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How can employers support neurodiversity?

Ella Sheppard, senior associate and solicitor in Nelsons’ employment department, discusses neurodiversity in the workplace and why it’s important for employers to not only ensure compliance with the relevant legal framework, but take proactive steps to understand the concept of neurodiversity and offer a supportive work environment.

What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity acknowledges how individuals naturally think about and process information and situations in different ways. It also recognises that every individual has different interests and natural strengths in certain areas.

The term ‘neurodiversity’ is wide-ranging and can include having one or more of the below conditions:

  • ASD (including the condition that was previously referred to as Asperger’s syndrome)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Down syndrome
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Mental health conditions – for example, bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Sensory processing conditions
  • Social anxiety
  • Tourette syndrome

Neurodiversity in the workplace
Neurodiverse individuals often have valuable and beneficial skills to bring to the workplace. For example, they typically display high attention to detail and have excellent memories.

However, in many circumstances, those with neurodivergent conditions often have difficulties finding work or may become an afterthought when it comes to retention, promotion, and career development.

In fact, recent Government data has shown that only 22% of autistic adults were working in 2021, according to the National Autistic Society, and nearly half of autistic workers have stated that they have felt bullied or harassed at work because of their condition, according to specialisterne.

Employers are under a legal duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety, and welfare of employees while at work and risk criminal liability if they fail to do so. Adjustments to physical work environments may be required in the case of neurodivergent employees in order to comply with this duty, and the duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. For example, to remove or reduce sensory stimuli.

What can employers do to support neurodiversity?
Employers should bear in mind that neurodivergent people can experience issues even at the recruitment stage and should consider making appropriate adjustments. For example, keeping advertisements simple, giving advance notice of any exercises an applicant may need to complete as part of the interview process, adjusting the physical environment in which interviews take place to make this accessible and allowing breaks where appropriate.

Once part of the team, employers should encourage open communication with anyone who considers themselves neurodivergent and feels they are struggling in work as a result, and actively listen to any concerns that are raised.

Internal policies should encourage employees to disclose to their line manager or HR team if they are experiencing issues at work because of any such condition, directing them to appropriate internal resources and any designated people within the business for support.

The next step
Where an employer feels or is made aware of the fact an employee is struggling, they should take steps to explore possible adjustments that may assist the employee, alongside the employee themselves and possibly a medical professional. Adjustments could include dictation software, a separate working space and altering working hours. This can encourage greater productivity and lead to the retention of talented employees, benefitting both the individual and the business.

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