How to Support and Empower Neurodivergent Employees

The majority of people are neurotypical, meaning their brains function and process information according to society’s expectations. However, nearly 15% of the UK population are neurodiverse. That’s an estimated 1 in 7 people, which isn’t a small number.

What Exactly is Neurodiversity?

The term neurodiversity refers to the fact that not all brains work and function in the same way. There are many ways in which the brain can interpret information, and all these variations exist on a spectrum. Diverse brain functions can lead to people with neurodiversity to struggle with certain aspects of their work and life, while thriving at others.

Types of neurodivergence include:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia / DCD
  • Dyscalculia
  • Developmental Language Disorder
  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Tourette Syndrome & Tic disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Some neurodivergent people received their diagnoses as children, while for others it’s later in life. There will also be a number of people who are neurodiverse and have not sought a diagnosis or received one.

Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Most organisations have a neurodiverse workforce. It is likely that at some time we all work with, lead or report to colleagues or managers who are neurodiverse in some way. Neurodiversity exists on a spectrum, and everyone’s experience is unique in the way they adapt to structures, processes, social interactions, and so on.

Neurodiversity within any workforce is as beneficial to an organisation as any other aspect of DE&I. Neurodiverse thinking brings fresh ideas and innovation, diverse perspectives, hyperfocus, and attention to detail to the table. When recruiting, many organisations are beginning to look to consciously include this formerly overlooked, yet extremely valuable talent pool.

Creating an Environment That’s Inclusive and Supportive of Neurodiversity

It might not be obvious at first, but by creating a supportive culture and workplace environment for the neurodiverse, you’ll also be empowering your neurotypical employees. For example, by introducing flexible work hours for employees who operate better either in the mornings or the evenings, you’ll also be accommodating working parents or employees with caring responsibilities. Typical or atypical, every employee is unique and operates on an individual level. By reviewing and adapting some of the ways you conduct business to better suit all your employees’ needs, you’ll improve both their wellbeing and productivity, and they’ll most likely never want to leave. Here are some ways to do just that…

Get to Know the Individuals in Your Team

It goes without saying that every member of your team should be treated as an individual. As previously mentioned, neurodiversity exists on a spectrum, which means it’s important not to make any assumptions about how each person experiences their diagnosis. Rather than adhering to any stereotypical guidelines, do your best to get to know and understand your neurodiverse team members well and find out how you can best support their unique strengths and challenges.

Provide Supportive Technology & Equipment

There are helpful tech tools, programmes, equipment and software available to better support your neurodiverse team members to fulfil their roles with more ease and efficiency. It might be worth investing in items such as:

  • Speech-to-text, text-to-speech, or mind-mapping software
  • Dictation tools
  • Digital recorders
  • Daily planners
  • Screen overlays
  • Dual screens/monitors

Communicate Clearly

It’s important to consider the differences between how neurotypical people and neurodiverse people communicate. For example, people with autism might not find it easy to read facial expressions, interpret tone of voice, sarcasm, or metaphors. So, try to communicate directly and without any unnecessary ‘fluff’ and avoid long-winded explanations filled with jargon. Do your best to be specific when providing instruction - be it in-person, via audio, or visual formats.

Support with Development and Career Growth

When supporting your team's career growth and development, look to where their strengths are and how these align with business objectives. This is a really great way to ensure that each member of your team is doing work that they truly enjoy, challenges them in the right way and allows them to excel - all while achieving the best outcomes for the business. These strengths and interests will become apparent through conversation and shared learning.

It's important to try steer clear of any stereotypical approaches to working with the neurodiverse members of your team. Research and external resources are extremely helpful and important sources of information, but try not to rely on this as your sole source of truth. While there are similarities and overlaps, no one person has the exact same experience of their diagnosis as another. With this in mind, try not to put any of the people you manage in a box or make decisions about their strengths without open dialogue.

Consider The Physical Environment

Typically, office spaces are designed for neurotypical people. If your employees are working from a shared space, there are a few modifications you can invest in to ensure that everyone is comfortable. These include:

  • Adjustable lighting or desk lamps
  • Providing standing desks
  • Providing ‘quiet zones’ or noise cancelling headphones

If the nature of your work allows it, introduce flexible/hybrid/remote working to accommodate those who are more productive in their own space.

Champion Wellbeing

Stress and anxiety are common mental health issues for neurodivergent people. Not only are they dealing with the same work-life pressures as their neurotypical colleagues, but they’re also working very hard to fit into a neurotypical world. Promoting and prioritising wellbeing within your team is especially important for those who are neurodiverse, but it’s beneficial for everyone. Ways to support mental health can include:

  • Raising awareness of companywide wellbeing benefits and policies
  • Ensuring your team are taking their lunch breaks, getting outside, aren’t over-working, have the necessary equipment, etc.
  • Scheduling regular 1:1s that are safe and judgement-free
  • Boost morale with fun team building exercises that are accessible for everyone


External Resources

CIPD – Neurodiversity at Work
ADHD Foundation
Adult Autism Strategy – NHS
Ambitious About Autism
Anxiety UK
Bipolar UK
British Dyslexia Association
British Institute of learning Disabilities
Different Brains
The Dyscalculia Information Centre
UnikSeek – Neurodiversity Resources