Accommodating neurodivergent employees might seem like a puzzle to business owners and HR managers. But let's flip that perspective. Nothing is puzzling about it. People are people. When we equip our neurotypical team members with an understanding of neurodiversity and its impact, we effectively erase virtually all obstacles.
The key lies in extending a few considerations. Making these minor adjustments smooths the adjustment of neurodivergent individuals into your team, and this simple change can reap substantial benefits for your organization.
However, neurodivergent individuals often hit walls and encounter dead-ends while seeking job opportunities. An unjust and offensive stigma wrongly equates neurodivergence with reduced capability to meet job requirements. We, as part of the workforce, must confront this bias head-on. We must actively dismantle it to level the playing field for neurodivergent individuals. This way, they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their neurotypical counterparts, demonstrating their professional potential unhindered by prejudice.
What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a revolutionary concept that weaves a fresh narrative for our understanding of the human brain. At its core, neurodiversity embraces the idea that our brains — like our bodies, skin tones, or cultures — show incredible variety. This diversity is natural and beneficial, bringing richness and depth to our collective human experience.
It's a term you'll often encounter in conversations about conditions like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, Tourette's syndrome, anxiety, OCD, and others.
You might wonder why we call these conditions examples of "diversity" rather than "disorders." The traditional medical model has often painted such neurologically distinct individuals as having something "wrong" or "broken" that needs "fixing" or "curing."
The neurodiversity paradigm flips this perspective, promoting a more inclusive and respectful view. It acknowledges that people with these conditions are not "broken" or "defective" but have brains that work differently.
This doesn't mean that being neurodivergent isn't challenging; it can be, especially in a world that often privileges neurotypical ways of thinking and behaving. But rather than pathologizing these challenges, the neurodiversity movement focuses on the societal changes that can make life more accommodating and inclusive for everyone.
So, when we talk about neurodiversity, we're celebrating the idea that just as we are diverse in our races, genders, and orientations, we are equally diverse in how our brains function. It's an appreciation of this range of differences as natural, valuable, and vital to the fabric of our human tapestry. After all, these diverse minds have been the engine of human innovation throughout history, offering unique perspectives that drive our collective growth.
Neurodiversity In the Workplace
Consider these shocking statistics:
15% of people are neurologically different.
90% of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed.
As soon as you read these numbers, you know something is not right. There is no reason that 90% of the 15% need to be struggling to find jobs that they are more than capable of succeeding at unless they are unemployed by their own choice.
Let's discuss how we can turn these statistics around and ensure that neurodivergent candidates are seen, hired, and treated equally and fairly.
To all business owners and hiring managers - remember that hiring neurodiverse employees positively impacts organizational culture. Companies that have adopted more inclusive hiring practices to encourage neurodiversity within their walls, such as Microsoft, EY, and IBM, report increased productivity, innovation, engagement between employees, and control of quality output. Most importantly, managing neurodiverse employees encourages leaders to consider each team member's needs and strengths. Therefore, managers can better and more concisely understand how to look over their teams and optimize their team's collective skillset.
In the same way that a company can benefit from various races, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, and more, neurodiversity also contributes to the same goal - increasing an organization's range of perspectives. Hiring managers often look at hiring neurodiverse candidates as a separate entity from typical DEI initiatives. There is no need for this separation - the objective is to include as many different types of people and backgrounds as possible. By doing so, you can ensure that your team's solutions come from the intellectual processes of the most well-rounded individuals you could find!
7 Steps to Support Neurodivergent Employees
Developing a supportive and inclusive work environment is integral for all employees, including those who are neurodivergent. As an HR leader, your role extends beyond just implementing policies - you are responsible for nurturing an inclusive culture that allows every team member to flourish. Here are some strategies to enhance your organization's support for neurodivergent teammates:
Avoid Stereotyping and Assumptions
Neurodiversity encompasses a broad spectrum of neurological differences. Every neurodivergent individual possesses unique capabilities and challenges. Stereotyping or making assumptions about their abilities based on their neurodivergent status can be misleading and harmful. Respect individuality, recognizing that a diagnosis doesn't define their competencies or potential to contribute effectively to their role.
Promote Clear and Understandable Communication
Communication is a cornerstone of effective collaboration. Ensure your language is clear, straightforward, and devoid of unnecessary jargon or metaphors, which can sometimes cause confusion. This not only fosters understanding for neurodivergent individuals, but it also aids overall team communication, making interactions more effective and productive.
Encourage Communication Preference Disclosure
People have varying communication preferences. Encourage your team members to share how they prefer to communicate via email, instant messaging, phone calls, or face-to-face conversations. Empower neurodivergent individuals to express their preferred communication channels and methods and endeavor to adapt accordingly. This approach enhances mutual understanding and collaboration.
Cultivate Empathy for Social Interactions
Social situations can sometimes be challenging for neurodivergent individuals, potentially leading to misunderstandings. Educate your team on the nuances of neurodivergence to promote empathy and understanding. If a team member inadvertently says something perceived as rude or inappropriate, guide the team to respond with kindness and compassion. Encourage them to seek guidance from the HR team when unsure of how to navigate such situations.
Respect Non-Verbal Communication Preferences
Eye contact, a common non-verbal communication, can be uncomfortable for some neurodivergent individuals. If a team member avoids eye contact, demonstrate respect by following their lead. This kind of adaptability makes the individual comfortable and signals respect for their personal preferences.
Incorporate Structure and Routine
Many neurodivergent individuals find comfort in structure and predictability. Consider introducing routine and structure into your team engagements. This could be a consistent meeting schedule, regular check-ins, or project management tools to organize tasks clearly. Process consistency can reduce anxiety, improve performance, and contribute to a more inclusive environment.
Introduce Neurodiversity Training
Educate your workforce about neurodiversity. This involves understanding the different types of neurodivergence, recognizing unconscious biases, and learning how to adapt communication and work styles to create an inclusive environment. This proactive approach fosters a more empathetic and collaborative workplace that values all forms of diversity.
By incorporating these strategies, your organization will not only support neurodivergent teammates effectively but also create a culture of inclusivity, empathy, and mutual respect. This, in turn, benefits everyone by promoting a more understanding, productive, and innovative work environment.
17 Expert Strategies Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace
To help you create an inclusive and supportive environment for neurodivergent employees, we gathered insights from 24 experts, including CEOs, founders, and HR professionals. From implementing personal user manuals to embracing strengths and inclusivity, these leaders share their best tips on fostering a workplace that values and supports neurodiversity.
1. Encourage Sharing of Work Preferences
"Because "neurodivergent" is an umbrella term, every neurodivergent person will have a unique set of needs. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, managers should invest time in understanding how each person does their best work.
"One starting point is to ask every newly onboarded employee to create a personal User Manual (also referred to as a “How to Work With Me” Guide). Using a few prompts, employees can share their preferences for things like learning, information processing, focus, and communication—all areas where neurodivergent people may differ from neurotypical peers. You can also create space for people to share how others might misinterpret their behavior.
"Managers should respect that neurodivergent people may not want to disclose aspects of their identity (for example, learning disabilities). User Manuals give team members permission to share what they need while offering neurodivergent people the freedom to disclose what feels right for them."
Alex Lahmeyer, Founder and DEI Consultant, Boundless Arc
2. Educate Staff on Neurodiversity Communication
"Ensure that your entire staff understands how to communicate with one another effectively. Neurodiversity is heavily stigmatized, and through education, you can help all of your employees better understand and learn how to communicate with each other, raising the entire organizational culture in the process."
Azmaira Maker, Ph.D., Founding Director, Aspiring Families
3. Offer Flexible, Tailored Accommodations
"Managers can offer flexible work schedules to suit individual work styles or the type of employment settings they require. This approach can help create a supportive learning environment that allows those with different neurological makeups to be successful.
"It also allows them to share their unique view of any given problem, gives them a greater sense of self-confidence, and promotes inclusion at their shared place of business."
Michael Alexis, CEO, teambuilding.com
4. Ensure Clear Communication and Recaps
"As a neurodivergent person in a leadership position, I understand the struggles of other neurodivergent team members, especially in communication. This is why we, as a team, insist on having clear and open lines of communication and always have recaps of all meetings that neurodivergent folks can consume at their own pace without having the anxiety of potentially missing something important in discussions.
"We ensure detailed recaps and format them properly, so anyone can easily find what they need without feeling overwhelmed."
Gordana Sretenovic, Co-founder, Workello
5. Foster a Respectful Office Culture
"It all starts with your office culture. If you have a workplace that frequently makes jokes or has a negative attitude around mental health and disability, your policies won't compensate for that harmful environment. You'll only discourage your neurodivergent employees from asking for accommodations, and they won't feel like they can take advantage of any existing formal support without repercussions.
"Having respect and open support baked into your office culture is an overlooked tip, but it's fundamental before taking action."
Gates Little, President and CEO, altLINE Sobanco
6. Provide Structure and Task Management
"Some neurodivergent individuals may find structured schedules helpful for their confidence and success at work. Always be willing to assist in prioritizing daily, weekly, and monthly work, and provide definite start times and deadlines for those who require them.
"Breaking these larger jobs into smaller, more manageable steps may also benefit certain employees with an autism spectrum disorder. It may also be required to assist persons on the autism spectrum in adjusting to a routine and prepare them for any planned changes that may influence their schedule."
Ben Flynn, Marketing Manager, Manhattan Tech Support
7. Understand and Check In Regularly
"As a leader, it's essential to understand what it means to be neurodivergent and how you can better support your team members who identify as such. Take the time to have honest, intentional check-ins with each team member. Ask them how you can best help them, and then listen to what they share.
"By doing so, you'll not only build strong relationships with your team, but you'll also create a more welcoming and inclusive working environment."
Julie Blomsterberg, People Consultant, Bonfire Women, Work Friendly
8. Create an Anonymous Feedback Channel
"Have a channel for anonymous comments. Some employees may not feel comfortable or confident sharing feedback with you if their name is attached to it. But if you create an opportunity for employees to share anonymous feedback, you may find that there are suggestions you never would've come up with.
"Because neurodivergent workers have unique and varied experiences, a one-size-fits-all model will likely not meet each worker's needs. Instead, be open to adjusting your policies to meet the needs that your workers share with you."
Josh Weiss, Founder and CEO, Reggie
9. Foster Support Networks and Empathy
"Understanding how neurodivergent employees operate is critical. From there, you can build supportive networks or resource groups.
"These groups offer a space for mutual support, experience sharing, and advocacy. Educate employees about neurodiversity, highlighting the challenges and strengths of neurodivergent individuals. Promote empathy and respect, encourage open dialogue, and allow neurodivergent employees to share their experiences if they wish."
Kelli Anderson, Career Coach, Resume Seed
10. Cultivate an Inclusive Culture
"Every organization needs to foster a neurodiverse-friendly workplace. In other words, create an inclusive culture that embraces neurodiversity.
"Practical tips include:
Providing flexible work arrangements.
Ensuring clear communication.
Making sensory considerations.
Implementing inclusive hiring practices.
"By embracing neurodiversity and implementing these practices, organizations can cultivate an inclusive workplace that values the unique strengths and contributions of neurodivergent individuals."
Josh Amishav, Founder and CEO, Breachsense
11. Provide Neurodiversity Training
"The best approach is to train employees on neurodiversity and interacting with neurodivergent colleagues.
"Involve HR in these sessions and make them accessible to all employees for an inclusive and sensitive organizational culture. Include communication strategies in the training as they're crucial to creating a welcoming environment for neurodivergent employees."
Dragos Badea, CEO, Yarooms
12. Embrace and Value Neurodiversity
"Inclusion begins by acknowledging and valuing neurodiversity, which appreciates the unique strengths and perspectives of neurodivergent individuals.
"Embracing neurodiversity allows organizations to create an environment fostering diverse thinking and innovation. It promotes a shift from focusing on deficits to celebrating the talents neurodivergent employees offer.
"This approach encourages empathy, understanding, and respect, establishing a supportive workplace culture for all employees, regardless of neurological differences."
Vikas Kaushik, CEO, TechAhead
13. Tailor Tasks and Roles
"When considering a role for a neurodiverse employee, it's essential to consider what will work best for them. Let the employee choose tasks and functions tailored to their strengths, which may be outside the standard job description.
"For example, some neurodiverse individuals may thrive in a role that involves complex problem-solving or detailed research, whereas others may prefer tasks with more structure and routine."
Karl Robinson, CEO, Logicata
14. Rethink Hiring Expectations
"Get away from the traditional thinking of what makes a suitable candidate. For instance, a firm handshake, intense eye contact, and an air of confidence were almost required in the past. But, for someone neurodivergent, those things are not a given.
"Also, if the job doesn't require a candidate to think fast on their feet, consider removing those types of questions from the interview. You can make adjustments to create a talent pool inclusive of neurodivergent applicants."
Liza Kirsh, Chief Marketing Officer, DYMAPAK
15. Provide Clear, Written Communication
"Tech has a more significant representation of neurodivergence in our workforces. Ambiguity is unhelpful with employees, especially neurodivergent employees, so using straightforward language with no vague corporate jargon is essential.
"This benefits the workplace because instructions are clear, goals are concrete, and no one throws around terms like "synergy." Tell it like it is, and have it in writing so employees can review it and ask questions later.
"By being direct, supplying written information, and being open to follow-up questions, you are supporting your neurodivergent employees."
Stanislav Khilobochenko, VP of Customer Services, Clario
16. Leverage AI and Supportive Policies
"Businesses are recognizing the importance of diversity beyond gender and creating dedicated spaces for neurodivergent individuals. These individuals possess unique strengths due to their distinct cognitive processes, making them valuable contributors. By leveraging AI, organizations can address communication difficulties, social interactions, and learning obstacles and empower these individuals to thrive in their roles and unlock their full potential."
Dhruva Somani, Associate Consultant, Naman HR
17. Personalize Onboarding
"As awareness of neurodivergent individuals increases, it's time to adapt work culture. The onboarding process is a chance to show support.
"Consider a personal meeting with HR or a manager to ensure tailored training. Since neurodivergent people often process information differently, visuals or videos could be more effective than text.
"One-on-one meetings with colleagues can make new hires, particularly neurodivergent ones, feel welcome and positively impact their professional well-being."
Martyna Szczesniak, Community Expert, MyPerfectResume
We must prioritize the seamless integration of neurodiverse individuals into predominantly neurotypical workplaces. While some adjustments may be required in terms of office etiquette, making sure that all team members feel welcome, wanted, and in the loop will do wonders for your organization in the long run. We hope that these insights on the topic encourage you to expand your hiring practices and to experience the growth that your company could potentially feel by diversifying your employee profile!