Neurodiversity and Performance Management

By Gemma Rolstone (Managing Director, Delphinium)

Employers are becoming more aware of the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce and are making changes to encourage and support individuals with neurodivergent conditions.

Historically, companies have made reasonable adjustments to comply with the Equality Act 2010, where there is a disclosure of a neurodivergent condition. Many of the recruitment, onboarding and performance management processes within organisations, designed initially to suit neurotypicals, have remained the same. In recent years companies such as Microsoft, Walgreens and JP Morgan have examined how they have developed their processes to help neurodivergent manage the challenges they face and how they can improve their processes to capitalise on the strengths of the conditions with outstanding results.

What is neurodiversity?

ACAS defines neurodiversity as referring to “the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. It highlights that people naturally think about things differently.” It includes conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. Whereas someone who would be described as “neurotypical” is an individual whose brain “functions and processes information in the way society expects.”

Neurodivergence it is believed to represent between 7-10% of the population. However, recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people being diagnosed with neurodivergent conditions. While some attribute the increased numbers to a change in reporting factors, other factors are also affecting the numbers. For example, as people become more aware of neurodivergent conditions, they are noticing their symptoms and referring themselves to medical professionals for investigation. As ADHA is believed to be hereditary more parents are investigating their symptoms after a child is diagnosed, often resulting in one or even both parents being diagnosed with the same condition.

Performance Management

Organisations can develop processes and procedures that encourage people with neurodivergent conditions into the workplace and allow for reasonable adjustments. However, the success of any such change will be primarily determined by an organisation’s managers.

Many managers struggle with conversations around performance generally. However, as a person’s neurodivergence may be regarded as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, managers often feel even less confident having these types of conversation and avoid them.

At the other end of the scale are those managers who immediately initiate formal capability or disciplinary processes, which can often lead to a dismissal unnecessarily. For example, many people with ADHD can struggle to regulate their attention in open-plan offices resulting in poor performance. Inexpensive reasonable adjustments such as allowing them to move to a quieter space in the office or where noise cancelling headphones could dramatically improve their performance. However, formal capability procedures have been followed immediately.

Another example would be an individual with ASD who suffers from hypersensitivity to noise and feeling uncomfortable in an open plan office, resulting in high absence and being dismissed when similar adjustments could have been made to the example above.

If an employee discloses their neurodivergent condition, it is much easier to have a conversation about the condition, the challenges it presents and any reasonable adjustments to be made. However, an employee may wish not to disclose their condition, or even be aware they may have a neurodivergent condition. As neurodiversity, like many other things, is on a sliding scale some individuals may experience some of the same challenges as an individual with a particular condition without quite reaching the level to warrant a formal diagnosis.

The good news is that if you are creating the right environment and managing performance well across the board. This isn’t such an issue.

Company Culture

By creating a culture where employees feel supported, regardless of the reason they are struggling, they will feel able to discuss their challenges with their manager. These conversations can then explore those challenges and how they can work together to help the individual overcome or manage them as much as possible. Such a culture would improve performance across the board, as well as helping to reduce the stigma of both neurodivergence and mental ill-health issues.

Unfortunately, in many organisations’ employees don’t feel that they are supported in this way and are reluctant to open up about difficulties they are facing for fear of being seen as unable to do their job or facing disciplinary action.

Get to know your employees

While it is crucial that there is a greater awareness around neurodivergent conditions, assumptions should not be made. Just because you know one person who has a neurodivergent condition doesn’t mean that you know how that condition affects other individuals. When a condition has been diagnosed the individual should be asked about what they struggle with and what support they feel would be appropriate.

Spending the time getting to know all of your team enables you to discover their strengths when they are more productive, and their optimum environments will allow you to consider what you can do to support all of your team and help them improve their performance.

While there may be a requirement under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for those with a disability, many adjustments that are considered reasonable cost very little, if anything. Therefore, if they can also help others to improve their performance, surely it makes commercial sense to do so.

Consider your management approach

Part of being an effective manager is adapting your style, and it is no different when it comes to managing individuals with neurodivergent conditions.

While research shows that giving positive and regular feedback is beneficial to all employees, doing so can be particularly relevant for those with a neurodivergent condition, particularly where their confidence may be low due to previous negative experiences.

When it comes to delegation and assignment of tasks, you may need to provide information in a different format to the way you find preferable. For example, some people may require written instructions, as opposed to verbal, to enable them to digest the information in their own time. Often those with ASD will need clear instructions and unambiguous instructions. Most importantly, encourage feedback from employees to ensure you are continually improving the way you support them. Don’t make assumptions or try to second-guess how you can support people, ask them and continuously seek feedback on the support you are providing and what more you can be doing.

For further information on neurodivergence take a look at the CIPD’s Neurodiversity at Work report.

About Gemma

Gemma is the Managing Director of Delphinium, supporting organisations to develop good managers into great leaders across a range of industries.

Follow Gemma on Twitter @GemmaRolstone

Could you support our campaign?

The CIPD Manchester Branch campaign will include Twitter chats, some podcasts 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. Please 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.

View our previous post in our series Responding to neurodiversity among customers and employees

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