Managing neurodiverse employees: how to offer support in the workplace




Given the skill-sets available, it’s becoming increasingly well-known that hiring talent from the neurodiverse community can significantly benefit a business. Neurodiverse employers such as Microsoft, Ernst & Young and SAP have all introduced dedicated hiring programs. JP Morgan has found that its autistic employees are 48% faster and up to 92% more productive than their neurotypical peers. Managing neurodiverse employees may be challenging at first, but the rewards are more than worth the investment.

However, many neurodiverse individuals are still struggling to find employment, and it’s usually traditional workplace systems that are to blame. Those with autism or a range of other conditions may find social interaction challenging and simply be unable to comply with the demands of a typical interview.
Those wanting to open up their doors to the talent pool available within the neurodiverse community need to adapt their hiring program Neurodiversity recruitment: adapting your hiring program’ and find new ways when interviewing neurodiverse candidates. And once they’ve achieved those two goals, providing the right support within the workplace is the next logical step to success.

How do you manage neurodiverse employees?

The following points are intended as a starting point for managing neurodiverse employees. The important thing is to remember that all neuroatypical people are individual, and you’ll need to reassess your approach for every new hire.

Self-educate

First up, ensure that your knowledge of your employees’ neurodiversity is first-rate. There are many conditions within the spectrum of neurodiversity, and two different people with the same diagnosis will likely have different needs. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach simply won’t work. Be aware of potential needs, and be open-minded as to how these may play out in the workplace.

Train other workers and managers

Managing neurodiverse employees in a successful way can’t be achieved by you alone. It’s essential that all levels of your organisation have the same level of awareness. Your team as a whole will need to understand the needs of their neurodiverse colleagues in order to establish positive working relationships.

Find the best means of communication

Your current management style may be at odds with the needs of your neurodiverse employees, and you’ll need to discover the most-effective methods of communication. Use direct speech, and avoid idioms and hidden meanings. Some people may prefer written communication over verbal. Others may be happy with verbal communication but need a quiet one-to-one setting to absorb it fully.

Adapt your onboarding system

A tailored onboarding system can make all the difference when it comes to managing neurodiverse employees. Adapt it to meet specific needs, and be prepared to extend the standard onboarding period. Be sure to gather feedback throughout the process in order to improve it in the future.

Focus on skills over sociability

The most sociable people often have a dominant presence in an office-based workplace, and it’s much easier to see their achievements as they’ll likely be shouting about them. Disregard sociability as a factor when it comes to assessing the performance of a neurodiverse employee and focus on skills and results.

How can we help neurodivergent employees?

‘Adaptability’ is a key term here. Whilst businesses may need processes in place for reasons of organisation and efficiency, expecting neurodiverse workers to be able to fit in with them is unrealistic. You’ll need to adapt your approach when managing neurodiverse employees, and allow them to be your guide.

Ask!

Obvious, hey? But it’s amazing how often this point can be neglected within the hectic nature of a workplace. Even a vast knowledge of various neurodiverse conditions may not prepare you for an individual's particular quirks/needs, so simply ask the question. They may need to sit in a quieter part of an office, next to a window or away from bright lights or colours. Minor adjustments can make all the difference to whether a person is able to perform or not.

Create a neurodiversity workplace

This should be done in partnership with your neurodiverse employees and cover everything from day-to-day work to meeting spaces and even your kitchen if you have one.
Alongside ensuring that your neurodiverse employees have a setting they can work comfortably in, there may be additional equipment that can make a difference. Those with sensory difficulties may need to wear sunglasses if your office is bright, noise-cancelling headphones if it’s loud and use screen-masking software to minimize distractions. For example, the likes of text-to-speech or speech recognition software may help dyslexic employees.

Build community links

Don’t try to manage the situation alone. Fostering community links with local groups related to neurodiverse conditions can help both you and your neurodiverse employees establish effective long-term relationships. It may help to have an expert to speak to should challenges occur, and they’ll also be able to help when it comes to providing training sessions for your neurotypical staff.

Adapt to working preferences

One of many barriers to successful neurodivergent employment is the rigid, office-based, 9-5 workplace tradition. The past two years' events have shown this concept to be an outdated one. There may be certain working hours when a neurodiverse employee can perform at their best. They may simply need to work from home sometimes or prefer to spend lunchtimes and work breaks alone.

Workplace traditions naturally change with the times, but they’ve always leaned heavily towards the needs of neurotypical employees. As a result, as many as 90% of neurodiverse adults are unemployed.
Given the talent available within the neurodiverse community, it’s clear that businesses who fail to tap into this potential are missing out. Yet all it takes is a fresh perspective and a new approach to people management.
Placing the needs of individuals above those of workplace conveniences may require a period of upheaval, but you’ll be providing an environment in which everyone can thrive. And this, in turn, can only be a good thing for the future success of your business.

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