Creating a Better Work Environment for All by Embracing Neurodiversity

It seems that at last there is more thought being taken around neurodiversity and how to better support those who are neurodivergent, as individuals and companies continue to develop their understanding and knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

It's estimated that 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodiverse, and it's important that within every organisation everyone does their best to create working environments and cultures that are inclusive and accommodating for all. As the saying goes: a rising tide lifts all ships.

In this article, we explore a few ways this can be done…

Create a Sense of Belonging

While many industries and organisations have moved away from exclusive attitudes and behaviours,

simply acknowledging and accepting individual differences isn't quite enough. It's important to review policies, as well as company culture and ethos, to create a genuine sense of belonging so that both neurodivergent and neurotypical professionals can thrive in their roles.

Here are some ways to help create a sense of belonging for your neurodivergent employees/colleagues:

  • Emphasise the company's commitment to diversity and inclusion by modelling inclusive behaviour wherever possible - from recruitment and onboarding, through internal communications and daily interactions.
  • Address any stigma associated with the neurodivergent community by making a point to highlight the valued contributions and achievements of every employee. This can also be a peer-to-peer initiative whereby colleagues spotlight their peers for work well done.
  • Help employees/colleagues to feel empowered and secure enough to proudly share their full selves with their teams. This can be built over time through consistent displays of non-judgment, empathy and compassion.
  • Ensure that everyone is treated fairly and appropriately by their colleagues and managers. This means keeping one another accountable and taking the appropriate action when/if necessary.
  • Foster an environment where everyone's individuality is respected and celeated.

Really Get to Know One Another

Establishing a good working rapport with employees and colleagues is paramount to any team's success. Part of establishing this rapport means getting to know one another, using open and non-judgmental dialogue, learning about one another's strengths and understanding how they work. Here is a list of suggested questions you can ask your employees/colleagues to better understand them, and by extension, how to build the best possible working relationship:

  1. What energises you?
  2. What drains you?
  3. What parts of your job excite you?
  4. What parts of your job do you find challenging?
  5. What motivates you?
  6. Which of your personality traits is your favourite?
  7. Are you an early bird or a night owl?
  8. How do you prefer to communicate: via email, virtual calls/chats, or face-to-face chats?
  9. Do you prefer scheduled meetings or ad hoc meetings?
  10. What's your favourite thing to do when you're not working?

When thinking about the people you work with, you might come up with some questions of your own that will garner more personal responses. It's important to remember that like you, the people you work with have full lives that exist outside of work and may affect how they work.

Create Support Systems

There are a few different systems that can add serious value to the lives of those you work with – including you. These systems include:

  • Mentor/Coaching/Buddy Programmes

Mentoring provides tremendous support to every employee's career, regardless of their role. However, mentorships are likely to be even more beneficial to the development of those who are neurodivergent. Mentors can offer far more than basic career advice. They can be an ally, as well as advocate for their mentee, playing an active role in creating opportunities and empowering the individual to build a network of other professional allies across the organization.

Work buddies and trusted peers who take the time to understand their neurodiverse colleagues are also a vital source of support. Often, these relationships develop naturally, or they are fostered through company affinity groups.

  • Flexible Working

As above, flexibility is another system that benefits all workers – but is especially important to neurodiverse individuals.

For example, remote working could be a better option for those who are more productive and perform better out of a home office - especially for those who are hesitant to travel or work in a distracting, social office setting.

However, it's also important not to assume that all neurodivergent professionals prefer to work from their own space. Many neurodiverse workers enjoy the routine, predictability and specificity of coming into the office.

  • Creative Team Building

Team-building activities are a great opportunity for managers and colleagues to interact in a more informal manner. However, these occasions can be daunting for many employees due to social anxiety, introversion, or their need for a routine. Mindfulness and understanding around this can once again be beneficial for expanding recognition for both neurodivergent and neurotypical workers who may prefer not to socialize with their team outside of work hours. This invites a fresh opportunity for managers to think creatively about how to establish a sense of comradery with types of team-building activities that work for everyone. This could make a real impact in building the team's culture of acceptance alongside belonging.