UK employers increasingly recognize the need for a neurodiverse workforce and that there are significant benefits to promoting this diversity. Indeed, given estimates that more than 15% of the UK population is neurodivergent (ACAS, 2020), most employers will already employ neurodiverse people.
Neurodiverse diagnoses include conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Asperser, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), ADHD (attention deficit disorder), dyspraxia, dyslexia, and others. People who experience the various aspects of such conditions experience characteristics that are outside of what is considered neurotypical – that which the majority in a society shares. Similar to disability in general, then there is a risk that society will handicap the individual as opposed to the handicap itself, and this may even inadvertently include employers.
Neurodiversity in the workplace
Neurodiverse issues are addressed as an area of disability in the Equality Act 2010. In the Equality Act, disability means a physical or mental condition that has a significant and long-term impact on your ability to carry out normal everyday activities. This leads us to move away from someone who needs a diagnosis to be covered but must meet these criteria as a minimum.
Employers need to make “reasonable” adjustments for workers who meet these criteria to help them do their jobs effectively, taking into account the following level of “appropriateness”:
- The extent of disruption that an adjustment may cause to the organization or other employees;
- The cost and budget of the organization;
- The effectiveness of the adjustment in assisting the worker in getting the job done;
- Availability of financial or other support from programs such as the government’s Access to Work program.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England “Line Managers Resource” (2016)
Examples include the use of support tools, computer software, different communication methods, different types of planning, training, awareness raising among colleagues, and many others.
One of the biggest challenges with this in mind is that many people may have a neurodiversity problem without even realizing it. This includes those who have not been recognized as such (formally or otherwise), those who have not been recognized as such, those who have been diagnosed with symptoms of other conditions or who are experiencing symptoms, e.g. Anxiety disorders which may be caused by the neurodiverse problem but which presents itself as a mental illness and those who just find it very difficult to live in the world and feel that they never quite fit in but don’t know why. Unfortunately, our systems for building neurodiversity do not yet close these gaps. We don’t have a simple blood test to identify them or a patch test. They are more complex to identify.
The tools used to assess neurodiversity are typically subjective. In some cases, the assessment tools have been developed against symptoms seen in boys / men so that they are not well suited for an accurate and reliable diagnosis in women, e.g. Autism ratings, therefore a disproportionately higher diagnosis in boys than girls and effectively a large number of “missing” girls / women. Since this is the case, we as employers may be trying to meet an unknown need. However, the solution can be the same.
We can meet the needs of known and unknown neurodiversity with a “person-centered” approach by simply focusing on the needs of the person, regardless. It makes no difference whether there is a diagnosis or not, whether a person realizes they have features of a neurodiverse problem or not, we just focus on the person in front of us and their needs. All of this may seem very good, but when companies develop systems it can be difficult to keep meeting everyone’s needs all the time. What is needed are reliable and consistent approaches that can be resorted to in order to be person-centered. A flexible structure can be found in appropriate adaptations and their application just by applying the principles of these regardless of the diagnosis.
A good employer will try to meet employees’ needs wherever they can, especially if it is an authentic and well-embedded business asset. Reasonable adjustments also take into account the needs of the company so that employers are not asked to adjust at any cost, but rather to consider what is “appropriate” in the circumstances. Every now and then I come across employers who say when a person receives special support, others use it as a comparison so they can access it. Here, too, the key is “person-centered” and also the criterion of “reasonableness”. When these are applied at the same time, the outcome may be different in different situations, situations that can be very similar at face value. Person-centered support makes this possible, and appropriate adjustment criteria make it possible. Both give us a structure, but also flexibility to meet a need.
Employers will have many structured systems that allow a person-centered approach in:
- Supervision or one-on-one interviews between managers and employees
- Informal discussions
- Keep in touch mechanisms for any absence
- Back to the work interviews
- And other standard workplace systems and management practices.
It is important that managers clearly define their roles and responsibilities. They must have knowledge and confidence in the use of these systems, the delegation powers that have been entrusted to them, and who their support team is, such as: Human resources, health and safety, their supervisor / board of directors / trustee / board of directors, and support from solid, well-communicated policies and procedures, including training on how to use them.
If you or your managers would like to learn more about how to use “reasonable adjustments” and / or how to support mental and emotional difficulties in employees, whether in terms of neurodiversity or otherwise, please read our training courses.