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Neurodiversity – what does it mean for employers and employees?

"Creating an inclusive working environment will benefit your workforce on the whole but is of particular importance to employees with neurodivergent conditions."

Neurodiversity refers to individuals whose brains function, learn and process information differently.  Typical neurodivergent conditions include dyslexia, autism, Attention Deficit Disorders, dyspraxia and other neurological conditions.  It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodivergent. 

Neurodivergence is often understood to be a medical disorder but common traits of neurodivergent individuals include particularly high levels of expertise and skill, creativity and innovation and resilience – all of which are generally skills sought after by employers.  In order to embrace neurodiversity in the workplace and benefit from the diverse talent pool it can present, employers should explore how they can support individuals with alternative thinking styles.  Moreover, employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support employees with disabilities, which many neurodivergent conditions may be considered to be. 

Not all adjustments will be costly or difficult to introduce; encouraging greater tolerance and acceptance of diversity will bring about a more progressive and flexible working environment on the whole.  Some adjustments to the working environment suggested by Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) include:

  • redesigning the workplace to take account of the different sensory needs of staff
  • putting up dividers in appropriate areas to block and reduce noise
  • having dedicated quiet areas
  • offering flexible working arrangements such as homeworking for part of the week or allowing staff to start earlier or finish later
  • providing staff with organisers, lockers, cabinets and name labels to help them organise and retain their work and equipment, and
  • regularly reminding staff to be mindful of their colleagues and keeping noise to a minimum

and which will benefit the workforce on the whole, not just those individuals with neurodivergent conditions.

Crucially, neurodivergent conditions are spectrum conditions and, as such, characteristics will vary across individuals and at different points in time.  Flexibility in job roles, a willingness to alter working arrangements, and a general understanding of employees’ neurodivergent conditions will assist employers in creating a supportive working environment as well as help protect employers against potential discrimination proceedings.

For more information on this please contact Layla Ahmadi and Kirsten Currer from the Employment Team.

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