Skip to main content

It’s a ‘Yes’ for Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Now some employers may groan at the sound of neurodiversity (“Oh, another thing to deal with”) and seek to have a ‘normal’ workforce (whatever that may be) to, in their eyes, make their business run smoother.

Firstly “hello, discrimination” and secondly a ‘normal’ workforce doesn’t exist. The fact of the matter is that whilst the spotlight is being shone brightly on neurodiversity, this is not actually new news, it is just our understanding of neurodiverse conditions as a society that has changed. Evidence shows that creating an environment that is inclusive and supportive of neurodiverse conditions enables employers to be more productive, creative and collaborative. It just makes no sense for employers to ignore this issue. Plus with approximately 15-20% of the population having neurological differences, there is a high likelihood many employers already have neurodivergent employees that they aren’t even aware of.


What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a neutral and collective term that recognises an individual’s unique strengths and their challenges. Simply put, the word neurodiversity recognises the infinite differences in an individual’s brain function and behavioural traits – like biodiversity in nature – people experience and interact with the world around them in a number of different ways. Neurodiversity recognises how individuals are wired differently and how each person may move, communicate, process information and think differently to one another.

What falls under the umbrella term of neurodiversity?

The following are all examples of neurodiverse conditions:

  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Dyslexia – commonly affects learning with reading, writing and spelling
  • Dyspraxia or DCD – disorder affecting movement and coordination
  • Dyscalculia – difficulty with numbers and arithmetic calculations
  • Dysgraphia – difficulty writing and with memory processing
  • Tourette’s Syndrome – condition causing involuntary movements and/or sounds (called tics)

The above are simply medical labels attributed to an individual to explain the diverse way in which they may behave, communicate, move, learn and/or think.

Employers should recognise that all individuals are good at some things and not so good at others – this is human nature before any medical diagnoses exist. Regardless of the label given, or diagnoses that may be being sought, there are positive aspects to all neurological traits and all businesses can benefit from different ways of thinking and working. Whilst a particular condition may pose challenges, these conditions can also bring unique and valuable skills to the workplace such as strong analytical thinkers, extensive detail retention, pattern-spotting and inferential reasoning, entrepreneurial thinking styles, resourcefulness, insightfulness, creative thinking and problem-solving abilities. JP Morgan & Chase’s Autism at Work program found autistic employees to be “48% faster and up to 92% more productive” than their neurotypical colleagues. In particular, they commonly displayed strong visual acuity, attention to detail, and a superior ability to focus.

What can employers do to support neurodiversity in the workforce?

Employers should focus on supporting the individual, learning about their personal strengths and challenges and also seek to create a welcoming workplace for neurodivergent employees. This could be achieved by:

  • Normalising and empowering open discussions about neurodiversity
  • Undertaking workplace assessments to ascertain whether the workplace is suitable and accommodating for people with neurodiverse conditions
  • Carrying out neurodiversity and awareness training
  • Assessing recruitment processes to ensure neurodivergent people can apply for the roles alongside neurotypical people

As with any employee health management scenario, employers should:

  • Be proactive
  • Discuss how the individual works best and identify their strength and challenges
  • Discuss ways to support the employee
  • Discuss with the employee what they want to tell others at work about their condition
  • Consider a referral to occupational health to obtain an assessment
  • Consider any reasonable adjustments to accommodate the employee (these could include: wearing earphones, earbuds or working in quiet zones, adjusting lighting and screen brightness and providing coloured reading panels, providing different equipment (such as a shaped keyboard or rollerball mouse), having shorter training or team meetings, allowing more comfort breaks and removing jargon from employee communications).

Employers should remember it is not a ‘one-size fits all’ and as Dr Stephen Shore once said, “if you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism”.

Are neurodiverse conditions considered disabilities under the Equality Act 2010?

Frequently neurodiverse conditions are classed as disabilities under the Equality Act 2010. However, employers should remember that a diagnosis does not need to exist for reasonable adjustments to be made. We would recommend employers focus on reasonable adjustments and supporting the employee at work rather than trying to determine whether a particular employee’s condition would be classed as a disability or not. In any event, employers have a duty of care towards their employees to ensure that they do all that they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing.

What is “reasonable” can be difficult for employers to assess. The purpose of a reasonable adjustment is “a change to remove or reduce the effect of an employee’s disability so they can do their job”. Opening up a dialogue with the individual is the best starting place and letting them make suggestions as to appropriate reasonable adjustments. But determining whether a suggestion is “reasonable”? There’s the challenge and one employers may wish to seek advice on.

The take home here is that rarely is any one person supposedly ‘normal’, and regardless of neurodiverse traits, all employees should be treated fairly and given the same opportunities.

How we can help

Our team of specialists provides advice on complex employment, HR and business immigration matters to private and listed companies operating in a broad range of sectors, including manufacturing, food and drink, technology, sport, retail, healthcare and education. For advice, assistance or training on any employment or immigration issue, including neurodiversity, please contact any member of the Team.