Rightly so, many businesses have focused recently on creating a more inclusive and open work environment – a diverse workforce is an incredibly useful asset that has a plethora of benefits.
Yet, neurodiversity remains an area that remains both under-represented and under-supported, and is too often simply overlooked. Neurodiversity seems to be the next logical step in creating a more inclusive and diverse work environment; clearly more must be done to give attention to encouraging cognitive diversity in the workplace.
Neurodiversity in the workplace:
A common form of neurodiversity is ADHD, commonly affecting individuals’ ability to control attention, impulses and concentration.
Unfortunately, however, a lack of real knowledge about the condition has resulted in stigmatisation: people may brand those with ADHD as careless, lazy or less intelligent when this is not the case.
This can lead to discrimination against applicants as well as alienation of existing employees. In fact, those with ADHD often cite a lack of support from their employer as the reason for leaving a role. However, with support, understanding, and some small changes to capitalise on their strengths and talents, they are likely to be a great asset to an organisation.
Opening up the workplace to neurodiverse employees
Steps to encourage neurodiversity in the workplace begin with reframing our thinking and combatting any stigmas or preconceived notions.
Instead, open discourse around identifying and utilising the unique advantages individuals can bring to their teams and organisations to encourage a more welcoming culture for employees.
Differences in the way people operate cognitively can bring a new dimension to tasks like brainstorming and idea generation – people with ADHD, in general, seem to excel in creativity, enthusiasm, innovation and the ability to hyperfocus on tasks that interest them.
Even before they join, it is crucial that the application process is made as accessible as possible, so that all individuals, regardless of their cognitive needs, are able to fully demonstrate their skills and talents.
For instance, it is important to keep descriptions of the job clear and concise while avoiding unnecessary jargon; splitting the job requirements into necessary and desirable can also be beneficial.
If the interview process requires completion of a task, making the end-goal realistic and clear, potentially with a checklist to enable them to visualise the steps, can help them maintain their attention and provide exactly what it is you’re looking for.
A culture of understanding from the offset is essential as candidates need to feel comfortable enough to disclose their condition and discuss any necessary adjustments.
In order for businesses to establish this culture, HR professionals have an important role in improving employee awareness of neurodiversity and how best to support everyone. Additionally, putting a neurodiversity policy in place will signal that your organisation welcomes neurodiverse individuals, encouraging a more diverse range of applicants.
Supporting neurodiverse individuals in the workplace
It is critical that employees feel supported and valued within the business to ensure retention. Again, an open line of communication is essential in order to identify and alleviate any difficulties that employees may have.
The overarching requirement in supporting individuals with neurodiverse conditions is flexibility – there needs to be commitment to adapt the workplace to suit the individual. For example, an employee with ADHD may prefer to receive instruction through writing rather than verbally, or may require many regular breaks and opportunities for movement.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to encouraging and managing neurodiverse individuals, many accommodations that are both simple and low-cost will help to increase accessibility while removing barriers to success.
Setting realistic goals is important: if an individual is not able to see how they’re going to achieve a task, it runs the risk of the employee being unable to complete it, defeating the very purpose of goal setting.
There are also many ways to help those with ADHD to focus their attention and remove distractions: working in a smaller and quieter room, taking short breaks, and focusing on fewer tasks at once, for example.
These accommodations can be discussed through regular meetings to ensure support is there as often as it is required. The goal is to create a culture in which neurodiversity is not only accepted and understood, but is actively celebrated.
Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage
Many neurodiverse individuals have extraordinary strengths, particularly in retention of detailed information, mathematics, and pattern recognition.
A growing number of companies, including Microsoft, SAP, and JP Morgan are changing their hiring practices in order to unlock the vast pool of available talent. They have reported seeing increased productivity, a boost in innovation and increased employee engagement, with JP Morgan’s neurodiversity scheme uncovering that the neurodiverse team were 45% faster and as much as 92% more productive than their peers.
The payoff for businesses has the potential to be considerable if the necessary time and resources are spent on attracting and supporting those with ADHD, maximising the employees chance of reaching their full potential - which is invariably beneficial for both the employer and employee.
Through the use of technology and the mapping of brain profiles it has become easier to identify cognitive differences and provide the necessary tailored support. It is time to recognise the importance of neurodiversity in the workplace, and that with supportive policies and practices organisations can foster the diversity of talent, skills, and experience that will not only benefit workers, but also businesses and society as a whole.
Chris Quickfall, isfounder and CEO of Cognassist