Why You Should Be Embracing Neurodiversity In The Workplace

Employers in the United States are dealing with the equivalent of the perfect storm. No, they’re not being battered by an unrelenting hurricane with a hold filled with swordfish. Even still, companies are being tossed around by the winds of fate thanks to the ongoing Great Resignation, inflation, supply chain issues, rising interest rates, and global uncertainty that was only made more intense by Russia’s unjust invasion of Ukraine. Oh, yeah! They’re dealing with a thing called a pandemic, too.

Organizations are also grappling with widespread pressure to hire a diverse workforce. While people often think that simply means companies should hire workers from different ethnicities, that’s far from what’s meant by “diverse.” Diversity extends well beyond the color of a person’s skin and their religion, age, or gender identity. Companies must also incorporate neurodiversity in the workplace.

An Explanation of Neurodiversity

Assessments of the number of people who are neurodivergent vary greatly due to factors like age, divergency type, and others, but Deloitte estimates that 10 – 20 percent of the world’s population is viewed as neurodivergent. Neurodiversity accounts for a variety of mental orientations, which include:

  • Autism
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Dyslexia
  • Social anxiety disorders
  • Down syndrome

If you know people with autism spectrum disorder, then you know the same condition can affect people very differently. Some individuals may be overly sensitive to light or touch and able to communicate their feelings while others may avoid eye contact and only speak a few words if any during their lifetime. Similarly, the other mental orientations listed above may look very different from one person to the next.

People with neurological conditions like ASD often have what the Harvard Business Review describes as “extraordinary skills,” such as pattern recognition, creative or visual thinking, attention to detail, and mathematics. Those skills can give businesses a competitive advantage, but too few organizations have tapped this subset of the labor market.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was 3.8 percent as of February 2022. By comparison, the unemployment rate among people living in America with ASD is estimated to be a whopping 85 percent.

How Neurodiverse People Differ from Neurotypical Individuals

Neurodiversity refers to people who think differently from the masses. Neurotypical people make up those masses, and they’re individuals who process information in a similar manner, which is largely how society expects them to.

Neurodivergent people, on the other hand, have brain functions that cause them to learn and process information differently. Notice we said differently, not wrongly. Just because neurodivergent people think differently, it doesn’t mean their way is wrong. It’s that different way of thinking that often gives people with conditions like ADHD extraordinary abilities and insights.

A Welcome Trend: Hiring Neurodiverse Employees

In recent years, some big names have reworked their human resources processes to attract neurodiverse talent. Companies on the leading edge of this welcome trend include:

  • SAP
  • Microsoft
  • Hewlett-Packard Enterprise
  • Freddie Mac
  • Cloud9 Insight
  • Aspiritech
  • Universal Music
  • IBM

With the Great Resignation showing no signs of slowing down, a growing number of companies across industries may have to make similar changes in their human resources departments to attract a truly diverse workforce that includes workers with different mental orientations. By doing so, those companies may be able to make up for at least some of the shortages in the nation’s current labor pool.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking the number of workers who quit their jobs every month since 2000. Thanks in large part to the pandemic and the millions of open positions available in America, 2021 was a record-setting year in the context of monthly quits. According to the BLS, an average of 3.98 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs every month last year.

No matter how difficult it might be to believe, things are even worse in 2022 so far. In January alone, the U.S. Department of Labor claims 4.3 million people quit their jobs. An estimated 4.4 million employees left their positions the following month.

Will 2022 surpass 2021 as the year with the highest average number of people who voluntarily quit their jobs? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, businesses are well-advised to source talent from groups that have been largely overlooked for too long, including neurodiverse individuals.

Promoting and Supporting Neurodiversity at Work

Having a diverse workforce that includes neurodivergent employees will bring new thoughts and viewpoints to your place of business. It will also reveal new approaches to work, creative thinking, and recognizing opportunities for innovation. Studies show that neurodivergent employees in certain positions can be 30 percent more productive than their peers. In addition, the presence of those individuals can boost employee morale.

A lot of companies that are trying to create a neurodiverse workforce focus on autistic prospects. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that autism affects one in every 42 boys and one in every 189 girls in the United States alone, it’s understandable why so many organizations have tried to hire autistic people.

Your attempt to hire and support neurodiverse individuals in your business shouldn’t be limited to autistic people, however. While some people erroneously look at them as disabilities, all types of neurodivergent conditions can yield spectacular skills sets and remarkable abilities that almost seem magical. With that in mind, it makes sense to broaden your pool of neurodiverse candidates so it includes job seekers who have autism along with people with other conditions.

Learn from other organizations.

As we mentioned earlier, organizations like Microsoft and SAP have already started to actively recruit and employ people with neurodivergent conditions. Some companies like Aspiritech are more than happy to tell others about their experience with hiring neurodiverse colleagues.

Brenda and Moshe Weitzberg founded Aspiritech in 2008 after their autistic son failed to secure employment despite applying for many open positions. Aspiritech is a software and quality assurance company that operates in the U.S. According to the company’s founders, Aspiritech’s entire staff consists of people who land somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Has Aspiritech been successful with its program to create a truly diverse and inclusive workforce? Well, the company has a 95 percent employee retention rate despite the ongoing Great Resignation. Did we mention that the organization fills its open managerial and team lead positions with internal candidates as well? That means the company has managed to create its own pool of candidates for high-level positions.

Broaden your pool of candidates.

If your goal is to celebrate neurodiversity in your work environment, you may want to rework your hiring process. Autism Europe says people with different mental orientations sometimes have difficulty with social interactions, communication, and certain cognitive functions.

Although hiring and employing a neurodiverse workforce has its challenges, it’s worth it. Neurodiverse people often display an exceptional ability to concentrate and retain information and demonstrate impressive technical skills involving repetitive tasks. A report by EY UK indicates that individuals with dyslexia are often equipped with the most sought-after skills for the future workplace, which include:

  • Leadership
  • Initiative
  • Creativity

Former CEO of Cisco John Chambers estimates that 25 percent of people in a position similar to his previous one are dyslexic. In an article prepared for The Atlantic in the late 1990s, author Harvey Blume wrote, “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will be best at any given moment?”

More than 20 years later, companies are starting to take Blume’s words to heart. Following their lead typically requires an organization to find candidates from sources they might have overlooked up to this point.

Rather than limiting your recruiting to the same colleges and universities you hire from every year, consider establishing relationships with campuses that have programs for neurodiverse people. In addition, you can partner with an employment agency that specializes in placing neurodiverse candidates in professional positions.

Review your screening process.

Many companies have a hiring process that’s inadvertently riddled with conscious and/or unconscious bias. To make sure yours doesn’t, you should take a close look at how your company screens candidates.

Does your organization rely on recruiters to screen applicants? Provide training for those professionals so they don’t judge applicants for things like being overly direct with their comments, having unusual ways of expressing their thoughts, being unable to maintain eye contact, or demonstrating atypical facial expressions.

If your company uses a hiring system that employs artificial intelligence, you should know that many of those systems have screening algorithms that were coded based on neurotypical data. That means some of them greatly increase the likelihood that applicants with neurological differences will be eliminated from contention for an open position.

To at least minimize the impact of algorithm bias, recruiters should validate the results produced by AI-driven hiring systems. Before they attempt to validate those results, however, your recruiters should undergo extensive sensitivity training so their own bias doesn’t influence their conclusions.

Reformat interviews.

People with neurological differences don’t always react to interviews the same way as individuals without those differences do. For this reason, you may want to come up with a new format for interviewing applicants.

This is another instance in which consulting with companies that have already dipped their figurative toes in the neurodiversity pool might be a good idea. As you talk to those organizations, you may learn that they’ve stopped putting applicants through a series of interviews conducted on the same day. Rather than slam candidates with back-to-back interviews, some businesses now conduct multiple interviews over several days.

You may want to take a step further and let neurodivergent people dictate how they’ll be interviewed by your recruiters. Some may prefer to meet with a recruiter one-on-one while other candidates may want to meet with several employees at the same time. One candidate may want to use their personal laptop to complete any required tests while another may be comfortable completing the same tests using a company-provided device.

Instead of conducting a formal interview, you may want to bring an applicant on board for a trial work period. The candidate can shadow an existing employee or you can create a temporary role to see if the applicant will be a good fit for your company.

Revise your job descriptions.

The Harvard Business Review claims that HR processes are created so that they have a wide application. As it relates to your company’s hiring process and job descriptions, the approach of scalability rests in direct contrast to neurodiversity. If you use the same approach for everyone, you run the very real risk of weeding out the very neurodivergent prospects you’re trying to add to your payroll.

As we’ve mentioned repeatedly, people with different brain functions are often differently-abled with superior skills in other areas. Although that’s true, some of them lack the skills mentioned in descriptions for open positions, such as being a team player, possessing proven problem-solving abilities, or having excellent written and verbal communication skills. Including such requirements in your job postings may disqualify otherwise qualified candidates from contention for an available job.

Today, talent shortages around the world are as bad as they’ve been since 2007, with an estimated 40 percent of global employers having difficulty filling their vacant positions. Unemployment among all neurodiverse individuals runs at an alarming 80 percent. Even when people with a neurologically divergent condition land a job, many of them end up being underemployed.

To make sure your candidate pool represents neurodiversity, you need to widen the scope of your job descriptions so they reflect the unique talents many people in that community have. You also need to remove requirements that make it unlikely or impossible for neurodiverse talent to apply for or secure a job.

You should actively take steps to ensure your descriptions don’t stereotype people based on the conditions they might have. For example, you shouldn’t script a job posting based on the assumption that every autistic applicant has outstanding math skills. Yes, Rain Man popularized the notion that everyone with autism has excellent mathematical abilities, but that’s the thing, that portrayal is a popular notion, not necessarily a fact.

It’s a good idea to review your job postings so that the differently-abled employees you hire don’t end up being underemployed. You may discover that you’ll have to rewrite your descriptions after your hire certain employees. As you observe employees at work, you may realize that they gave exceptional abilities in other areas, which will enable you to expand their role within your company to prevent them from being underutilized.

Often referred to as Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation is a publicly-traded mortgage finance company that’s sponsored by the federal government. A leader in neurodiversity, the organization created internships for people on the autism disorder spectrum years ago. Originally, Freddie Mac’s internships lasted just 16 weeks.

In the years since the program’s introduction, Freddie Mac has transitioned its program so that it now offers permanent, full-time employment opportunities to people with a range of neurodivergent conditions. More specifically, Freddie Mac actively hires autistic people along with candidates who have ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia.

When the mortgage lender initially unveiled its neurodiversity program, Freddie Mac hired neurologically diverse prospects to fill roles in the field of securities analysis. Now, the enterprise has job descriptions soliciting candidates to work in other specialties, such as:

  • Information technology
  • Risk management
  • Loan processing

Just like Freddie Mac revised its job offerings to better attract candidates from a neurologically diverse pool of candidates, you can do the same. As you become increasingly familiar with the unique talents that people who think differently have, you can adjust your offerings and job postings accordingly.

Create a Work Culture That Welcomes Neurodiverse Employees and Neurotypical Workers

Changing the way you recruit, screen, and interview job prospects and altering your job postings are great places to start if you want a diverse and inclusive workplace, but they’re not enough. It’s also necessary to establish a work culture that welcomes neurodiverse workers as readily as it accepts people who aren’t differently-abled with open arms.

Managers should have the opportunity to adjust their management styles so that they can provide direction in different ways that suit employees’ individual preferences and cognitive processes. For example, a manager may give one worker a broad-based assignment and let that person decipher the steps necessary to complete the task. That same team leader may assign a task to another employee and provide the exact sequence of steps the worker will need to take to tackle the job.

Team leaders should have the flexibility to use different means of communication, too. Some workers may prefer contact via email while others may take away more information when they’re engaged in a video call.

In order to be conducive to a neurologically diverse workforce, you may need to make physical changes to your work environment. For starters, you may need to adjust the lighting to suit the needs and preferences of autistic workers. Certain workers might need to work in silence, which means you may need to designate quiet workspaces.

In a LinkedIn article, the ACAS provides recommendations about additional physical changes you might want to consider, such as:

  • Installing dividers to limit noise
  • Limiting the amount of artwork that’s displayed in the office
  • Providing clear, step-by-step instructions next to equipment like the copy machine
  • Dedicating work areas illuminated by natural light for staff who are bothered by artificial light
  • Assigning private cabinets or lockers for specific employees

To figure out the cultural and physical changes you’ll need to make, it’s wise to ask your employees what they’ll need to thrive. You might discover that accommodating everyone is as simple as giving your team members their own set of noise-canceling headphones.

Companies that are new to neurodiversity may discover that their employees need training to interact with one another more appropriately. Would you know how to react if a worker with Tourette syndrome launched into an expletive-riddled tirade unexpectedly? What would you do if an autistic person started repeating a word or phrase non-stop after you brushed past them lightly in the hallway?

Fortunately, sensitivity training is widely available for organizations that have an inclusive and diverse corporate culture and workplace. Such training can help limit miscommunications that can result between people who process information and nonverbal communication cues differently.

Establish a mentoring program.

Mentoring programs can help all sorts of employees, but they may be even more critical to neurodivergent workers and their employers. Organizations that assign mentors to workers with disabilities claim they are 16 percent more profitable and 18 percent more productive. They also report that their customer loyalty jumped by 18 percent.

And that’s not all! Mentoring can also help employers develop future leaders, transfer institutional knowledge to the next generation of C-suite occupants, and maintain a diverse, equitable, and inclusive place of business that thrives on collaboration and teamwork. In addition, a mentoring program enables an organization to demonstrate its commitment to employee development and continuous education.

Just like they can improve their employer’s performance, mentoring relationships can benefit mentees and mentors alike. Some of the benefits mentees might enjoy include:

  • Guidance and support from an established employee
  • A greater number of development opportunities
  • Increased confidence and awareness of alternative approaches to work
  • Access to their mentor’s network of contacts
  • Expanded knowledge about their employer, its workforce, and opportunities for advancement

If you’re going to source employees from non-traditional colleges and universities that have programs specifically for neurodiverse students, you should know that those prospective employees may not have the alumni networks that students graduating from more conventional learning centers normally do. With mentoring giving mentees access to their mentor’s network, it can help bridge the social gap between graduates from both traditional and non-traditional collegiate programs.

Mentors benefit from mentoring relationships in equally meaningful ways. Some of the ways these relationships benefit mentors include:

  • Feeling fulfilled and satisfied with helping others and facilitating their professional and personal development
  • Gaining new perspectives that can enable them to challenge and possibly change the status quo for the betterment of everyone
  • Receiving feedback on their leadership skills and the example they set
  • Adding another contact to their professional network
  • Having someone to impart their knowledge to
  • Acting as an advocate for their mentees

While mentors are generally known for providing career advice, they can also help mentees with their personal development. They may support their charge’s new hobby, for instance. A mentor may also offer advice about other areas of their mentee’s personal life.

Depending on where they work and live, a mentor’s biggest role in a mentee’s life may be that of an advocate. If an employer’s culture doesn’t support neurodiversity, a mentor can advocate for the changes that are necessary to make neurodivergent mentees comfortable and successful. Is a mentee being discriminated against by a local recreational league? If so, the person’s mentor may be able to initiate change in that context, too.

When mentors speak up on behalf of their mentees, it can shed new light on them. They may be seen as a stronger leader or a thought innovator, for example. That “new light” may open doors to professional opportunities that may have been closed up to that point in their careers. It may also make them candidates to sit on the board of a nonprofit like Autism Europe, which can elevate their status even more.

A traditional mentoring relationship normally involves a more experienced worker taking a less seasoned employee under their wing, so to speak. In recent years, different types of mentoring relationships have evolved. Younger workers sometimes adopt older mentees to teach them about the latest coding languages. One person may sign up to mentor a whole group of mentees who face similar obstacles or have the same professional aspirations.

Some people even choose to mentor themselves. Others may seek counsel from their peers and end up forming mentoring arrangements from the organic friendships they establish in the workplace.

Put simply, there is no right or wrong type of mentoring program to have in your place of business. The key is simply to have an active program that provides mutual benefits for mentors and mentees along with your shared employer.

Put employee resource groups together.

Also referred to as ERGs, employee resource groups are groupings of workers who share similar traits or interests. ERGs allow employees to bond over the things they have in common and dive deeper into related topics that interest them. These groups can educate others in the office about various topics related to the things that brought the group together in the first place.

An office with a neurologically diverse staff may want to form groups based on the neurological conditions that are present among its employees. Each ERG can then give a presentation that will help educate other coworkers about the condition its members identify with.

Of course, you shouldn’t limit your office’s ERGs to groups that have the same neurological conditions. You can create additional groups based on regions of origin, gender identity, specific sports or teams, musical genres, professional interests, volunteer opportunities, and a countless number of other things. If you need ideas that will resonate with your staff, send out a survey to solicit a few.

Leaders often emerge in ERGs as people step up to manage the groups and arrange activities for their members. In some cases, you might be surprised by the people who reveal themselves as the leader of an ERG. That’s a good thing as you may identify leadership qualities in employees you may have thought lacked them.

Some employers ask select workers to sponsor their ERGs while the groups themselves recruit sponsors in other workplaces. Sponsoring a group doesn’t mean paying for the group’s activities. Instead, sponsors lend their support to a group and advocate for the ERG whenever it’s necessary.

Even if you’re not the sponsor of a given group, you should make it a point to be present for any presentations an ERG gives. Your presence will show you support the group and have an interest in the things that matter most to its members. When employees know you share their interests, it increases the likelihood that they’ll trust you.

Set up a support system.

No matter what their mental orientation might be, many employees need support at work. To make sure everyone has the support they need to succeed at work and in their personal lives, it’s a good idea to establish a support system.

SAP provides a great model you may want to emulate. That company has two support circles, one for the workplace and one that addresses personal matters. The former group has a team manager, a team buddy, a person who acts as a life and job skills coach, a mentor, and an HR professional. Those people combine to oversee the group’s participants and provide counsel about things that relate to work. The latter type of group includes professionals who provide advice about employees’ personal lives.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise employs a different model for rendering support. That organization groups newly hired neurodiverse workers into pods consisting of 15 people or so. The group of neurodiverse workers then works side-by-side with their neurotypical peers in a ratio of about four-to-one. A pair of managers and a consultant oversee the sub-teams and address any issues that stem from differences in cognitive functioning.

The pods that Hewlett Packard Enterprise sets up do more than provide employees with support. Those groups are meant to be safe places in which neurodiverse workers can pick skills and knowledge that will enable them to satisfy the requirements of their current positions and allow them to move into other positions down the line.

Build an atmosphere that prioritizes balance.

Neurologically divergent employees are sometimes referred to as sensitive strivers. Many sensitive strivers have such a commitment to their work that they’re prone to overworking, sometimes to their own detriment. To prevent burnout among people who may have exceptional gifts, it’s vital that you and others model behaviors that will inspire your neurodiverse coworkers to adopt a healthy work-life balance.

You should do the same as your example relates to work behaviors, too. A lot of sensitive strivers have a low sensory threshold, which means they need time to themselves without any stimulation. You can demonstrate that it’s okay for sensitive strivers to schedule time for deep processing by making days without meetings a regular occurrence and using the “Do Not Disturb” option on the relevant messaging apps.

When other workers see you doing those things, it increases the likelihood that they’ll adopt the same practices. That will basically give them unspoken permission to create a lower sensory environment and a model to follow from time to time at least. Having a lower sensory threshold for sensitive strivers is directly related to improved performance by those employees, so modeling the requisite behaviors is essential.

An atmosphere that prioritizes balance should have zero tolerance for employees who bully, belittle, demean, or mock their coworkers. If you allow toxic workers to overtly or covertly act on their bias, it won’t take long for your neurodiverse staff members to walk right out the door, and rightfully so. Employees who don’t embrace neurodiversity even after they undergo sensitivity training should be candidates for immediate termination.

Encourage self-awareness.

A gene is responsible for making some people more sensitive than others. That gene heightens the inner experiences that most neurodivergent workers have. Being so in touch with their inner experiences makes neurodiverse colleagues keenly self-aware in a lot of situations.

Similar to the way people who are differently-abled can learn from your demonstrated behavior as it relates to establishing a balance, you can learn to be more self-aware from them. The rest of your team can, too.

People who are self-aware know the conditions they need to perform at an optimal level. They’re also in tune with how they like to communicate, receive feedback, and go about their day-to-day. Individuals with different cognitive processes are also knowledgeable about the things they struggle with.

When workers are so in touch with themselves, they’re in a great position to educate their coworkers about the things they need to thrive and operate as effective members of a team. You don’t have to be a sensitive striver to be self-aware, however. No one knows you as well as you do. So, it’s advisable for you and your team members to make “user manuals” that document your individual work preferences.

By exchanging those manuals and discussing them, you and your team will learn how you can work together and individually the best. Being aware of your coworkers’ optimal working conditions will enable you to dole out assignments that align with your teammates’ natural skills and abilities.

While self-awareness comes from within, it’s something that needs your entire team’s support. No one can deny that people have different personalities regardless of how self-aware they might be. With that said, people shouldn’t be judged because their personalities may differ from what’s considered to be the norm. Acceptance, appreciation, and respect for the way others work and desire to be treated are paramount for a diverse team to work together harmoniously, and they must flow from the top down.

Schedule team-building activities.

It’s not a secret that teams consist of individuals. While each individual on a team is unique, all of the people who are part of the same team need to work together seamlessly. That’s not to say coworkers won’t disagree from time to time because they will. Well-synched teams are able to overcome conflict quickly and use different, sometimes conflicting viewpoints to their advantage.

Regardless of their members’ mental orientation, effective teams exercise their group muscles regularly. Whether your team is new or you’ve worked as a group for a while, your crew can exercise its collective muscles by engaging in team-building activities put together by Let’s Roam.

If you doubt the efficacy of team-building exercises, you should know that statistics prove team building is essential. The more activities your group does as a team, the more familiar everyone will be with each other’s peculiarities. That increased familiarity breeds acceptance, appreciation, and respect and eliminates judgment based on things you might otherwise perceive as oddities or annoyances.

The team-building exercises orchestrated by Let’s Roam range from indoor and outdoor scavenger hunts to virtual game nights, cooking classes, trivia contests, and more. No matter how diverse your team might be, Let’s Roam has team-building activities that will appeal to everyone in your group.

Whether your team members are working remotely or you all share a physical workspace, your group will soar after you sign up for some group activities with Let’s Roam. While you can register for some team-building exercises as early as today, you can also ask our team to put together custom-made team-building activities for your group. What we’re saying here is… your wish is our command when it comes to team-building exercises that will improve your group’s teamwork, communication, and camaraderie.

Source: https://www.letsroam.com/team-building/resources/neurodiversity-in-the-workplace/