09 Dec 2022

Neurodiversity in the workplace

Neurodiversity in the workplace means all jigsaw pieces must fit together

Managing people means dealing with a range of people and personalities.  As neurodivergent people make up roughly 15% of the workforce, there is a good chance that this will include some of your staff.  Your organisation should have supportive practices and procedures in place that can help every team member to work at their best.

What do we mean by Neurodiversity?

When we talk of neurodiversity in the workplace, we mean variations in the human brain that affect the way we process different information and experiences as compared to the way society traditionally expects.  This can show itself in different learning styles, attention spans and how people interact with others. Many people are neurodivergent without having a specific diagnosis, but the term includes things such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Although many neurodivergent people would not consider themselves disabled, the definition of disability under the Equality Act is wide, being defined as a physical or mental impairment which has a long term (12 months or more) and substantial adverse impact on day to day activities. 

We should all be encouraged to accept that these are normal variations in the way our brains work, and that barriers exist in society and the workplace that can prevent neurodivergent people from reaching their potential.  There are many benefits that neurodiversity in the workplace can bring, in terms of creativity and fresh perspectives on situations.

A good employer makes a conscious decision to consult with their team on workplace practices, and to look out for unintended consequences of standard ways of doing things that might be limiting people’s performance.

We are all aware these days that everyone works in different ways, so it is worth looking at small adjustments that can be made to support every member of staff.

Presenting information

The best example of this is probably the staff handbook.  It’s often 50 pages of text that no one can be bothered to read.  However, for some people this is impossible to access, through choice or not.  Important information should ideally be communicated in a variety of ways, not only text but also graphics, video, flow charts or illustration.  That way, every one has the same chance of receiving and understanding what they need.

Peace and quiet

It is impossible to create a working environment that suits everyone.  Whether hybrid, open plan, offices or hot desking, the key is to provide as many options as possible so that people can take what they need.  Consider a quiet or sensory room for staff to use when they need a break or feel overwhelmed.  This is something that can benefit the entire team.


Lots of things in an office environment can get lost in translation, so make sure that all communications with everyone are clear. 

  • Have you communicated clearly what level of performance is expected?
  • Are people clear about actions and deadlines?
  • Has everyone understood?
  • Has everyone had sufficient training?

Consider effects on other team members

People can be sympathetic to the challenges people face, but still struggle with the impact that has.  Everyone should have the opportunity to be open about behaviours they find difficult.  It could be that issues arise after long days, or periods of stress, or when people feel overstimulated. Once issues are known, it is much easier to discuss how to mitigate these and mediate between colleagues. 

However, if things can’t be resolved, you may have to follow a formal process out of fairness to every member of the team.

Tackling issues head on

Sometimes, we can put every support in place, but issues still arise and need to be addressed.  In reality, people are paid to do a job and you can expect them to do it effectively. 

If you are dealing with a performance management or misconduct issue, there are additional support measures that you might want to consider.

Allow extra time

If there are questions to be answered, it is helpful to let people have them in advance so that they have sufficient time to consider their answers if necessary

Allow support

Usually, a union representative or colleague can accompany someone to a disciplinary meeting.  However, you may wish to allow a family member or friend to provide extra support.

Allow a recording

If people struggle with short-term memory, it can be useful to allow a recording of the meeting, even if this is not standard practice. 

Whatever measures are put in place, it is vital that records are kept, meetings are followed up and everyone is supported to promote good relationships going forward.

Focus on what’s best for everyone

A lot of these measures are best practice for everyone, not just those who are neurodivergent.  If you suspect neurodivergence is a factor in a workplace issue, then think about how you can support everyone. It is not about labels but working hard to make sure that everyone in the team thrives and everyone is treated with respect and compassion.  Listen to your team and understand what aspects of work they find challenging, and what they excel at.  Swapping responsibilities to ensure that everyone is working at their best, rather than to an arbitrary division of tasks or job descriptions, could be helpful.

Make accommodations where you can, and always be thinking of ways in which you can give your team the support they need.

It’s a tough landscape to navigate but if you can show you have done your best to tackle issues and provide support with kindness and empathy, and there are still issues to resolve, then you can be reassured that there is a formal process to fall back on.

If you could like more information, then talk to us, or look at some of the resources available on the Equality and Human Rights Commission Website

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