How to create a neurodiversity-friendly workplace

How to create a neurodiversity-friendly workplace

By Dr Jill Miller (Policy Adviser, CIPD)

‘Neurodiversity’ is increasingly being talked about by HR professionals as part of diversity and inclusion debates. However, most employers are only beginning to appreciate the benefits of embracing neurodiversity. In a 2018 CIPD poll, just 10% of HR professionals in the UK said consideration of neurodiversity is included in their organisation’s people practices.

The term neurodiversity refers to the fact we all think differently. But in a workplace context, the term refers to people with alternative thinking styles such as autism, ADHD and dyspraxia – each of which can be associated with unique strengths including creativity, an ability to spot patterns and trends, data-driven thinking, a capacity to process information at extraordinary speeds, and inferential reasoning. With around 10% of the UK population thought to have alternative thinking styles, this is a huge talent pool which is being underutilised.

One of the key arguments for investment in diversity and inclusion is the benefits of having different perspectives and ways of looking at problems and decision-making. However, there’s still a long way to go for most organisations to fully include people with alternative thinking styles (people who literally think differently) and enable them to perform to their best.

The CIPD worked with Uptimize – pioneers of neurodiversity through online learning – to develop a guide for HR professionals and employers on how to create a neurodiversity-friendly workplace. The benefits of doing so are clear, and most of the simple (and low-cost) workplace adjustments to consider can benefit everyone.

Here are a few examples from the guide:

  • Remove potential friction points in the hiring process: could you be unintentionally losing neurodivergent individuals at the recruitment stage?
  • Critically assess the role description – there is a tendency to look for generalists, with role descriptions including skills that are not integral to the role. Such a long list could exclude people who have deeper and narrower skills in the core areas you need. Separate out the ‘must have’ and the ‘nice to have’ skills.
  • In the job advert state that you are happy to discuss reasonable adjustments.
  • Ensure interviewers are informed about neurodiversity, so they are fair and empathetic in the interview process. For example, not holding a lack of eye contact against a candidate and understanding that someone may be very honest about their weaknesses. And everyone would benefit from having a quiet interview space and avoiding rapid-fire questions.
  • A conventional interview tests someone’s recall and ‘social competence’ which can put some neurodivergent people at a disadvantage. Consider how people can best demonstrate the skills and capabilities required for a particular job role.
  • Consider how simple changes could be made to the work environment. Most workplaces are physically and structurally designed for ‘neurotypicals’, however, they too will likely welcome the suggested changes!
  • Avoid really bright lights in your office, which can be distracting or lead to sensory overload. Neurodivergent employees could be given a workspace with more natural light.
  • Open plan environments, although great for collaboration, may be distracting for those who have specific sensory sensitivities. Find quieter areas where people can work or allow the use of a private office, headphones or earplugs.
  • Personal organisation aids such as filing trays and drawers can be beneficial.

These are just a few examples from the guide, but mostly, HR needs to look at all stages of the people management lifecycle with a neurodiversity lens. Make it easy for anyone in the organisation to request a reasonable adjustment. And it’s essential to avoid making assumptions about the adjustments people require.

In the words of author and thought leader on autism:

‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism’.

Stephen Shore

About Jill

Jill works closely with policymakers, officials and HR professionals, driving forward the D&I agenda with the ultimate aim of affecting change in the world of work. Follow Jill on Twitter @MillerJillC

Read the second blog post in the series Open up your Mind by Gary Cookson.

Support our campaign

The CIPD Manchester Branch campaign will include Twitter chats, some podcasts, and an Ignite presentation from DisruptHR York, as well as a blog series. The blogs have been written by a range of people, from within the HR and L&D world as well as outside. Some are from a personal perspective of being neurodivergent and others from neurotypical people. We are very grateful for people’s contributions in helping us explore how we can support neurodivergence in our organisations, and help us to step-up the pace of change and inclusion.

If you would like to contribute a blog and share your personal experience or that of your organisation, please get in touch.

We look forward to your reading, listening and contributing to this campaign. Leave us your comments below and don’t hesitate to share this article with your networks. Together we can make a difference by raising awareness.