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Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace: HR Essentials

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There have been many social changes in the modern workplace as we view our team members differently. HR managers, recruiters and corporate decision makers are increasingly focusing on diversity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace. However, despite its importance, one aspect of DEIB is still overlooked: neurodiversity in the workplace.

Simply put, neurodiversity means that everyone's brain is wired differently. When companies acknowledge and adapt to these differences, they can get the best out of their team.

What is Neurodiversity in the Workplace?

Studies show that around 1 in 7 working people have neurodiverse traits. Overall, approximately 15-20% of the world's population is affected by some form of neurodiverse characteristics. So if a person's thinking and nervous reactions do not correspond to what is normally expected in society, they are considered neurodivergent.

So the general term neurodivergence includes people with:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • And other related disorders.

People with neurodiverse characteristics learn, work and communicate in the workplace in unique ways. Therefore, they may need some adjustments to perform at their best.

Recognizing a neurodiverse company

A workplace that values neurodiverse people is a place of support where everyone can be themselves, regardless of how they think or feel. So it's important to create and maintain a neurodiverse organization because more and more people are realizing that they have unique ways of thinking and feeling.

Companies that support neurodiverse employees value the uniqueness of each team member. This gives everyone the same chance to be successful based on their abilities. In these companies, all employees should also understand neurodiverse aspects and know how to communicate well with others who may think differently.

Therefore, workplaces that support neurodiverse ways of working typically have tools and changes that make it easier for individuals to do their jobs.
For example, in a neurodiverse office there are special rooms where people with autism can take a break from the hectic daily routine. These rooms are equipped with soft lighting, calming colors and soundproofing panels. This creates a peaceful space in which the senses can relax.

Inclusive companies should also have clearly outlined neurodiversity requirements as part of their DEIB policies. Those responsible must ensure that there are clear rules and consequences for bullying and harassment related to neurodiverse topics. So these documents help define how employees should be treated. They also help employees feel safe and have trust in the company.

A neurodiverse culture should encourage teammates by creating a psychologically safe and welcoming workspace. For example, you could add hooks around the office to store noise-cancelling headphones or create low-traffic areas to reduce social anxiety.

How neurodiversity in the workplace impacts employee experiences

If neurodiverse employees are hired into a workplace that primarily caters to neurotypical people, they could face challenges in their careers over time. This could impact how they communicate and work with their team. It could also affect how they deal with stress. Redesigning an employee-focused workplace that favors neurodiversity can improve talent's overall experiences, such as:

  • Expanding employees' thinking and creativity through positive influences from different perspectives.
  • Introducing new skills and abilities into the work environment that can lead to new industry opportunities and collaboration techniques.
  • Discover breakthrough solutions as neurodivergent employees can offer innovations overlooked by neurotypical team members. In one notable example, a tech solution saved a company an estimated $40 million thanks to a neurodivergent employee's attention to detail.

The benefits of supporting neurodiverse people in the workplace

Some employers still believe that neurodiverse people do not have the right skills and attitudes to do their jobs well or fit into the company culture.

Research by the Institute of Leadership has shown that there are many prejudices against employees and applicants with Tourette syndrome and ADHD/ADD. More than half of the neurodiverse people surveyed in the study said their colleagues behaved in ways at work that made neurodiverse colleagues feel excluded.

Overcoming traditional misunderstanding about neurodiverse people in the workplace

More and more scientific studies are challenging old ideas about neurodivergent people in the workplace. Employers previously feared that neurodivergent employees would not work well with others and could therefore affect teamwork and the success of the company. However, research has shown that many people on the autism spectrum actually enjoy socializing.

Research has also shown that neurodivergent people can exhibit exceptional mental abilities in the areas of pattern recognition, memory and creativity.

For example, neurodivergent people consistently performed better on the embedded figure test, which involves recognizing specific shapes within a larger pattern. The test shows a person's attention to detail, which is crucial for various tasks and responsibilities in the company.

These cognitive skills enable neurodivergent talent to contribute to your company through improved and diverse teamwork.

Creativity is very important in today's working world. Studies show that 61% of employees often need to generate new ideas at work. This creativity is essential for companies to innovate and stand out from the competition.

A workplace that values neurodynamic diversity encourages different ways of thinking, which are critical to creativity. This type of thinking speeds up brainstorming and allows your company to quickly gather many different perspectives. It also helps them come to convincing solutions more quickly.

Better corporate retention through neutrodiversity in the workplace

Neurodiverse people are often hesitant to say they are different. This means they are more willing to support your company's diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts without forming exclusive groups. A neurodiverse team also ensures greater employee loyalty to the company. Studies show a retention rate of over 90% in these cases.

The increased loyalty in a company may be due to neurodivergent people's tendency to follow rules. So you are more likely to adhere to the policies and procedures in your company policy. In some cases, this can also lead to a reduced likelihood of breaking rules and causing problems in work relationships.

Eva Silvertant, the co-founder of Embrace Autism, believes that following rules can be a way for neurodiverse people to cope with overwhelming thoughts. So this means that your teams can rely on them for ongoing tasks and responsibilities.

Expand your talent pool with neutrodiverse people in the workplace

A company that values neurodiversity can include more qualified individuals with different mindsets and skills. A diverse pool of talent is helpful, especially for positions where there is a lot of competition. Employment company WilsonHCG suggests 4 proven methods for attracting qualified neurodiverse employees (see below):

  1. Training your team on neurodiversity - Taking training from organizations that understand neurodiversity and good communication will help your team work well with neurodiverse talent. You can also partner with these organizations to show your support and improve your reputation among neurodiverse applicants.
  2. Redefining hiring policies and practices to accommodate neurodiversity - Concise and unbiased language in your job description (JD) and titles is important to appeal to all potential applicants. An easy-to-understand application ensures a smooth hiring process and helps applicants know what to expect from your company.
  3. Skills First Hiring - Your hiring rules and culture should be open to people with different learning styles and educational backgrounds. It is also important to teach hiring managers how to accurately assess a person's character. So teach them how to choose the most qualified person based on their skills and merits.
  4. Ongoing Engagement - To diversify your team, stay in touch with existing members and understand their different needs. This way, you can build strong relationships and create a culture of belonging that encourages loyalty and retention.

How to create a neurodiverse workplace

To create a neurodiverse workplace, you need to adapt the regular office to accommodate different ways of thinking and behaving. So create a culture that caters to all types of people by raising awareness and making customizations.

Collaborate with community organization

Community groups can support your neurodiverse hiring efforts by referring qualified prospects to your company. These community partners may include government-sponsored employment agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations.

Also, remember to promote your company's goal of having a more diverse workforce, including neurodiverse people, and offering good career opportunities for everyone. So make sure you explain your values regarding DEIB. You also need to demonstrate how a team with diverse perspectives can support your company's mission and contribute to the community.

You can also share real-life examples where a team with neurodiverse members used their skills to solve a problem. So talk about the support your company offers, such as: Special regulations. Also share how this helps team members be successful at work.

Start the employee journey with neurodiverse hiring strategies

Always review and update your hiring policies to ensure that each candidate fits easily into your neurodiverse workplace culture. Acknowledging different thinking styles contributes to a meaningful onboarding process. This way, new employees feel accepted and valued in your company.

So make sure your application process is easy to use and uses inclusive language. When discussing neurodiversity in job descriptions, avoid terms like “special needs” or “differently disabled.” Also, do not mention the level of functionality required for the position.

Describing a position as “high functioning” can be offensive and limiting to neurodiverse applicants. So it might give a wrong impression about their abilities. So make sure that you follow the latest DEIB rules when writing your job descriptions and application forms.

The American Disabilities Act states that employers must provide employees with reasonable assistance when needed. This may include making job requirements easier to understand and offering potential applicants various ways to contact you during their application process.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers a comprehensive list of tools that can promote a positive and neuro-inclusive hiring experience through effective communication with HR. These accommodations include sun-simulating desk lamps to improve attention for employees with ASD and specialized time management applications for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Rationalizing your talent acquisition campaigns

IceHrm's Text Analyzer tool can find and modify words in job descriptions that may be unwelcoming to neurodivergent candidates. The AI-powered software removes distorted wording and improves information to target the right candidates.

The IceHrm team constantly tunes the Text Analyzer algorithm and updates it with the latest insights into applicant behavior and job market trends.

The advanced program can help remove jargon and suggest the ideal JD length and readability level to engage prospects throughout their application.

Organize regular programs to raise awareness of neurodivergence

Workshops and meetings across the company give HR managers and employers knowledge about the different ways people think and the best ways to work with them. Neurodivergence programs can help:

  • The knowledge to introduce more inclusive hiring practices.
  • Conducting employee appraisals.
  • Improving accessibility within the organization.

You can also offer these workshops to non-managerial employees. You can also learn useful skills to work better with neurodiverse team members and communicate more effectively.

Participating in these insightful sessions can also give participants a clearer understanding of their neurological processes and provide actionable solutions to increase their productivity.

Prioritize a supportive working climate

Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace means more than just accommodating team members based on their needs. In reality, it's all about creating a supportive and respectful environment in which every employee can work well, communicate and grow professionally.

Your workplace may offer special therapy sessions as part of your employee wellness programs. Therapists who are knowledgeable about and supportive of neurodiversity can provide important skills to help individuals embrace their uniqueness and deal with challenges in stressful areas of their work.

Also, make sure the therapists you choose have the right experience to understand and recognize the unique mindsets of your employees. So your therapists should never view neurodivergence as a personal problem or illness that needs to be fixed.

Take an interactive approach

When you offer your employees the help you think they need, they may find it limiting and dismissive. As a result, some employees may not request assistance even if they are eligible for assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends that companies work closely with their employees to find the most appropriate accommodations for their needs through a tactful, interactive approach. The steps of an effective interactive process include:

  • Evaluating a specific role and determining the purpose and functions required to complete the required tasks.
  • A respectful conversation with neurodiverse team members to identify potential workplace-related limitations and decide how to mitigate them through suggested adjustments.
  • Discuss the different customization options and their benefits to find the best approach for the company and the employee. It is important to obtain the employee's consent before deciding on an adjustment.

Regular and open feedback discussions can offer neurodiverse employees appropriate and proactive support. During these conversations, you should avoid sensitive topics such as your employees' medical treatments or diagnoses. Rather, the interactive conversations should focus on exploring how you can optimize a person's individual accessibility in the workplace to help them perform at their best.

Other measures to promote neurodiversity in the workplace

Some business leaders may explore other resources such as employee resource groups (ERGs) within their organization. You can also work with leaders in the DEIB to increase budgets for ERGs that support neurodiverse workforce initiatives.

Workplace flexibility also means employees have a schedule that works best for them. This may include, for example, the ability to work from home or make adjustments for caregivers with young children or sick parents who require constant care.

Establish neurodiversity for corporate success

Shot of colleagues celebrating during a meeting in a modern office

Ultimately, creating a neurodiverse workplace is about respecting the boundaries of others and accepting that everyone has their own way of thinking and responding to the world.

Appreciating the uniqueness of team members helps stimulate creativity and other innate mental functions so they can perform at their best and collectively improve the company's productivity.

Your team can use the following short checklist of practices to foster optimal relationships with neurodiverse talent in your company.

  • Avoid social labels - These stereotypes tend to be self-limiting and inaccurate and can affect the morale of talented individuals.
  • Respect boundaries - Some neurodivergent people don't like being touched or hearing loud noises. So in such situations, respect these team members by using a communication method that they find comfortable.
  • Withhold judgment during workplace interactions - It is important to give each employee the freedom to express their opinions and choose the work style that helps them perform their duties better.

So, making more people aware of neurodiversity will make your company known as a place where everyone has a good work experience. This also supports DEIB's main idea of creating a future workplace where every employee can work well because of their uniqueness.

Embrace neurodiversity to unlock innovation and foster inclusivity. Explore tailored strategies with IceHrm for corporate success.

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