What managers need to know about neurodivergence
Do you need to know more about what neurodivergence is? What’s the difference between neurodivergence and neurodiversity? How do you even know if someone is neurodivergent? How do you manage someone who is neurodivergent? These are all important questions that managers need to understand. In this article, we’ll explore some practical strategies to help you manage neurodivergent employees and create a more inclusive and engaging workplace.
In this post:
- What’s the difference between neurodivergence and neurodiversity?
- What are the different types of neurodivergence?
- What are some of the strengths neurodivergent people can bring to an employer?
- How can managers spot someone who is neurodivergent?
- What can organisations do to engage neurodivergent employees?
- What support should employers provide to people who are neurodivergent?
- How should you manage neurodivergent employees who are underperforming?
What’s the difference between neurodivergence and neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity and neurodivergence are closely related terms, but they have slightly different meanings.
Neurodiversity refers to the natural variation in human brains and neurological functioning. It recognises that people have different ways of thinking, processing information, and experiencing the world around them. This includes individuals who have neurodivergent conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others.
Neurodivergence, on the other hand, specifically refers to individuals who have neurological differences that deviate from what is considered typical or neurotypical. This includes individuals who have conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others. Neurodivergent individuals may experience challenges in social communication, sensory processing, attention, and other areas, but they also have unique strengths and perspectives.
In summary, neurodiversity refers to the natural variation in human brains, while neurodivergence specifically refers to individuals who have neurological differences that deviate from what is considered typical or neurotypical.
The challenge for organisations is that traditional workplace practices can often disadvantage neurodivergent individuals and make it difficult for them to engage fully in their work. Therefore, organisations should take steps to maximise engagement in neurodivergent employees.
What are the different types of neurodivergence?
There are several different types of neurodivergence, each with its own set of characteristics and challenges. Here are some of the most commonly recognised types:
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects social communication, behaviour, and sensory processing. Individuals with ASD may have difficulty with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviours.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects attention, impulse control, and hyperactivity. Individuals with ADHD may have difficulty with sustained attention, organising tasks, and controlling impulses.
Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects reading and language processing. Individuals with dyslexia may have difficulty with phonemic awareness, decoding, and comprehension.
Dyspraxia is a condition that affects movement and co-ordination. Individuals with dyspraxia may have difficulty with fine and gross motor skills, balance, and coordination.
Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that affects mathematical processing. Individuals with dyscalculia may have difficulty with number sense, arithmetic, and mathematical reasoning.
Tourette Syndrome is a neurological condition that affects movement and speech. Individuals with Tourette Syndrome may experience involuntary tics, such as eye blinking or vocalisations.
It’s important to note that not all individuals with neurodivergent conditions will have the same set of characteristics or challenges. Additionally, some individuals may have multiple neurodivergent conditions or may exhibit traits from several different conditions. It’s also worth mentioning that neurodiversity is a continuum, meaning that individuals can have varying degrees of neurodivergence.
What are some of the strengths neurodivergent people can bring to an employer?
Neurodivergent individuals can bring lots of unique strengths and perspectives to the workplace. Here are a few examples:
Neurodivergent employees may have higher levels of attention to detail
Neurodivergent individuals may have a heightened attention to detail and an ability to focus on specific tasks for extended periods of time. This can be particularly valuable in roles that require precision and accuracy, such as research, data analysis, or quality control.
Neurodivergent employees may have higher levels of creativity
Neurodivergent individuals may have a unique approach to problem-solving and may be more likely to think outside the box. This can be beneficial in roles that require innovation or creative thinking, such as product design, marketing, or advertising.
Neurodivergent employees may have higher levels of memory skills
Some neurodivergent individuals have excellent memory skills, particularly when it comes to specific topics or areas of interest. This can be valuable in roles that require memorisation, such as customer service or sales.
Neurodivergent employees may have higher levels of analytical thinking
Many neurodivergent individuals have strong analytical skills and may excel at tasks that require logical reasoning and problem-solving. This can be beneficial in roles such as IT, engineering, or accounting.
Neurodivergent employees may have higher levels of attention to process
Neurodivergent individuals may have a heightened attention to process and may be able to identify inefficiencies or areas for improvement. This can be valuable in roles that involve process improvement, project management, or operations.
It’s important for employers to recognise the unique strengths that neurodivergent individuals bring to the workplace and create an inclusive environment that supports their diverse perspectives and abilities. By doing so, employers can foster a culture of innovation and creativity that benefits everyone.
How can managers spot someone who is neurodivergent?
Managers may not always be able to identify neurodivergent individuals in their team, as many individuals may not disclose their conditions due to fear of stigma or discrimination. However, there are certain signs that managers can look out for that may suggest an employee is neurodivergent. Here are a few potential indicators:
Neurodivergent employees may show differences in communication style
Neurodivergent individuals may communicate differently than their neurotypical peers. They may struggle with social cues, tone of voice, and nonverbal communication. They may also have difficulty expressing themselves verbally or in writing.
Neurodivergent employees may show differences in attention to detail
Neurodivergent individuals often have an exceptional attention to detail and may excel at tasks that require focus and precision.
Neurodivergent employees may show unusual sensory processing
Many neurodivergent individuals have sensory processing differences that may affect how they perceive their environment. For example, they may be sensitive to certain sounds, textures, or lighting.
Neurodivergent employees may have difficulty with social interactions
Neurodivergent individuals may struggle with social interactions, such as initiating conversations, interpreting nonverbal cues, and making eye contact.
Neurodivergent employees may demonstrate rigidity in routines or preferences
Neurodivergent individuals may have a strong preference for routine and predictability. They may become upset or anxious when their routine is disrupted.
Neurodivergent employees may demonstrate strong memory skills
Some neurodivergent individuals may have excellent memory skills, particularly when it comes to specific topics or areas of interest.
It’s important to note that these signs are not definitive and may not apply to all neurodivergent individuals. Therefore, it’s important for managers to approach the topic with sensitivity and avoid making assumptions. If a manager suspects an employee may be neurodivergent, they can have a private conversation with the employee to discuss their needs and explore any accommodations or support that may be helpful.
What can organisations do to engage neurodivergent employees?
These are some of the key strategies all organisations can use to manage and engage neurodivergent employees and create a more inclusive workplace that harnesses the strengths of everyone in the organisation.
Foster an inclusive culture
The first and most crucial step is to create a culture of diversity, equity and inclusivity in your organisation. A true DEI culture will value and respect neurodiversity.
This means educating employees and leadership about what neurodiversity is and how it can benefit the organisation.
Encourage open communication and foster a workplace environment where people feel comfortable disclosing their neurodivergent conditions.
Organisations can also create employee groups that focus on supporting neurodivergent employees, providing them with a platform to connect and advocate for their needs.
Provide neurodivergent employees with flexible working arrangements
Many neurodivergent individuals have different working styles, and some may find it challenging to work in a traditional office setting. Therefore, organisations should offer flexible working arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, to accommodate their needs. This will not only help neurodivergent employees to be more productive but also help to retain them, which is beneficial to the organisation.
Provide neurodivergent employees with training and support
Training and support can be invaluable to neurodivergent employees. For instance, organisations can provide training to managers and coworkers on how to work effectively with neurodivergent employees. This training can cover topics such as communication strategies, sensory sensitivities, and other aspects that may impact work performance. Additionally, organisations can provide coaching and mentoring to neurodivergent employees to help them develop their skills and achieve their career goals.
Make adjustments to the working environment
Workplace adjustments are essential for neurodivergent employees to perform at their best. Adjustments might include assistive technology, sensory supports, and personalised workspace setups.
Provide neurodivergent employees with feedback and recognition
Neurodivergent employees often have unique strengths that can benefit the organisation, such as attention to detail, innovative problem-solving skills, and exceptional memory.
Therefore, it’s important to recognise and celebrate their contributions. Regular feedback and recognition can help to boost their confidence and motivation.
What support should employers provide to people who are neurodivergent?
Employers should provide support that is tailored to the individual needs of their neurodivergent employees. The following are some examples of potential strategies and ways to provide support neurodivergent employees, in addition to the strategies we have already outlined.
Provide neurodivergent employees with clear and structured communication
Employers should provide clear and structured communication to neurodivergent employees, with explicit instructions and expectations. This can include written instructions, visual aids, and checklists.
Provide neurodivergent employees with sensory support
Employers can provide sensory support, such as noise-cancelling headphones, a quiet work area, or adjustable lighting. This can help employees manage sensory overload and improve their focus.
Provide neurodivergent employees with training and development
Employers should offer training and development opportunities to help neurodivergent employees build their skills and feel more confident in their role. This can include on-the-job training, mentoring, or coaching.
Provide neurodivergent employees with support from HR or occupational health
Employers can offer support from HR or occupational health to help neurodivergent employees manage their condition in the workplace. This can include referrals to mental health services, assistance with benefits or accommodations, and support for communication with colleagues or managers.
How should you manage neurodivergent employees who are underperforming?
This is a sensitive area. ‘Underperformance’ may actually be a function of the individual employees neurodivergence. For example, someone who is struggling with social interactions may come across as rude. Assuming you have employed the strategies and advice we have already outlined, what do you do if you have a neurodivergent employee who is genuinely underperforming?
The most important thing to do if a neurodivergent employee is underperforming is approach the situation with empathy and understanding.
Identify the root cause
The first step is to identify the underlying cause of the underperformance. Is it related to the employee’s neurodivergent condition, or are there other factors at play? It may be helpful to have a conversation with the employee to better understand their perspective and any challenges they may be facing.
Revisit workplace adjustments
If the underperformance is related to the employee’s neurodivergent condition, it may be necessary to revisit the adjustments and support provided. This could involve adjusting the employee’s workload, providing additional training or support, or making changes to the work environment.
Provide clear feedback
It’s important to provide clear and specific feedback to the employee about their performance, including areas where they are falling short and areas where they are doing well. This feedback should be delivered in a constructive and supportive manner.
Collaborate on a plan for improvement
Managers should work collaboratively with the employee to develop a plan for improvement that takes into account the employee’s strengths and challenges. This could involve setting specific goals and timelines, providing additional resources or support, or identifying opportunities for further training or development.
It’s important to monitor the employee’s progress and provide ongoing feedback and support. This can help ensure that the employee is on track to meet their goals and can also help identify any additional support or adjustments that may be needed.
It’s also important for managers to be aware of any potential biases or assumptions they may have about neurodivergent individuals and to approach the situation with an open mind and a willingness to learn. By doing so, managers can create a supportive and inclusive work environment that enables all employees to thrive.
Organisations that embrace neurodiversity and implement strategies to support neurodivergent employees can benefit from a more inclusive and diverse workforce. Fostering an inclusive culture, offering flexible working arrangements, providing training and support, workplace adjustments, feedback and recognition, and career growth and development opportunities are some of the ways organisations can maximise engagement in neurodivergent employees. By doing so, organisations can create an environment where all employees can thrive and reach their full potential.