Support for Neurodiverse Employees

Neurodiversity week (18th – 24th March) celebrates different minds and the strengths they bring. It is a term that describes different thinking styles including Dyslexia, DCD (Dyspraxia), Dyscalculia, Autism and ADHD. Approximately 15-20% of the population has a neurological difference, meaning that in many workplaces there are employees whose strengths can be nurtured and whose challenges supported. This guide looks at the neurodiverse advantage, how employers can stretch their recruitment talent pool and build inclusive talent pipelines, and importantly, provide the right supports for all their employees.

Build an Inclusive Recruitment Process

Recruitment processes are often geared to the mainstream, but many employers that wish to be truly inclusive can find that with a few adjustments and a greater focus on accessibility, they can gain from a widened talent pool that both encourages neurodiverse employees to apply and ensures that the application process is not discriminatory for them.

  • Highlight skills and competencies: Neurodiverse employees may not have acquired an extensive list of qualifications and indeed for many, school may have been a challenge and formal exams more so. By focusing upon the key requirements of the actual role and ensuring that job descriptions and adverts are competency based, more neurodiverse applicants will be encouraged to apply.
  • Outline the process: Many neurodiverse candidates feel more comfortable and confident when the process is clear. Communicate these step-by-step with attached dates and contacts, repeating these details in a variety of forms where possible.
  • Structure the interview: Move the focus away from past experiences and focus on how the candidate can showcase their knowledge and core competencies for the role. Many neurodiverse candidates may struggle with hypothetical questions, but employers can focus upon asking candidates to tackle work-based problems with the skills they have.
  • Repeat the question in a chat stream: Candidates with ADHD, ADD or ASD may need a question repeated. Saying it verbally may be too quick for them to process, so backing it up with the same question posted within a messenger chat can ensure they don’t need to fret if they didn’t record it the first time.
  • Expect differences in presentation: Every neurodivergent person is different, meaning no two people with ADHD will experience their condition in the same way. However, it’s important to note some common expressions and to account for them. Candidates may fidget more, prefer to focus on the technical, avoid eye contact, interject inappropriately in conversations, or find it difficult to discuss certain questions that focus upon softer skills. Accommodations for these differences is essential to screen out any bias towards them.
  • Prepare adjustments: Understand the best ways to make the neurodivergent candidate comfortable, ask them if any adjustments can help support their recruitment experience before any screening or interviewing begins.

Manage the Onboarding Process

Structure is particularly important for many neurodivergent employees. Outlining the normal routines of the day can provide that all important framework in which they can operate by feeling safe and secure. An induction programme that is built to empower the new starter while accommodating any specific requirements will help reduce anxiety. It’s important that all access passwords and collaborative tools are set up in advance of the new joiner starting so that systems can be used from the beginning with ease.

Many neurodivergent employees may feel overwhelmed more easily. Reducing the timetable so that the necessary ‘meet and greets’ is not too much can help. Most importantly, keeping up an onboarding dialogue ensures that it’s a process of open collaboration, just as important as having a ‘difference’ is the recognition that we are all unique with that. It is not and never should be a one-size fits all approach, what feels right for one candidate may not for another. Ensuring that there is an ongoing, collaborative dialogue which ensures that both parties feel secure and safe is vital for building that ongoing, positive relationship.

Familiarise with Preferred Ways of Working

Whoever we are, we all like to work differently. Some employees prefer a constant dialogue, others prefer to be left alone to work on their deliverables, many sit in the middle of the two. Getting to know a neurodivergent employee is the best way of shaping an understanding of how they work best. Deadlines may need repeating in a gentle way as with expectations.

It’s important too that they feel they have some input on how they like to be communicated with. Dyslexic employees may prefer less wordy communications with bullet pointed lists, voice notes or in-person meetings. Those with ASD may respond more effectively with a process focused communication with direct and specific language, while those with ADHD or ADD may relate well to bite-sized chunks of communication and direction, which is broken up to aid both retention and manage attention spans.

What’s key is to keep evaluating what works best and to understand how to make the neurodivergent employee the most comfortable so that they can respond to tasks, communications, and changes in direction in the way that best sets them up for optimum performance.

The ‘Difference’ Advantage

Building truly inclusive workforces can provide great benefits for employers. Having a diverse voice ensures that a wide customer base can be attracted. Neurodiverse employees often have great attention to detail, are loyal to the business and bring a unique perspective and a different lens to the business, its services, and products. Different voices can also spark innovation and creativity. In this way they limit groupthink.

A big part of building inclusive workplaces where neurodiverse employees are recognised for their strengths is building a narrative around neurodiversity education. This is a key week in which the power of ‘difference’ can be broadcast, either by webinars, the circulation of articles or holding in-company events to build upon what is already being done to build inclusive cultures. These are great ways to improve understanding around neurodiversity and address the advantages and power it can hold.

You might also be interested in:

4 Questions to Ask Your Neurodiverse Colleagues to Enhance Working Relationships | Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions