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Employers: Changing your workplace to better support neurodiversity

It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent. This means that many employers already have a neurodiverse workforce, possibly without realising it.

Employers can ask themselves these key questions to check if their workplace is set up to support neurodiversity:

Some simple changes can bring about big rewards for staff and the business - changes that are often easy to make, inexpensive and beneficial to all staff.

Can I do more to make sure my workplace understands neurodiversity?

Neurodivergent employees often don't tell their manager or colleagues because a lack of general awareness means they fear being judged or discriminated against. Many try to hide it and only tell their employer if problems arise and they feel they have no other option, for example in a disciplinary hearing.

Employers can raise awareness by:

  • highlighting the organisation's commitment to supporting neurodiversity and the actions being undertaken to improve the workplace
  • arranging activities, awareness days, campaigns, training and workshops to educate staff
  • providing readily available, simple and useful information to staff on different forms of neurodivergence
  • making sure staff have the time and a safe, suitable environment to learn about and discuss neurodiversity
  • creating 'neurodiversity champions' and a support network (and regularly publicising it to staff)
  • updating policies and guidance on disability to also refer to neurodivergence
  • encouraging neurodivergent senior managers and leaders to openly disclose and talk about it
  • sharing stories about successful neurodivergent role models and talking openly about reasonable adjustments that have been implemented in the workplace.

Do my managers have the skills to manage a neurodiverse team?

Managers can sometimes be recruited because of their expertise in a previous role rather than because they can demonstrate the skills needed to be a good manager. Even experienced managers need regular opportunities to refresh and improve their skills. Managing a neurodiverse team, with various needs and different ways of learning, can be challenging. If managers do not have the skills or awareness to build good relationships with each team member it can affect the performance and well-being of their whole team.

Employers can ensure that managers have the skills needed to manage a neurodiverse team by:

  • recruiting managers who can demonstrate the key skills for the role, such as good communication skills and empathy
  • providing managers (and potential future managers) with training opportunities that will help them to improve their skills
  • providing workshops or additional information on neurodiversity, in particular understanding the difference between a mental difficulty (such as memory retention or concentration) and an attitude issue
  • encouraging networking and collaboration between managers across the organisation to help share experiences and approaches.

For more information, go to Managers: Managing staff with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and other forms of neurodivergence.

Can I reduce distractions and other obstacles in my workplace?

The working environment is full of potential distractions and other obstacles that can affect performance. Some employees may be happy working in a busy and noisy environment, but others can find it impossible to focus. While an unsuitable working environment can affect the performance of all staff, it can be a particular issue for neurodivergent employees. For example, ADHD and autistic employees can be particularly sensitive to sensory inputs, such as sounds, sights and smells.

Employers can reduce many of the distractions and obstacles in the workplace by:

  • redesigning the workplace to take account of the different sensory needs of staff (for example, limiting the amount of information/bright artwork displayed on walls)
  • putting up dividers in appropriate areas to block and reduce noise
  • having dedicated quiet areas
  • allowing staff to book meeting rooms for tasks that require a lot of concentration
  • providing visible instructions next to office equipment and machinery, such as photocopiers
  • allocating work areas with more natural light to staff that struggle with office lighting or allowing daylight lamps
  • offering flexible working arrangements such as homeworking for part of the week or allowing staff to start earlier or finish later
  • providing staff with organisers, lockers, cabinets and name labels to help them organise and retain their work and equipment
  • regularly reminding staff to be mindful of their colleagues and keeping noise to a  minimum
  • allowing employees (when appropriate) to use equipment such as noise cancelling headphones

What internal assistance and support can I provide for my neurodivergent employees?

Neurodivergent staff want to know that the organisation will be supportive if they disclose it. If they are not sure about how managers and colleagues will react they are unlikely to disclose or seek the accommodations they need to perform at their best. Without the confidence to talk about issues or seek help, minor concerns may worsen over time and become more serious.

Employers can provide additional assistance and support by:

  • employing skilled managers
  • having processes in place to ensure that if line managers change, adjustments and information about the employee is passed over so the support they receive continues
  • setting up a support network for neurodivergent employees
  • offering training and developmental opportunities for managers and/or employees to become neurodiversity champions
  • providing a mentor or buddy when learning new tasks
  • regularly highlighting what support is available inside and outside the organisation
  • highlighting specific awareness weeks and days to the organisation and customers
  • rewarding staff who actively support their colleagues.

What can a support network for neurodivergent employees offer?

It can provide:

  • a safe place for staff to go and discuss issues they are having
  • the opportunity for staff to meet and build relationships with other neurodivergent employees
  • a way to share coping strategies and workplace adjustments
  • an informal route to raise issues or concerns to management
  • assistance to management in solving issues and make the workplace better
  • an additional way to raise greater awareness within the workplace.

Could I offer diagnostic and workplace needs assessments?

Many people may be neurodivergent without knowing it or having formal diagnosis. This usually means they do not receive (or even seek) support inside or outside of the workplace. Having to cope without this support can affect their health and well-being, and can lead to a higher levels of absence and poorer performance.

Even staff who have been formally diagnosed may not know what support may be available or what support they actually need, which can make it difficult for an employer to provide appropriate support and ensure they meet their legal obligations. While they may know what worked in a school environment, such as extra time on certain tasks, this may not be appropriate in the workplace.

What is a diagnostic assessment?

  • Evaluates the employee's abilities and skills by conducting a number of tests
  • Conducted by a psychologist, or a specialist teacher on the particular form of neurodivergence such as dyslexia or ADHD
  • Will formally diagnose if they are neurodivergent
  • Will outline the employee's strengths and identify areas of difficulty
  • The report will make general recommendations but not specifically focus on their work
  • The cost will usually need to be covered by the employer
  • An online assessment is not an alternative to a diagnostic assessment but can be useful to determine if an employer should be applying Equality Act protections.

 

What is a workplace needs assessment?

  • Consists of an assessor interviewing the employee and receiving confidential feedback from the employee's manager or an HR representative regarding performance levels
  • Evaluates the requirements of their role, the difficulties they experience and their performance to date
  • Will provide recommendations that will mitigate difficulties
  • Does not need a diagnostic assessment. It is not essential before a workplace assessment but can provide helpful information to the assessor and the employee
  • Conducted by a private provider, there will be a cost (that will normally need to be covered by the employer) but will usually use a specialist in neurodiversity
  • Conducted by the government scheme Access to Work, it will be free (and may cover some of the costs of any subsequent workplace adjustments) but will usually use a general disability assessor and can only be initiated by the employee
  • An online assessment is not an alternative to a workplace needs assessment but can be used to support staff who are not in serious difficulty and can be a good conversation starter to support managers in addressing minimal performance issues

Employers should:

  • consider whether they have the resources to cover the costs of a diagnostic assessment and/or private workplace assessment when needed
  • focus less on confirming a diagnosis and more on putting practical help in place for employees who say they need it
  • encourage managers and staff to discuss using Access to Work to help identify appropriate workplace adjustments.

How do I design job roles that get the best out of my staff?

It can seem easier and fairer to design roles with similar responsibilities and objectives at each level of an organisation. However, effective job design does not have to be uniform. Some elements may need to be similar but other parts can often be varied to suit the post holder.  For example employees on the autistic spectrum can sometimes struggle with line management responsibilities, so designing specialised roles without this responsibility could remove the issue and enable the employee to focus on tasks that they excel at.

Employers can improve how they design roles by:

  • identifying the main purpose and main tasks for each role within the organisation
  • considering whether job roles need a broad range of skills and abilities or more specialised skills
  • creating roles that can accommodate flexible working arrangements
  • trusting managers to spot and make the most of employees' strengths and minimise any difficulties
  • allowing managers to set appropriate objectives that can fairly assess performance
  • regularly checking that the job role, tasks and objectives are still accurate to what the organisation actually needs from the employee.

Is my recruitment process inclusive?

While an employer's recruitment process usually asks applicants to advise if they have a disability and need adjustments, applicants are often reluctant to do so in case it prejudices their application. Applicants with a neurodivergence may not consider it a disability and therefore not realise they have a right to reasonable adjustments. If a recruitment process is not actively designed to be inclusive, it is likely to unintentionally disadvantage neurodivergent applicants and be discriminatory.

Employers can make their recruitment more inclusive by:

  • identifying and clearly explaining which skills and experience are essential for the role and which are only desirable or beneficial
  • offering different ways to complete the application such as online, by email, post and in-person
  • providing examples of reasonable adjustments that are used by the organisation to reassure candidates that invitations to disclose are genuine
  • using the phrase 'do you have a disability, a form of neurodivergence (e.g. ADHD, autism, dyslexia or dyspraxia) or any condition that affects you at work?"
  • providing guidance notes for all applicants that explains the structure of the interview and includes example questions and answers
  • ensuring that any agencies used in the recruitment process are aware of the policies aimed at supporting neurodiversity
  • training interviewers in unconscious bias and how to avoid making assumptions based upon an applicant's body language or social competence
  • asking clear and specific questions and avoiding open-ended or hypothetical questions
  • allowing applicants to know the questions they will be asked before the interview
  • holding interviews or assessments in suitable, quiet spaces away from other distractions
  • considering alternative options to interviews, such as short paid work trials or practical assessments
  • providing clear and constructive feedback to unsuccessful candidates
  • ensuring that the new manager of a successful applicant who disclosed a neurodivergence is advised so support can be provided from the outset.

For more information, go to Recruitment.

Am I encouraging neurodivergent talent in my organisation?

Neurodivergent staff can sometimes struggle to progress within an organisation. Due to previous negative experiences they may lack the confidence in their ability to do more challenging work. Progression often requires line management responsibility which can sometimes be difficult for autistic employees as they may not have the communication skills the role requires.

Employers can better utilize the talents of their neurodivergent staff by:

  • recognising and highlighting their achievements
  • providing regular developmental opportunities that can enhance their skills
  • designing or using training courses that take account of neurodivergence
  • providing support to identify suitable vacancies within the organisation and provide help in writing an application where appropriate
  • offering a mentor to support their progress into roles that best fit their skills
  • designing job roles at all levels of the organisation that will motivate and get the best out of them
  • ensuring that a workplace needs assessment is repeated after promotion, as the adjustments might be different for the new role.

Do I know where to go for further information and support?

For examples of how other organisations have changed their workplaces to better support neurodiversity

pdf icon Neurodiversity at work [619kb] is a research paper that includes case studies of two organisations who are good practice employers in many ways. It also includes expert testimony from a number of practitioners operating in the field.

For more information about specific forms of neurodivergence

For help in making diagnostic assessments, workplace needs assessments or implementing adjustments:

  • Access to Work can provide advice and an assessment of workplace needs for individuals, with disabilities or long-term health conditions, who are already in work or about to start.

Grants may be available to help cover the cost of workplace adaptations that enable an employee to carry out their job without being at a disadvantage. These might be used to pay the costs of adapting equipment or buying special equipment for the employee, the cost of getting to work if they cannot use public transport and/or disability awareness training for colleagues. For more information, go to www.gov.uk/access-to-work.

  • Occupational Health providers can provide health assessments for neurodivergent employees and identify adjustments that would help them in the workplace.

Usually employers will need to sign up to a provider and pay a fee. Occupational Health providers will usually also provide assessments for staff absent from work.

  • SpLD Assessment Standards Committee (SASC) regulate the standard of assessments conducted in Universities and have information on what you should expect from a diagnostician, go to www.sasc.org.uk
  • British Psychological Society (BPS) has details of chartered psychologists, go to www.bps.org.uk.

Additional help may be available from groups where the employer is a member. For example, if an employer is a member of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) or the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), it could seek their help and guidance.

This guidance has been produced with contributions from Dr Nancy Doyle and the Neurodiversity and Employment Working Group, British Psychological Society; the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyspraxia Foundation.
 
We would like to thank all those who assisted in the development of the guidance.