Designing for Neurodiversity: How to Build a Better Workplace for All (with Tips from the Experts)
The world’s workplaces are evolving with each passing moment, from their cultures to their mission statements, all the way down to the light fixtures. Between the many external pressures influencing these changes, be it the COVID tailwind, society’s shifting values, or the rise of transformative tech, decision-makers are presented with a real opportunity to design a more inclusive workplace.
An estimated 15-20% of the global population are neurodiverse, yet many companies come up short when accommodating their neurodiverse employees, or they’re yet to demystify what the term truly entails.
Neurodiversity refers to the diverse way we think and interpret the world – no two minds are the same, and there’s no wrong or right way of thinking, just differences, not deficits. Usually, the term is used to contextualise conditions such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADD, and Epilepsy, but it can be used to refer to all individuals. Conversely, people without these forms of the condition are often described as neurotypical.
Stigma, ignorance and exclusionary infrastructures often prevent the emergence of an accessible workplace, all of which are barriers that must be overcome if we are to work on taking D&I in the right direction.
Designing for neurodiversity benefits everyone in the workplace, leading to a heightened sense of belonging, stronger performance, a better brand value proposition and a more impactful organisation overall, to name a just few benefits.
A safe and supportive neurodiverse-friendly workplace helps elevate all those inside it as it draws out their individual strengths, but how exactly is this done? We asked some leading experts on the subject: ‘What piece of advice or top tip would you offer to employers to help them create a more attractive, inclusive, and accessible workplace for neurodiverse talent?’ Here’s what they had to say.
Raychel O'Connell, Global DEI Strategy & Operations Manager at Groupon
‘A piece of advice that I would give to employers is to ask your employees what they need. Each year at Groupon we send a DEI survey so we can learn what simple adjustments would make our colleagues' workday better. The feedback we get is invaluable and it helps us to provide tools and processes that support everyone, particularly those in the neurodivergent community. Many of the suggestions have been relatively simple to implement; offering flexible work schedules, providing noise-cancelling headphones or a quiet place to work, a subscription to a grammar and spell-checking tool or even a calm place to decompress in private throughout the day, but they can have a really positive impact on the employees. The workplace experience shouldn't be about simply surviving the day. It should be about thriving, and this happens when employers are engaged and proactively find ways to make their work environment an easier place for neurodiverse colleagues.’
Caragh McMurtry, Founder & Director at Neurodiverse Sport
‘I would encourage employers to think about how they view the performance of their workers: shifting their judgement from how a task is completed to the end result. Neurodivergent employees often require adjustments to their working environments because they fundamentally learn and process information differently. It therefore follows that the most sustainable and effective way for them to accomplish daily tasks would also differ from 'the norm'. It would help for employers to understand that these neurological and behavioural differences exist, and to allow employees flexibility in how they approach daily tasks as well as under what circumstances. Employers may have to adjust how they set and monitor KPIs accordingly, but they would be optimising the 15% of their workforce who are neurodivergent, so in theory, it would pay off!’
Abi Chamberlain, Solutions Director and DEI Advocate at Trinnovo Group
‘A neurodiverse-friendly workplace can look like many different things. From clear, consistent meeting practises and quiet workspaces to letting go of scepticism over a lack of eye contact and considering how subtle humour is used - ultimately, it all comes down to the way you support individuals to enable them to perform to their best. Make sure that you know your colleagues and ask them what they need to perform well. By opening communication channels that allow people to operate outside of dated and limiting norms, I believe we will unlock performance and create a more inclusive environment for everyone.’
If you Need Support
Optimising business performance means taking a people-first approach to life and building a more inclusive workplace is one piece of a complex and ever-changing jigsaw. If you need support with your strategy, your culture, your people or your mission, reach out to our solutions director Abi Chamberlain today, we’d love to help you make a positive impact as you implement positive, sustainable change.