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21 Sep 2023
by Sophie Mairs

How to approach stress and resilience differently for your neurodiverse population

Greater rates of mental health conditions are evident in neurodivergent people, and employers should reflect this in workplace policies

How to approach stress and resilience differently for your neurodiverse population.jpg


Every person is unique. We all have different traits and ways of doing things but some people have their own unique challenges and opportunities because their brains work differently to others. This is known as neurodivergence. 

Neurodiversity describes people who experience the world differently in social, educational and workplace environments. It can include people with autism, dyslexia, ADHD and dyspraxia, amongst other conditions. 

With about one in seven people estimated to be neurodivergent, it’s more than likely that you will have employees with a neurodiverse condition. Because neurodivergent people think differently to neurotypical people, they can be invaluable to a business as they may approach situations differently. Often, their capacity for thinking in an unorthodox way means neurodivergent employees can be skilled at things as varied as thinking creatively, solving complex problems, identifying patterns and trends, or paying attention to detail. 

This difference in approach could help you find an edge in business. However, while people with neurodiverse conditions may have certain strengths, there is also evidence of greater rates of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety among people with autism, dyspraxia and ADHD.

At Aviva we work with Lexxic, a leading psychological consultancy specialising in neurodiversity. The consultancy has first-hand experience supporting neurodiverse people and highlights the importance of fostering the right working environment. 

“We often see mental health challenges in neurodivergent employees due to discrimination and/or a lack of support in the workplace,” says Harry Saville, consulting business psychologist at Lexxic. “This is especially true in working cultures where a lack of flexibility forces all employees to work in the same way, even if they may have different strengths and processing styles.”

“We need to start creating neuro-inclusive working cultures, building psychological safety and work flexibility that encourages individuals to talk about their workplace preferences and receive adjustments that enable them to thrive,” he adds.

1. Create a workplace policy on neurodiversity

By producing a framework for managers and employees to follow, you will help everyone to know how to prevent discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. This could also be a good place to signpost useful resources or support networks. 

2. Start as you meant to go on from the very beginning of your working relationship 

Review your recruitment processes and design settings that will help put potential employees at ease. Through internal training on how neurodiverse candidates may struggle with things such eye contact and tone of voice or may experience shyness and social anxiety when faced with a job interview, strategies can be incorporated to reduce this common source of pressure. A more flexible recruitment process – perhaps involving time spent at the potential workplace rather than a formal interview – may be a better way to understand what a candidate can do. 

3. Put in place strategies for day-to-day support 

What we all want in the workplace is a feeling of being accepted and valued for the work that we do. Strategies and support to help employees feel more in control and foster a sense of autonomy can make a real difference. There are tech-based packages such as project-management software or mind mapping programmes that can help people organise their thoughts, which may help to relieve feelings of being overwhelmed. 

And whilst not restricted to neurodiverse employees, it’s good practice to ensure that your neurodiverse colleagues are taking breaks during the day and maintaining a good work/life balance to help avoid burnout or sensory overload. 

It is also important that no matter what form your communications take and whatever format, they are clear and unambiguous. It’s crucial to say exactly what you mean. Some neurodiverse people may not pick up on nuances in the same way a neurotypical person might do, leading to significant stress over what they’re being asked to do. Using plain English and varying the format of your communications can also help people who digest information differently.

4. Embed a culture of acceptance

Education of your whole workforce can really help clear up potential misconceptions, making it clear that neurodiversity isn’t an illness or a single condition, and helping to make your workplace somewhere neurodiverse people feel safe and valued. This includes promoting the use of positive language – so employees never refer to neurodiverse colleagues as ‘suffering’ from something or having learning difficulties, and training managers to assign work tasks appropriately. 

As part of this piece, it’s important to actively listen to each individual’s circumstances. Each neurodivergent person’s strengths and difficulties may be different, so never make assumptions based on what you have seen help before. Key to this is providing ample opportunities for neurodiverse colleagues to talk about what they need in their role with regular check-ins, especially when working from home. 

You could also consider asking people with lived experiences to shape how you support your employees and think about establishing communities or getting external support. 

Protecting the mental wellbeing of an employee is crucial if they’re to remain engaged and happy in their work. It’s important to remember that every person has different needs, and each neurodiverse employee will have their own struggles and challenges, particularly navigating settings where there are social expectations. It’s important to recognise this and put in place support to help reduce stressors and build resilience in your neurodiverse workforce.

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