With at least a fifth of the UK adult population described as being neurodivergent, it's important for employers to ensure workplaces are inclusive for everyone, including those whose brains may work differently to others
We will be considering what more can be done to raise awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace and how to make these spaces more welcoming for everyone.
If you're neurodivergent, you can also find out where to get help while at work.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is the concept that brain differences are natural variations, with some people's brains working in a different way.
As The Brain Charity explains, for at least 20% of the adult population in the UK, these differences mean a person may be diagnosed with ASD, dyslexia, ADHD, or another neurotype and be considered neurodivergent.
The neurodiversity movement celebrates the full spectrum of brain differences, encompassing both neurotypicality and neurodivergence, and champions the strength of neurodivergent people - so you know that you're never alone.
Forms of neurodivergence
While neurodivergent people often face difficulties due to a lack of accessibility in society, accommodations and support can help to alleviate these difficulties.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of common neurodivergences, including some more details on each neuro-type that individuals may experience (symptoms and support needs will differ between individuals):
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) - autistic individuals have strong sensory processing divergences from allistic (non-autistic) and neurotypical individuals, often communicating and interacting differently with the world around them. Autistic individuals may experience difficulties communicating with others in social situations, understanding why others may feel differently, and/or expressing their own emotions. Autistic people may also find unexpected changes to familiar situations distressing, and may experience meltdowns or shutdowns when their senses become overwhelmed. However, many autistic people also demonstrate skills such as strong attention to detail, a good long-term memory and honest, direct communication.
- Dyslexia - a divergence in the capacity to process information, affecting a tenth of people in the UK, often diagnosed during childhood. Dyslexic individuals may have trouble with reading, writing, and spelling, but can demonstrate innovative thoughts and perception. Dyslexia is characterised by a visual and experiential learning style and cognitive diversity, as well as struggling to understand or process written information and finding it difficult to plan and get organised.
- Dyspraxia/Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) - a developmental disorder affecting a person's movement and physical coordination. DCD affects an individual's physical ability to perform day-to-day tasks, which may make them appear clumsy, but can also have benefits, such as an improved long-term memory.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - ADHD is a neuro-type which diverges primarily in attention regulation. ADHD individuals may appear restless or distracted, and often fidget or act on impulse. However, they are often innovative and astute in high pressure situations.
- Tourette Syndrome (TS) - Tourette Syndrome is characterised by multiple 'tics' - sudden, repetitive and involuntary movements and sounds. These tics can be brought on by feeling stressed, tired or anxious, and often affect people on an individual basis. Individuals with Tourette Syndrome are also often perceptually acute, energetic, and have a tendency for creativity.
The need for understanding and awareness
'Harnessing, celebrating and maximising neurodiversity in the workplace is vital to creating a successful workspace,' says Jane Cullen, training manager at The Brain Charity. 'Neurodivergent employees have incredible strengths, so hiring neurodiverse staff comes with huge benefits and allows recruiters to access a wider talent pool.'
Jane explains how neurodivergent employees can offer fresh perspectives as a result of their own unique experiences, which can be invaluable to businesses. 'By creating a neurodivergent-friendly workspace with even small accessibility changes, organisations can accommodate a huge range of people and create an inclusive and considerate work environment that demonstrates to all staff the value of employees,' she adds.
Despite this, four-fifths of the 140 service users questioned as part of The Brain Charity's 2022 community survey admitted that they felt their condition was misunderstood, with around two-thirds suffering from low confidence. Others also cited poor mental health and feelings of loneliness.
Neurodivergent support at E.ON
After being named as one of the UK's 'Top 50 Inclusive Employers', leading energy supplier E.ON has partnered with Neurodiversity in Business (NiB), an industry forum and group that seeks to improve the working lives of neurodivergent individuals and raise awareness in the workplace.
In addition to working with NiB and sharing best practice on recruitment, retention and inclusion policies, E.ON has also announced a colleague-led Neurodiversity Network that aims to make a positive difference for all neurodivergent workers at the company.
Many neurodivergent individuals only find out about their conditions later in life, and not everyone chooses to get a formal diagnosis. However, in some cases it can help an individual to understand themselves better and communicate this to those around them.
'I discovered I am dyslexic and autistic while working at E.ON,' says Sam, people lead within E.ON's culture, diversity and people team. 'My managers have been great since my diagnosis - they just want to understand my conditions and how they can help me.'
He added, 'When I was diagnosed, I went through a kind of grieving process for the person I could have been had I been diagnosed at an earlier age. But being diagnosed later in life has helped me to come out as my true self and I now have the tools to help my managers and peers get the best out of me at work.'
Tips on making a workplace more inclusive
The Scottish ADHD Coalition has put together An employer's guide to ADHD in the workplace, which answers common questions about ADHD and what managers and staff can do to support those who need it.
While some individuals with ADHD will only require small changes or 'reasonable adjustments' under the Equality Act 2010, this will depend on their role and working environment. As everyone experiences things individually, it's recommended that employers adopt a person-centric approach.
Regarding the nature of these adjustments, it may just mean flexibility with your start/finishing times or allowing you to delegate non-core aspects of the job that you find difficult.
It could also include some minor modifications to the working environment, such as being provided with or/allowed to use:
- visual prompts - for example, wall charts, checklists and post-it note reminders
- physical reminders - preparing the next day's work at the end of the day
- a larger laptop/computer screen - making things more visible
- clocks - the use of timers and alarms
- headphones/ear plugs
- a personal space to work - for a reduced level of distraction.
In terms of adopting working and management practices, the guide suggests that your manager:
- offers a greater level of supervision/regular check-ins and feedback sessions
- breaks tasks down into clear, bitesize steps
- provides you with written instructions and meeting notes rather than relaying the information verbally
- operates a buddy system for tasks to help you maintain your focus
- allows regular scheduled breaks for movement, especially during long meetings/activities.
There are also a number of apps designed to support ADHD individuals and related issues, including:
- to-do list reminders/scheduling apps - Evernote and Todoist
- text-to-speech software - Speechify and Capti Voice
- blockers to remove distractions from smartphones - Cold Turkey and Focus Bear
- ambient sounds/white noise - Coffitivity and Focus@Will
- note-taking - notes function on phone.
The main thing is to speak to your employer about what would be of use to you in your working environment.
Accommodations and reasonable adjustments can make you feel more supported and comfortable in your work environment. 'To help me manage my ADHD, I take a longer lunch break and schedule all of my tasks in my calendar,' says neurodivergent advocate and co-owner of BetaJester, Adam Clewes-Boyne.
He adds, 'Having things be more visible and being in more control of my own schedule allows me the mental clarity to manage my workload more easily.'
For more guidance on managing ADHD specifically, see the ADHD Foundation - Resources.
Neurodiversity training at work
As many common issues arise through a lack of understanding, Jane explains how the most effective way to make a workplace more neurodiversity-friendly and support neurodivergent staff is through quality training. This will help to reduce stigma and allow employers to make meaningful changes to their processes and policies.
The Brain Charity is one of a number of organisations that provide neurodiversity training for offices and workplaces in the UK and overseas. This covers how to create inclusive and accessible recruitment, ways to become a disability confident employer, and how to adapt workspaces to make them suitable for neurodivergent staff.
Where to go for help
If you're neurodivergent, or suspect you may be, Jane explains how there's support available - you don't have to manage your condition alone if you're comfortable sharing this information with others.
In the first instance, you could speak to your manager about your condition and how it's affecting your work. Your HR department can advise you on what adjustments can be made to support you in carrying out your job. Neurodivergent specialists may also be consulted, such as by conducting a workplace needs assessment.
Outside of work, The Brain Charity offers emotional support, practical help and social activities to anyone who is neurodivergent, as well as to their family, friends, and carers.
'We can help whether you're dealing with a new diagnosis, a hospital stay, improving your confidence or with managing your mental health,' she says.
For more information on the support available, visit The Brain Charity - Get help. Those living in North West England are also welcome to visit their Liverpool centre in person.
If you're in need of in-work support or assistance in finding a job - for instance, career coaching, mentoring, online workshops or a workplace needs assessment - Exceptional Individuals also provide a range of services to neurodivergent individuals as well as employers.
Find out more
- Get advice on looking after your mental health at university.
- Explore getting a graduate job.
- For those with ADHD working in video gaming, visit adhdingames.com.