Neurodiversity in the workplace is becoming a hot topic. Around 1 in 7 people in the UK are ‘neurodivergent’, meaning that how their brain functions, learns and processes information is different and this represents a natural form of human diversity. Forms of neurodivergence include attention deficit disorders, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia and these are frequently experienced on a spectrum so that the effects are different from person to person and may also vary over time.
Your school or college is probably already neurodiverse, whether you have recognised this or not. Supporting neurodiversity at work, through raising awareness and supporting staff to achieve their full potential, is increasingly seen to be not just the ‘right thing to do’ for employers who want to offer a high-quality place to work but also recognises there is a business case for championing ‘diversity of thought’, i.e. that having a mix of perceptions, skills and approaches amongst individuals leads to greater innovation and creativity in the team as a whole. Neurodivergent staff often possess more unusual abilities and skills which can be harnessed for the benefit of the whole organisation.
Positive traits which are commonly associated with neurodivergent staff include:
Notwithstanding the potential benefits in terms of the organisational culture, there is also an important HR issue around compliance with the Equality Act 2010 and the likelihood that many neurodiverse people will also be treated in law as having a disability. By proactively considering how every employee can be treated as an individual, you are also likely to be going at least some way to fulfilling the legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments.
Supporting neurodiversity at work covers the whole spectrum of people management practices, starting with recruitment and selection, and therefore there is wide scope for implementing change at organisational level with the appropriate buy-in from senior managers and governors/trustees. This can seem daunting, however, and does not mean that changes that start on a smaller scale cannot make a real difference. There are various steps that managers can take individually to support neurodiversity in their own team. Many of these actions and behaviours will benefit all staff and therefore have a broader positive impact:
The common themes connected to the effective management of a neurodiverse team are around being flexible and recognising people as individuals. Neurodivergent staff are not more difficult to manage, they just need to be managed differently. Rather than focussing too narrowly on labels for recognised forms of neurodivergence, such as autism or dyspraxia, it is more illuminating simply to think of every person being somewhere on the spectrum of neurodiversity, including yourself. You have particular skills and preferred styles and therefore, for you to perform at your best at work, your own manager has to recognise this too.