Neurodiversity in the workplace is increasingly gaining attention, as it should be. Estimates suggest that 2.21% of US adults have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Figures vary for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but they’re thought to be between 2.5% and 4.4%. Dyslexia, meanwhile, impacts 20% of the population. These are just some of the conditions which fall under neurodiversity. And those stats only refer to people with official diagnoses.
The actual percentages for each condition may be much higher—many people are undiagnosed, or waiting on a diagnosis. They may not even know they’re neurodivergent. More and more people are getting diagnosed as adults, when they start to struggle with everyday life.
Some people never seek a diagnosis because it’s too expensive, too time-consuming, or there’s no benefit to doing so.
But what are the benefits to businesses building and supporting neurodiversity in the workplace?
Supporting neurodiverse employees
As society becomes more accommodating toward things like mental health conditions, and building work environments and company cultures which understand and support employees who face these challenges, it’s important to not overlook those who experience the world differently.
Phrases like “we’re all a little ADHD,” can be thrown around without considering the detrimental impact conditions like ADHD can have on someone’s wellbeing, and their experience of the working environment.
And, if a neurodivergent employee doesn’t have a job that allows them to work in a way that suits them, it can lead to frustration, fatigue, and disengagement.
Old school management processes and businesses may prefer to treat every employee the same rather than making accommodations for neurodiversity in the workplace. It’s easier that way. And it may feel like this is working towards equality, too.
But achieving any form of equality isn’t that simple. Instead, it’s about focusing on an individual person’s needs, and not assuming everyone’s needs are the same. That means everyone requires a different management approach.
Thinking differently is a superpower
When businesses embrace diversity of any kind, it can lead to more productivity and increased creativity.
Neurodiversity in the workplace comes with its own set of benefits. A new way of looking at something could be exactly what you need to solve a problem. The more different points of view there are in a team, the faster that group can come up with a solution that’s creative, effective, and efficient.
Diverse teams are happier and more productive, too. In fact, neurodiversity is a competitive advantage according to Harvard Business Review.
While every neurodivergent person experiences their ADHD, autism, dyslexia, etc. differently, these conditions often come with abilities such as hyper focus, exceptional memory, heightened pattern recognition, or strength in mathematics.
When someone thinks outside of the norm, it can make them a great innovator, too. This is particularly beneficial in fast-moving industries such as technology.
But these superpowers only come out at work if someone is happy and engaged in their role. If they’re not, it can make it challenging for them to pay attention in meetings, understand instructions, or get any work done.
Noisy work environments, for example, can cause issues for people with sensory processing disorder, a condition which is common alongside ADHD and ASD. Employees with this condition may need to wear headphones to drown out the everyday, distracting, overwhelming, and sometimes pain-inducing noises that a neurotypical employee may not even notice.
Despite the benefits, estimates suggest that unemployment may be as high as 80% among those who are neurodivergent. The traditional hiring process isn’t suitable for many of them meaning they either don’t make it through, or may not apply for jobs at all.
It’s not that they don’t understand the job itself. Many have masters degrees or graduated with honors. The application process simply isn’t suited to their needs.
There are lots of skills that hiring managers traditionally see as the cornerstone of a good employee which neurodiverse employees may not have. Things like being able to network, good communication skills, and being salesy, to name a few.
These soft skills eliminate many neurodiverse applicants before they’ve had the chance to show their knowledge. Knowledge that could help businesses to learn and grow.
Job interviews can be particularly challenging for those on the autism spectrum, who can have confidence issues because of previous job interviews, be too honest about their weaknesses, or may not be good at making eye contact. They could then score lower on interviews than neurotypical candidates, even if they’re more qualified.
Despite society’s dependence on job interviews, there are other ways to assess someone’s talent to increase neurodiversity in the workplace, such as casual group environments, where candidates can demonstrate their skills.
Select candidates can then go on to a two- to six-week program which will further assess their skills. Governments and nonprofits often support this initiative, and candidates are usually paid.
Businesses such as SAP and Microsoft run hiring and training programs to encourage neurodiverse talent to join their teams. And their businesses have since reaped the rewards.
These are just a few of the benefits to neurodiversity in the workplace. It starts with being open to the fact that some people view and experience the world differently, and taking small steps to accommodate this.
Businesses that embrace diverse talent – including neurodivergence, gender, race, culture, and other characteristics – are more creative, productive, and innovative. This leads to happier teams, more revenue, and faster growth.
Really, there are no downsides other than businesses having to change their ways of thinking. It may take time, and it may cost money, but can you really afford not to?
If you’re looking to build a more inclusive workplace, you may want to check out Workrowd, a one-stop shop for employee initiatives. You can build digital communities for underrepresented employees, including those with neurodivergencies, survey and monitor employee sentiment, and much more. Visit us at workrowd.com or drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read part 2: Managing employees with ADHD