know that their organization supports neurodiversity and will treat them fairly, they will come forward to seek support. Such an environment will reduce stress to a great extent. For a truly supportive environment, diagnostic assessment by a psychiatrist should be offered. For many neurodiverse employees may not be aware of their conditions. This assessment checks their limitations, needs, abilities and skills. It is also worthwhile to assign mentors or buddies to neurodiverse employees at the time of learning new tasks. Awareness can be increased by having special awareness drives periodically. Neurodiverse employees should be made aware of the support available to them again and again to make them feel secure. Staff members who display real support to the neurodiverse employees should be lauded.

Neurodiversity in workplaces is a workable idea which brings dividends to all stakeholders and not only promotes just and equitable workplaces but contributes to a more egalitarian society as a whole.

Neurodiversity in workplace
Neurodiversity is a competitive advantage

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