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The legal and moral imperative to support neurodivergent employees

A White Paper by Elizabeth Judson, head of client experience at AfterAthena, part of the Napthens Group, researches and explains the many benefits to employers of recruiting neurodivergent staff, while addressing challenges, barriers and misconceptions and providing expert guidance on how to create a truly neuroinclusive workplace.

Employers have a legal and moral imperative to understand and support neurodivergent employees, according to new research.*

A White Paper* researches and explains the many benefits to employers of recruiting neurodivergent staff, while addressing challenges, barriers and misconceptions and providing expert guidance on how to create a truly neuroinclusive workplace.

Entitled Neurodivergence at work: leveraging strengths and navigating challenges, the White Paper quotes research by Deloitte showing that approximately 10 to 20 per cent of the global population is considered neurodivergent, with Elizabeth focusing on innate rather than acquired neurodivergence such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, DCD and Tourette Syndrome.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s guide on neurodiversity at work, ‘such individuals may experience individual challenges uncommon to neurotypicals – but they can also possess unique abilities – abilities that can contribute to a competitive advantage when properly appreciated and leveraged by neurodiversity smart employers.’

Elizabeth states that many companies including Ford, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, JP Morgan Chase and EY have reformed their HR processes to recognise the benefits of creating a neurodiverse workplace to reap rewards including higher productivity, improved quality, enhanced innovation and better employee engagement.

Such businesses embraced the benefits of a positive impact on their company’s culture and processes and through expanding their talent pool by hiring people from neurominority groups including those with:

ADHD – ability to focus for extended periods, multi-tasking, creative thinking and being calm under pressure

Dyslexia and dyspraxia – thinking outside the box, entrepreneurialism and visual reasoning

Autism – memory ability, lateral and analytical thinking, attention to detail and solving problems in new ways

Elizabeth explained that while many employers and HR professionals are passionate about attracting neurodivergent candidates and want them to thrive, many lack the knowledge, confidence and understanding to make such decisions.

She states: “Neurodivergence is not something that goes away and therefore, to be successful, [reasonable] adjustments are likely to need to remain in place for the entirety of the employment relationship.”

Employers and HR professionals must overcome challenges and barriers including:

  • neurodivergent staff fitting into team dynamics
  • management of stress inducing events such as systems outages
  • recruitment processes unintentionally excluding the neurodivergent
  • a misconception of increased costs of accommodating such people
  • resistance to change
  • workplace discrimination, stigma and stereotyping

Elizabeth cites the view of experts in promoting ‘universal design’ as a way in which employers can provide for the needs of neurodivergent employees without requiring individuals to identify as such or ask for their needs to be provided for.

Other initiatives open to organisations include:

  • creating a safe environment for disclosure to protect against discrimination
  • reforming recruitment practices by for example, connecting with neurodivergent talent pools and reviewing job descriptions and advertisements
  • amending screening practices including the use of algorithms, video applications and personality tests that may discriminate
  • adapting interview and assessment questions and formats
  • tailoring jobs to match the skills of the neurodivergent

And once recruited, employers and HR teams should focus on making working life easier for the neurodivergent employee by providing tailored communications and performance management, one-to-one mentoring, effective work scheduling, the best work location and changes to the workplace such as lower/natural lighting, temperature control, noise-cancelling headphones, screen readers and assistive software and training of all staff to promote awareness of neurodivergence.

Elizabeth concludes: “Levels of unemployment within neurodivergent groups are higher than in the general population and the workplace can be a challenging environment for neurodivergent individuals. 

“Poor workplace practices can increase the risk of neurodivergent employees experiencing difficulties with their mental health. Employers therefore have both a legal and moral imperative to take steps to understand and support neurodivergent employees.  

“Employers who proactively take steps to support neurodivergent employees and create neuroinclusive work environments will see greater organisational success, ranging from enhanced creativity and innovation to improved employee satisfaction and retention.  

“By taking steps to create a more neuroinclusive workplace environment, organisations stand to benefit from the unique perspectives and abilities of neurodivergent employees.”

Research and survey

*By Elizabeth Judson, head of client experience at AfterAthena, part of the Napthens Group


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