Viewpoint: Small changes make a big difference when it comes to neurodiversity

18 May 2023
Viewpoint: Small changes make a big difference when it comes to neurodiversity

Operators may not be aware of the small but important adjustments that are a huge help for neurodivergent employees, says Matt Gupwell

While the benefits of creating an inclusive and diverse workplace are widely recognised, there's one lived experience that's often overlooked: neurodiversity.

A lack of understanding, visibility, representation and constructive language has kept neurodiversity under the radar. But employers have to realise that neurodivergent employees present in different ways.

Some people have a diagnosis, some don't. Others identify as having autism or ADHD without having been diagnosed. With a diagnosis, employees can make an informed decision on whether to declare their neurodivergence to an employer. However, for those without a diagnosis, it can be a very different story. Without proof, new recruits or apprentices may be reluctant to flag it as an issue.

So, what does neurodiversity in a work setting, and beyond, look like right now? First up, the stats are misleading. Depending on who you ask, one in five, seven or 10 of the UK population are neurodivergent. Whatever ratio you pick, it only includes people who have been diagnosed – actual figures are likely to be much higher.

But while some stats are hard to measure, certain facts remain.

  • Neurodivergent people are more likely to be unemployed than people with any other disability.
  • People with autism have some of the lowest employment rates.
  • 85.8% of employees would be more likely to leave a job if there was no obvious support for employee wellbeing.

At a time when many sectors are facing staffing challenges, neurodivergent people should be empowered to enter and thrive within the workplace, not presented with more barriers. But where to start, and how does training fit in? Neurodiversity: a strength, not a strain.

There are always going to be situations when a neurodiverse employee will struggle. However, when a neurodiverse person is invested, focused, supported and happy in their role, whether front of house, in the kitchen or as an apprentice, they can be as good an employee and asset as anyone else.

All it takes is a few adjustments. With the right investment in training, businesses can say to employees: "Whoever you are – bring your whole self to the table and we will do whatever we can to make this successful." And, of all the reasonable adjustments a business can make to improve the working lives of neurodivergent employees, 80% are either free or cost less than £100. They're not huge changes, just enough to create genuine workplace inclusivity.

Look at your workplace layout

The more support employers offer, the more productive and engaged the workforce. It's crucial that senior staff are able to recognise and develop the skills of everyone they manage, whether neurodiverse or not. Leadership training can give management staff the skills necessary to cultivate an inclusive, supportive environment to get the most of their teams.

It's also important to empower employees to seek out the training they need. Whether that's training that's role-specific, in mental health first-aid, or on specific wellbeing issues like neurodiversity – happy, supported teams are part of the solution to recruitment challenges.

Alongside an investment in training, there are four ways employers can create a comfortable workplace for neurodivergent employees:

  • Layout: The majority of workplaces are open plan. A neurodivergent person may struggle to stay focused in this kind of environment, so allow individuals to discreetly move to quieter areas or wear noise-cancelling headphones when needed.
  • Lighting: LED lighting is popular, but it's also very bright. Being able to dim lighting in certain areas creates a less stimulating environment.
  • Air quality: No one wants to sit in stuffy, odour-filled rooms. Consider ways to improve air quality, such as ventilation, indoor plants or air purification.
  • Flexibility: Give people regular breaks and flexible hours. This allows employees to reset – and doesn't just benefit neurodivergent staff members.

Empower your workforce

The more discreetly changes are made, the greater their impact. Running an all-staff training session on neurodiversity awareness is a good way to get the ball rolling and make it clear that any adjustments are designed to benefit everyone. Once you have implemented changes, be sure to ask for feedback from the team. That way, everyone feels involved and everyone has a chance to make comments and suggestions. It's now up to employers to make the changes needed to create even more inclusive and diverse employment settings.

Matt Gupwell is a neurodiversity business coach at Think Neurodiversity

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