Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Pointers and Best Practices

neurodiversity in the office

Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do, but it can also help your organisation gain a competitive edge from increased diversity in skills, problem-solving methods and ways of thinking.

For many employers, much of the conversation around diversity in the workplace is often focused on gender, colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation and age — and for good reason. The gender pay gap, underrepresentation of minority groups, ageism and discrimination against members of the LGBTQIA+ are issues that have affected workers for decades (and continue to affect workforces today) and are desperately in need of correction.

But Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — more commonly known as DE&I — also includes an often overlooked aspect: neurodiversity. This term refers to the range of differences in cognitive function and neurological wiring in humans.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the diversity of neurological conditions and differences in brain function. It encompasses a spectrum of mental orientations, including, but not limited to:

  • Autism
  • Dyslexia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression.

For many years, neurodiverse people have been largely left out of the workforce, with employers failing to recognise the value they bring to the workplace. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that individuals with autism face the highest levels of unemployment in the UK — only 21.7% of people with autism are employed.

lowest employment rate people with disabilities
Source: ONS

Meanwhile, a January 2022 report by Deloitte notes that 85% of people in the United States who are on the autism spectrum are unemployed, compared to 4.2% of the country’s overall population. It’s a statistic that aligns with a Harvard Business Review report showing that unemployment among people with neurodiverse conditions runs as high as 80%.

The exclusion of neurodiverse people from the workforce is a decades-long problem. Fortunately, things are changing, and pioneering companies are now actively seeking and leveraging neurodiverse talent.

Why should employers support neurodiversity in the workplace?

Imagine this scenario: Your company is hiring a sound engineer. One of your strongest applicants is Lucy, a woman with a master’s degree in sound engineering and an impressive portfolio of projects.

All things considered, Lucy is an obvious candidate for the role. But her CV shows that she hasn’t held a steady job over the last three years and has mostly done freelance work. But this isn’t unusual, you reason — after all, many pros in the industry are freelancers.

But during the initial interview, Lucy revealed that she’s applied for similar sound engineering jobs over the years but couldn’t get through the hiring process. You also notice that she seems different — she avoids making eye contact with other people, wears headphones at all times, and has difficulty understanding social cues.

But Lucy’s references from her freelance projects can’t speak highly enough of her. They praise her “attention to detail” and ability to “meet tight deadlines” but also note that she prefers asynchronous communication for project tasks.

Lucy is a semi-fictional composite of people with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. It’s a spectrum of conditions that approximately 700,000 people in the UK have been diagnosed with.

Proponents of neurodiversity in the workplace argue that neurodiversity isn’t so much a disability as it is a natural form of human variation, challenging the assumption that there is a single “correct” way for the brain to function. In other words, though they may act or think differently than the norm, people with neurodiverse conditions can be just as — if not more — productive as the average worker if given the opportunity.

The idea is that neurodiverse conditions should be embraced and recognised as a protected category — similar to race, gender or sexual orientation. This enables neurodiverse employees to access more work opportunities and become contributing members of society while allowing employers to access an untapped pool of talent.

This perspective, however, is far from popular.


A 2020 report on UK organisations by the Institute of Leadership & Management shows that 50% of the managers surveyed admitted they would not hire candidates with neurodivergent conditions. The research also found that neurodiversity was missing in employers’ diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies — only 27% of organisations named it in their D&I initiatives.


Source: The Institute of Leadership & Management

These findings confirm that several employers in the country have a bias against neurodivergent people. But some organisations are seeing opportunities where others do not.

“When you think of the high unemployment rate of autistic people … (it’s) the highest of any disability class 80-90% in the US,” says James Mahoney, the former Global Head of Autism at Work at JPMorgan Chase. “And yet we know there’s a lot of hidden talent and ability in those numbers that simply aren’t getting through the interview process.”


What are the benefits of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace?

Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace isn’t just about the moral imperative of being inclusive to a historically disenfranchised group of people. There are also strong business arguments for hiring and nurturing a neurodiverse workforce.

As Mahoney explains, “It’s not charity, it’s a talent play.”

Organisations that make the extra effort to recruit, retain, and nurture a neurodiverse workforce have an opportunity to gain a competitive edge from increased diversity in skills, problem-solving methods and ways of thinking. Below are just a few examples of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace.


Neurodiverse employees are no less productive than neurotypical workers

Launched in 2015, JPMorgan Chase’s Autism at Work programme has hired nearly 180 neurodivergent employees in 40 different job roles across eight countries.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Anthony Pacilio, the current head of the Autism at Work programme, notes that, in general, neurodiverse workers hired through the initiative are 90% to 140% more productive than “neurotypical” people (i.e., individuals who think and behave like the norm) and make fewer mistakes.

“They are doing two people’s work,” he adds.

Neurodivergent workers have higher retention rates

Employees hired through four of the largest neurodivergent hiring programmes in the US run by JPMorgan Chase, SAP, EY, and Microsoft have retention rates over 90% — higher than the average in their respective industries. However, you should note that these workers may be thriving due to the support structure provided by their employer’s neurodivergent programme.

Supporting a neurodiverse workforce uplifts everyone

Some of the benefits of nurturing neurodiversity in the workplace are less obvious. For example, making internal communications more direct and concise — to account for the difficulty neurodivergent workers may have with irony and nuance — can simplify and improve corporate communication. Meanwhile, employers with good employment practices, such as hiring and retaining a diverse workforce, are more likely to raise team morale and improve worker loyalty.

Related Reading: How to Build an Employee Engagement Strategy for 2022

Best practices for supporting neurodiversity in the workplace

Organisations that want to create a more inclusive workforce may need to change their established workplace practices — this applies if you wish to open your doors to neurodivergent job seekers, people of different ethnicities or underrepresented groups in your industry.

We’ve put together a list of strategies to help you establish a more inclusive workplace while ensuring that your neurodivergent workforce can do their best work.

1. Educate leaders and team members about neurodiversity

One of the first steps to supporting neurodiversity in the workplace is increasing awareness of neurodiversity and understanding the realities that neurodivergent people face. Raising awareness includes educating your organisation’s leadership and providing sensitivity training to your teams.

It may seem like a basic step, but educating the people in your organisation is arguably the most effective way to quickly address biases and correct false assumptions about people with neurodivergent conditions. Education also prevents the danger of the “us vs them” mentality between neurotypicals and neurominorities. Everyone has unique brains, and everyone deserves a chance to join your company and shine.

Cloudbooking Tip: Not sure where to start? Organisations like the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) have resources and guides to help you support neurodiversity at work and create more inclusive spaces for everyone.


2. Provide flexible working arrangements

The widespread shift to remote work caused by the pandemic had the unintended effect of levelling the playing field for workers with disabilities — many of whom face disproportionately difficult challenges when it comes to travel and being in social settings, for example.

For neurodiverse workers, remote work meant being at home — an environment augmented around their needs. For instance, individuals with sensory sensitivities can be in an environment with less background noise and bright lights.

However, this isn’t to say that all neurodiverse workers have an affinity for working remotely. In the Reddit subreddit r/neurodiversity, many users shared that working from home meant “too many distractions and not enough self-discipline” and lacking “the executive function necessary to make it work” — struggles that many people in the general workforce can empathise with.

The takeaway here is that both neurodivergent and neurotypical people find pros and cons in remote work and in-office work.

Cloudbooking Tip: For employers, the best way to accommodate everyone’s preferred working styles is to provide flexible working arrangements, such as hybrid working.

In 2021, Cloudbooking conducted an employee census with YouGov and found that a combined 64% of workers prefer permanent hybrid work in the future — 55% want a mix of office and home-based work, and 9% want to alternate between home, the office and approved public spaces.

Related Reading: The Hybrid Working Model: What Is It and Can It Work?

Hybrid working gives everyone the choice and freedom to find a working environment that works best for them. On Reddit’s r/neurodiversity community, users with ADHD prefer a hybrid workplace as it gives them “some sense of external structure and connection which can’t be replicated online.” Another user said that as comfortable as it is to work from home, “I get too distracted and … it is hard to get into the mindset of work.”

3. Communicate openly and clearly

Open and clear communication is critical in any workplace, but it is especially important when neurodiversity is involved, as most communication methods in the typical workplace are designed around the preferences of neurotypical workers.

For instance, a Deloitte report notes that specificity and the use of action verbs add clarity to communication. One parent of an individual with ADHD notes that simply saying “go clean your room” is less effective than saying “go upstairs, bring all your dirty clothes down, pick up everything on the floor.”

Meanwhile, the British Dyslexia Association recommends making reasonable workplace adjustments when communicating with workers with dyslexia. These measures include:

  • Giving both verbal and written instructions
  • Providing assistive technology such as screen-readers and text-to-speech software
  • Providing written communications on coloured paper (find out the colour that’s most helpful to the person)
  • Highlighting salient points in documents.

Cloudbooking Tip: Yourneurodiverse employees are not a monolith. Ask your neurodivergent team members how they prefer to communicate when in doubt. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts here. Be sure to have regular check-ins with employees to see how they are doing and if they have any needs or concerns. Additionally, you can create an open environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their neurodiversity openly.

Bringing it all together

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting neurodiversity in the workplace nor a single way of hiring and retaining neurodivergent workers. It’s important to remember that, like the rest of society, neurodivergent people are people — each one with different needs, interests, pain points and challenges.

What managers and employers can do, however, is try and create a more inclusive environment for workers with neurodivergent needs.

  • First, it is important to understand neurodiversity and how it encompasses various neurological differences in individuals, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, and bipolar disorder. Each person with a neurodivergent condition experiences symptoms differently and may need different accommodations to be productive and successful at work.
  • Second, employers should be aware of these differences and be willing to provide accommodations when necessary. This measure may include things like flexible work hours, modified job duties, or special equipment that can help workers with neurodivergent conditions be more efficient and productive.
  • Finally, organisations must be understanding and supportive of neurodivergent employees. It isn’t always easy for these workers to disclose their condition or ask for accommodations, so managers should be proactive in creating an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their needs.

Ultimately, supporting neurodiversity in the workplace is about creating an environment where all employees feel welcome and valued. Remember, a rising tide lifts all ships. Improving diversity and inclusion in your organisation improves the lives of everyone and brings out the best in your teams.

Find more insights about workforce management, including diversity and inclusion and employee engagement, by following the Cloudbooking blog. If you need a cloud-based solution to enable flexible or hybrid working in your workplace, get in touch with the Cloudbooking team. Our workplace management platform helps employees navigate their new office environment with user-friendly room and booking solutions. Schedule an obligation-free demo to learn more.

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