Guest blog – Elaina Horsfall | Flourish Virtual Business Solutions
Neurodivergence is a widely used term but what does it mean?
Neurodivergent, neurodiversity and neurotypical are terms used to explain differences in someone’s brain.
Neurodiversity: all brains are different. Not impaired, just different.
Neurodiverse: a descriptor of all types of differences in the brain, includes both neurotypical and neurodivergent.
Neurotypical: seen as the ‘standard’ and thought to be the most common type. This is used to describe someone who does not have neurological conditions.
Neurodivergent: has a neurological condition that includes those on the Autistic Spectrum, individuals with ADHD and those who have conditions such as executive functioning disorders, OCD, a brain injury, PTSD, sensory processing disorders and various learning disabilities.
The wide range of conditions under the Neurodivergence umbrella affects the way people think, communicate, and process information. It’s thought that Neurodivergent (ND) individuals account for 15-20% of the population and while their conditions can pose challenges in certain areas, they also provide unique perspectives and strengths that often get overlooked.
As research, recognition and acceptance increases more people are being diagnosed as ND but there are so many more who are struggling, silently. They don’t yet understand themselves and haven’t found their place in society, believing that they simply just don’t fit in.
The workplace can be a challenging environment for any individual no matter the situation or their neurotype but for some ND individuals, it can be a debilitating place and a fight for survival – it doesn’t have to be, and nor should it be.
We need to pay more attention to how we make space for Neurodivergent individuals and Neurodivergence in general. Being different from the majority places neurodivergent employees at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions than their colleagues, so it’s crucial to embrace an open and welcoming environment in which every employee feels able to seek support should they need it.
A lack of support, the stress of masking their identity just so they can fit in, anxiety and workplace bullying; it eventually leads to burnout and mental health problems. Their neurodivergence may be disabling in certain circumstances, so to demonstrate your commitment to them you could simply ask them what they need from the physical working environment. In doing this you gain a deeper understanding of them as individuals, their experiences, and how best to support them in the workplace.
Let us remember that everyone has unique strengths and challenges, and accommodating those differences can ultimately lead to success for the entire team.
It is the responsibility of every employer to create a more inclusive and supportive work environment for all but in order to do that, there must be understanding.
Understanding neurodivergence is crucial in creating that inclusive and supportive work environment we all strive for. We must recognize that ND individuals are not broken or in need of being fixed. Rather, they simply have different ways of thinking and processing information.
Health conditions overall are across a broad spectrum and at some point, every employee may need adjustments to access their workplace safely or to complete their work tasks. Some of these health conditions are visible such as mobility challenges but others, like mental health conditions or ND, are often not.
Over the years, parts of society have been conditioned to accept what they can see but to not accept what they can’t see or what they don’t yet understand. This ableist approach is discriminatory and is not inclusive. It’s important to provide accommodations and resources to support the work of all employees no matter their challenges and this is inclusive of ND individuals.
To create a workplace environment that is inclusive of ND individuals, it is essential to understand their strengths and challenges.
For instance, individuals with autism often excel in areas such as attention to detail, pattern recognition, and problem-solving, while facing challenges with social interaction and sensory processing. Similarly, individuals with ADHD can be highly creative and innovative but may struggle with organization and time-management. It’s also perhaps more important to note that not every ND person will experience the same challenges or display the same strengths, which can be said for every person, we are of course all very different. Strategies that work for some may very well not work so well for others and therefore it’s crucial to gain a level of understanding not just on Neurodivergence in general but on how your employee’s ND uniquely affects them.
By recognizing and accommodating these differences, employers can create a work environment that is supportive and inclusive of all individuals, regardless of their neurological conditions. Understanding the value of your neurodivergent employees and making accommodations to support their unique strengths and challenges, employers can create a more diverse and inclusive workplace that benefits everyone.
Such accommodations may include, but are not limited to, providing flexible work schedules to help manage energy levels, offering noise-cancelling headphones, or providing written instructions and visual aids to assist with organization and task management.
Examples of neurodivergence
Here are some examples of neurodivergence and some of their unique strengths and challenges in the workplace. Whilst this is a brief overview, it’s important to understand that not everyone will experience things in the same way or indeed experience it at all:
Individuals with dyslexia may have difficulty with reading, writing, and spelling. However, they may excel in areas such as creative problem-solving, visual thinking, and the ability to see things from different perspectives. In the workplace, dyslexic individuals may do well in professions that require visual thinking, such as graphic design or architecture.
2. Tourette Syndrome
Individuals with Tourette Syndrome may experience involuntary movements or vocalizations, known as tics. However, they may also have strengths in areas such as creativity, problem-solving, and the ability to hyperfocus on a task. In the workplace, individuals with Tourette Syndrome may benefit from accommodations such as flexible work schedules or a private workspace to help manage their tics.
3. Bipolar Disorder
Individuals with bipolar disorder may experience intense mood swings, alternating between periods of mania and depression. However, they may also have strengths in areas such as creativity, intuition, and the ability to think outside the box. In the workplace, individuals with bipolar disorder may benefit from accommodations such as a quiet workspace or the ability to take periodic breaks to manage their energy levels.
Individuals with ADHD generally have the capacity to think outside the box and generate creative ideas. They often have highly active minds that allow them to approach problems from unconventional angles and make connections that others might miss. Moreover, their hyperfocus can be an asset when they are genuinely interested in a task, as they can dedicate intense concentration and excel in those areas. However, ADHD also brings certain challenges. One to mention is the tendency to struggle with organizational skills and time management. Individuals with ADHD may find it challenging to stay organized, meet deadlines, and prioritize tasks, which can affect their productivity. Additionally, difficulties with sustained attention and impulsivity can lead to distractions and difficulty staying on track.
Autistic individuals often display excellent attention to detail and strong focus. They can possess exceptional abilities to concentrate on specific tasks and exhibit meticulous attention to detail. Their ability to detect patterns and notice small discrepancies can be invaluable in roles that require precision and accuracy. Additionally, they often have excellent memory and can retain vast amounts of information, which can be beneficial in knowledge-based professions. However, autism can also present challenges in the workplace. Difficulties with social interactions and communication may hinder effective collaboration and networking. Your autistic employee might struggle to interpret nonverbal cues, understand social dynamics, or engage in small talk, which could impact teamwork and relationship-building. Moreover, sensory sensitivities and a need for routine and predictability may require adjustments and accommodations to create a comfortable and productive work environment.
Benefits of having neurodivergent employees
- Increased Innovation – Neurodivergent individuals often think outside the box and can bring fresh ideas and approaches to problem-solving. Their unique perspectives can help drive innovation and creativity in the workplace.
- Enhanced Attention to Detail – Many neurodivergent individuals have an exceptional attention to detail and can provide a high level of accuracy and precision in their work.
- Higher Productivity – Neurodivergent individuals may have a specific area of interest or focus that they excel in. By providing accommodations and support, companies can tap into these strengths and increase productivity.
- Diverse Skill Sets – Neurodivergent individuals often have a wide range of skills and talents that can be valuable to an organization. By recognizing and utilizing these skills, companies can benefit from a more diverse and dynamic workforce.
- Greater Empathy and Understanding – Supporting neurodivergent employees can also lead to greater empathy and understanding among all employees. By valuing neurodiversity and promoting inclusivity, companies can create a more compassionate and understanding workplace.
- Improved Problem-Solving Skills – Neurodivergent individuals often have a unique perspective and can approach problem-solving in a different way. This can lead to creative and effective solutions to complex problems.
- Reduced Turnover – By providing a safe and inclusive workplace for neurodivergent individuals, companies can reduce turnover rates and retain valuable employees.
- Companies that prioritize diversity and inclusivity, including neurodiversity, can build a positive reputation and attract top talent.
- Greater Overall Success – By valuing and supporting neurodivergent employees, companies can create a more diverse and innovative work environment that leads to greater overall success.
While neurodivergent individuals bring unique strengths to the workplace, they may also face certain daily challenges:
1. Misunderstanding and Stigma – Many people still misunderstand neurodivergent conditions, which can lead to stigmatization and discrimination in the workplace.
2. Sensory Challenges – Some neurodivergent individuals may have sensory sensitivities that make it difficult to work in certain environments, such as those with fluorescent lighting, loud noises, or strong smells.
3. Social Communication – Neurodivergent individuals may struggle with social communication, such as interpreting nonverbal cues or understanding sarcasm. This can cause difficulties in team collaboration and communication. They may not be able to participate in ‘small talk’ or join in the office banter during break times which can lead to isolation.
4. Executive Functioning – Some neurodivergent individuals may struggle with executive functioning skills, such as organization, planning, and time management. This can lead to difficulties in meeting deadlines and completing tasks efficiently.
5. Masking – An unconscious strategy we can all develop to ensure connection in our environment. Suppressing ourselves to fit in because we’re different to the majority around us is harmful and can lead to burnout and mental health issues.
To create a more inclusive workplace for neurodivergent employees and help your whole business, employers can implement the following accommodations and mindset:
1. Flexible Work Schedules – Neurodivergent employees may need flexibility in their work schedules to manage their workload and mitigate stress. Employers can offer flexible work arrangements such as remote work, part-time schedules, or flextime to allow for a better work-life balance.
2. Sensory-Friendly Workspaces – Creating a sensory-friendly workspace can help neurodivergent employees who are sensitive to certain environmental triggers. Simple modifications like adjusting lighting, noise levels, or providing noise-cancelling headphones can make a wealth of difference.
3. Clear Communication – Neurodivergent employees may struggle with communication, particularly in noisy or fast-paced environments. Employers can provide clear communication channels such as email or instant messaging alongside offering training on how to effectively communicate with neurodivergent employees.
4. Workplace Buddies – Workplace buddies can provide neurodivergent employees with a support system and someone to turn to if they need aid with a task or help navigating the workplace.
5. Task Management Software – To help neurodivergent employees with executive functioning difficulties, employers can offer task management software tools, which can help them stay organized, prioritize tasks, and meet deadlines.
6. Focus on Strengths, not Limitations – Traditional job requirements may not accurately assess the strengths of neurodivergent candidates. Employers can focus on skill-based qualifications and provide on-the-job training for necessary skills when hiring.
7. Provide Support and Accommodations – Once hired, employers can offer additional support and accommodations to help their neurodivergent employees succeed in their role. This can include mentorship, tailored training programs, and workplace accommodations.
8. Offer Training and Resources – Companies can provide training sessions and educational resources for employees to learn about neurodivergence. These can include webinars, workshops, or online courses.
9. Encourage Dialogue – Companies can encourage open and honest dialogue around neurodivergence. Creating a safe space for discussion can lead to a better understanding of neurodiversity and a more inclusive work environment.
10. Embrace Neurodiversity – Finally, companies should embrace neurodiversity as a strength. This means celebrating the unique perspectives, skills, and contributions that neurodivergent individuals bring to the workplace.
By implementing these accommodations and working towards changing mindset employers can better support their neurodivergent employees, fostering a more inclusive, productive, and innovative workplace.
At the end of the day, the goal is to create an environment where everyone has an opportunity to reach their full potential and thrive.
With the right support and adjustments, your neurodivergent employees can thrive just like any other employee. Here are some ways companies can create a safe and inclusive workplace for neurodivergent individuals:
1. Provide Adjustments – As mentioned previously, providing adjustments is crucial to supporting neurodivergent individuals. These can include flexible work hours, quiet workspaces, and assistive technology to enhance communication.
2. Be Mindful of Sensory Overload – Sensory overload is a common issue for neurodivergent individuals. Consider using dimmer lighting, reducing background noise, or providing noise-cancelling headphones if needed.
3. Encourage Communication – Communication is key in any workplace, but it can be even more important for neurodivergent individuals. Encourage open communication and provide different modes of communication – such as written or visual – to ensure everyone can participate fully.
4. Foster a Culture of Acceptance – Promote a culture of acceptance and understanding towards neurodiversity. This can include celebrating the unique skills and perspectives neurodivergent individuals bring to the table and creating opportunities for all employees to learn about neurodiversity.
5. Provide Training and Support – Offer training sessions and resources to help all employees better understand neurodiversity and how to support their neurodivergent colleagues. Consider partnering with neurodiversity advocates or organizations for additional guidance and support.
In conclusion, recognizing neurodivergence in the workplace and providing accommodations and support can lead to a more diverse, productive, and innovative workforce.
Hiring and supporting neurodivergent employees can bring about a unique set of skills and perspectives that can benefit an organization in countless ways. In addition, promoting inclusivity and valuing neurodiversity can lead to greater empathy and understanding among employees, reduced turnover rates, and an enhanced reputation for the company.
By embracing neurodiversity in the workplace, companies can achieve greater overall success and create a workplace that is truly inclusive and welcoming for all employees.
Be proud and empower individuality.