Inclusion and diversity within a workplace is not just about race, culture, gender, and sexuality. We need to consider that people can be diverse in multiple ways, not all of them visible from the outside.
There are many people living with neurological differences that can be understood, respected, accepted, and embraced. The work environment can ensure that the focus is on skills, rather than downfalls.
But, what does the future of work look like for the neurodiverse?
What is neurodiversity?
Australian sociologist Judy Singer started using the term “neurodiverse” in the 1990s. As somebody who lives with autism, she became a pioneer for neurodiverse people in the workplace.
Neurodiversity can be understood as the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits regarded as part of normal variation in the human population. Some examples include:
- Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD or dyspraxia)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Autistic Spectrum (ASD)
- Tourette Syndrome (TS)
These things form part of who a person is – it is important to remember that no one can change how their brain functions, nor should they have to in order to work and live in society.
Likewise, it is also important that workplaces embrace these employees, and instead of perceiving only weaknesses, rather hone their focus on the strengths that neurodiversity brings to the team.
How Covid-19 impacts neurodiverse people
There is no denying that the pandemic has affected all of us in some way. And it must be noted that it has had a significant impact on the neurodiverse.
A survey done by The National Autistic Society of the UK surveyed 4000 respondents. The survey showed that 85% of respondents felt that their anxiety got worse during the pandemic.
It did not only impact Autistic people but their families as well; one out of five family members had to reduce their working hours to care for their autistic family members.
Another study on the increased risk of Covid-19 infection and mortality in people with mental disorders showed that women living with mental disorders were more likely to contract Covid-19 (64%) in the United States.
It also showed that patients who were recently diagnosed with mental illness had significantly higher odds of Covid-19 infection than those without.
This shows the disparate impact of the pandemic on people with invisible disabilities and
highlights the importance of considering these individuals in the workplace.
The competitive advantages of neurodiversity
In recent times, many businesses are starting to recognise the advantages that neurodiverse individuals can bring to the table. Neurodiverse individuals often have a different way of thinking, approaching things, solving problems, and working. This opens the mindset of the group around them regarding trying new things for improvement, which can be an advantage to any team.
The reality is that the stigma of days past needs to end, and that neurodiverse individuals must be considered as employees bringing their own unique strengths and weaknesses to the table.
There shouldn’t be a focus on neurodiversity as a weakness, but rather towards adapting for neurodiverse strengths. When a business makes use of the strengths of the neurodiverse, they are many steps ahead of their competitors.
However, this starts with businesses changing their hiring practices. Finding these individuals isn’t easy, and retaining them can prove challenging if the workplace isn’t suitable.
When businesses take on neurodiverse individuals they need to ensure that their needs are met, a practical example being noise-cancelling headphones for those who struggle with background noise.
How to create a neurodiverse environment
The pandemic has caused many workers to work remotely, which has brought about many new challenges for the neurodiverse.
One thing to remember is that workers should be given a choice, especially regarding the use of their cameras during Zoom sessions. Not everyone has the luxury of a home office, and even if they did, their privacy is their choice.
Now that vaccines are rolling out in most countries, it means that many businesses are allowing employees to return to the office. Just like with ensuring they are comfortable on a Zoom call, it is also important to have them comfortable at the office.
A practical workplace consideration is to consider the use of Nook Pods. These work areas are specifically designed to ensure that those who need more control over their immediate environment at work are able to function in work environments. The pods create a secure location where these individuals can break away from the noise of the environment around them.
These pods were originally designed more to optimise the use of coworking spaces, but can be equally helpful in any office environment. It is a safe space, and it can even be used by those who just need a few moments of silence.
The future of work
When a workplace is diverse, those who form part of it feel more included and it helps drive motivation. Not only that, but neurodiverse employees often bring ideas and solutions to the table that others would not necessarily think of.
It is therefore important that businesses keep this top of mind when considering their inclusion strategy for when it has neurodiverse employees listed. But, before hiring a neurodiverse employee, businesses should look at the environment for such an individual, how to interview the neurodiverse, and which benefits they would need – like more sick leave or shorter working hours.
Above all, neurodiverse individuals have needs that should be taken care of, and this should be considered before hiring such an individual just as it is for people who are not neurodiverse.
The future of work looks bright for neurodiverse individuals, as more sectors are becoming aware of the benefit and the competitive advantage that a neurodiverse team brings.