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By LegalEdge News

Celebrating neurodiversity at work


What is Neurodiversity Celebration Week?

18 to 24 March 2024 is Neurodiversity Celebration Week. The event is a worldwide initiative to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences, to transform how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported at work and to recognise the many talents of and advantages to being neurodiverse.  

There is slightly more awareness of neurodivergent people within society than there used to be, but most employers fail to tap into this talent source as effectively as they could, and so risk missing out.   

We don’t always recognise the workforce is neurodiverse

Most businesses now understand the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workforce, but the focus is often around compliance with equality legislation, and rarely addresses neurodiversity or its benefits specifically.  

What is neurodiversity? 

A significant minority, estimates suggest up to 15% of the population, are neurodivergent – their brains function and process information differently to the way ‘society’ expects. 

Human brains can be wired in various ways. Neurodiversity covers everyone who may be neurodivergent in some way, including those on the autism spectrum and with conditions such as dyspraxia and dyslexia. 

Why does it matter? 

Most workplaces are probably already quite neurodiverse, without realising it, so taking steps to help neurodivergent employees thrive could really aid retention and boost productivity.

It’s possible there are people in your workforce who don’t see themselves as neurodiverse and/or who do not have a formal diagnosis so it’s important for employers not to make assumptions about someone’s status.  

Tweaking your hiring procedures to encourage and assist neurodivergent people to apply could help your business access a larger talent pool and give you a competitive edge. 

How do you recognise if someone is neurodivergent? 

There is no one size fits all. Many people experience neurodiverse conditions along a spectrum so, while there may be common traits, everyone is affected in different ways, and this may change over time. However, some positive characteristics commonly associated with neurodivergent employees include: lateral thinking, strategic analysis, bringing a different perspective, consistency and innovation. 

How can employers benefit? 

Seeing things in a different way can be an advantage. Employers that can harness the power of thinking differently could gain the competitive edge. Employers in the financial and technology sectors such as SAP and JP Morgan have already put targeted hiring programmes for autistic candidates in place. Other upsides include: 

  • accessing a pool of talent that may have been overlooked in the past – employment rates for people with autism are very low; and 
  • finding people with skills that are particularly suited to your work. 

Things for employers to watch out for 

  • There is still a lack of understanding around most forms of neurodivergence, and misperceptions persist.  
  • How autistic people perceive and experience their environment can be different from others. For example, processing sensory information such as noise and light can be difficult; simple adjustments in the workplace could really help them. 
  • Some autistic people struggle with social interaction and communication. They may have a very literal understanding of language and think people always mean exactly what they say. They may find it difficult to use or understand facial expressions, tone of voice, jokes and sarcasm. This can cause problems in a workplace and, in extreme cases lead to bullying, and discrimination. 
  • A neurodivergent person may not consider that they have a disability, but employers need to be aware that they could be regarded as disabled by relevant legislation and so there will be a duty to make reasonable adjustments for them in the workplace. ACAS has recently published useful guidance on making adjustments for mental health which contains some practical suggestions.

It’s a win-win 

Employers who are prepared to tweak how they do things, such as making changes to their interview processes and workplace environments to enable neurodivergent employees to flourish will reap the rewards.  

Including neurodiversity as part of your wider workforce training will not only help manage legal risk but will also assist in creating an inclusive culture enabling your business to get the best out of everyone.

How can we help you? 

If you’d like to find out more about managing a neurodivergent workforce, need help drafting appropriate policies or want to review your interview and assessment procedures to make them more neurodiversity friendly, we can help. Get in touch on info@legaledge.co.uk

** To find out more, see the CIPD’s recent guide to Neuroinclusion at work (February 2024).

Also, the government estimates that fewer than three in 10 people with autism are in work. In April 2023 the Buckland Review of Autism Employment was launched to try and help more autistic people realise their potential and get into work. **

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