Five ways to support mental wellbeing for a neurodiverse workplace
Neurodiversity offers the same kind of benefit to a business. Because they literally think differently to neurotypical people, neurodivergent employees approach situations differently, which can be invaluable. 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. Seeing things from a different perspective can bring an organisation the competitive edge needed to outscore the opposition.
Neurodiversity is defined as: “The range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population.” It’s well worth making an extra effort to recruit and nurture the talents of people whose way of thinking may be different. You may already employ more such people than you might have imagined. It’s been estimated that one in seven people in the UK are neurodiverse, with 50% of them remaining unaware that they may be neurodivergent.
So, to get the most from a workforce they may already have, what support should employers provide? Protecting the mental wellbeing of any employee is crucial if they’re to remain engaged and happy in their work. In the case of neurodiverse employees, there are some specific strategies and practices you could consider to help address this.
1. Different people need different things from their workplace environment
It’s easy to forget the physical environment when considering how to support neurodivergent people, but it can be an important factor. Employees may be sensitive to noise and light, so setting aside quieter, less brightly lit areas is something to consider. Desk assessments can help identify whether computer screens are the right brightness level, and whether employees have the right equipment – anything from trays and drawers to daily planners and screen overlays. The option to work from home may also be particularly valuable in the case of neurodivergent people.
It's well worth documenting any changes which are agreed – Aviva does this in the form of a workplace adjustment passport, designed to make it easier for individuals and managers to understand specific needs and how to meet them.
2. Make your communications clear and unambiguous
No matter what form your communications take, it’s important to say exactly what you mean – some neurodiverse people may not pick up on nuances in the same way a neurotypical person might do. Varying the format of your communications can also help people who digest information differently.
3. Help all of your employees to understand neurodiversity
Offering training in neurodiversity can help clear up potential misconceptions, making it clear that neurodiversity isn’t an illness or a single condition. This includes promoting the use of positive language – so employees never refer to neurodiverse colleagues as ‘suffering’ from something, or having learning difficulties. It’s also important to encourage an open, inclusive culture and to train managers to assign work tasks appropriately, meeting needs and playing to strengths.
4. Take a long hard look at recruitment processes
A ‘broad brush’ approach to recruitment could lead employers to miss out on the opportunity to recruit talented individuals. Not everyone is an all-rounder. For instance, a candidate may not be able to perform brilliantly across areas such as communication, the ability to be persuasive, or in situations requiring a high degree of emotional intelligence – but other strengths may more than make up for this. Equally, some neurodivergent individuals may not ‘interview well’ if they avoid eye contact or stray away from the question being asked. A more flexible recruitment process, involving time spent at the potential workplace rather than a formal interview, may be a better way to understand what a candidate can do.
5. Create a workplace policy on neurodiversity
Drawing up a framework for managers and employees to follow can set out steps to help prevent discrimination, harassment and victimisation. This could also be a good place to signpost useful resources or support networks.
Building a winning team is all about coaching the individuals within it in ways that bring out their own particular strengths rather than expecting them all to be good at the same things. Neurodiversity – like other forms of diversity – can bring a business the fresh perspectives that give it a competitive edge. Let’s make sure we support it.
For more on this topic download our Neurodiversity in the workplace guide.
The author is Debbie Bullock, Aviva Wellbeing Lead.
This article is provided by Aviva.
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