The evolution of employee benefits to better support neurodiversity
There are acute difficulties for neurodivergent people in both gaining access to and maintaining meaningful employment. Once in employment, arguably the majority of support responsibilities – such as reasonable adjustments, line manager support and duty of care –lie with HR. But how can reward and benefits also help?
As we will explore in next week’s Neurodiverse Benefits by Design article, listening to your employee networks, talking to suppliers and exploring support within your existing benefits products are all important starting points. However, there is more that can be done with employee benefits.
Wellbeing, corporate culture and reward and benefits all need to join forces. “Is there a benefit you can pick off the shelf that will serve neurodiverse people? Not to my knowledge,” says Nicola Roche, senior international benefits consultant and UK neurodiversity lead at Siemens.
Roche believes there is a lot of potential in employee benefits, especially in making traditional offers more accessible and inclusive.
“It comes down to how you design, or adjust, the design of the regular benefits you offer to make them more accessible and more fit for purpose for neurodiverse people,” she says, adding that she wants to influence private medical benefits and general wellbeing benefits providers, following advice from her neurodivergent employee network group.
Three key areas where traditional benefits can become more inclusive for neurodiverse employees are: diagnosis, supplier expertise and support for family members.
Supporting neurodiverse employees via group income protection
Most group income protection policies include return-to-work support for employees after ill health. Sophie Money, group protection wellbeing manager at Aviva, says neurodiverse workers may face different barriers in their return to work.
“We support employees and remove barriers, but also want to understand in depth what is going on for that individual and what’s happening for the employer,” Money adds. “Diagnosis is not the primary concern for us, we are focused on the individual, their experiences and what’s preventing them from succeeding at work.”
Money also points out that employers are recognising that their workforce is made up of individuals with their own particular set of skills, strengths and weaknesses. “Neurodiversity plays a part in that,” says Money. “That’s why there’s more questions on how to support neurodiversity in the workplace, and also why we are going to launch a neurodiversity pathway for group income protection customers.”
She adds that Aviva is being asked more frequently about support for neurodiversity. The new pathway will detail exactly what happens during a referral and what support would be provided to a neurodivergent person and their employer.
The cost of living crisis has challenged the financial wellbeing of all employees, but some neurodivergent workers may find this an especially difficult situation to control.
“Employers are starting to recognise the contribution of neurodiverse workers, so hopefully the current underemployment rate of that community will start to improve,” says Roche.
“With that in mind, there are going to be a number of neurodiverse employees who could well be in their first-ever paid job. And therefore receiving financial support and education around basic budgeting and savings is potentially really valuable.”
Roche adds that her neurodiverse employee network group highlighted the importance of financial education on how employment may affect state benefits such as disability living allowance or working tax credits. “Another one is support with pensions. Particularly how auto enrolment opts everyone in, but I don’t think that’s unique to neurodiverse employees.”
Sarah Steel, head of financial education at Cushon, agrees. “Every employee, regardless of background, should have a fair and equal chance to learn about and to access financial services and products,” she says. “That includes neurodiverse people, who may take on information and learn in very different ways. Companies need to develop strategies to accommodate everyone.”
Support for neurodiverse family members
Individual support is key, but an emerging trend across employee benefits in general is extending support to colleagues’ families and/or dependants. As awareness of neurodiversity grows in the workplace, it stands to reason that it is also growing in the school system and more children will be identified as neurodiverse.
Jan Vickery, wellbeing proposition lead at AXA, says extending workplace benefits to dependants can be an invaluable lifeline for employees. “We often see parents worried about their children [being neurodiverse],” adding that neurodiverse diagnosis waiting lists on the NHS are years rather than months. “The parent is going through hell [waiting for a diagnosis] and they need support as well.
“Because of the level of desperation, and the impact on parents, it’s in the interest of employers to make this sort of benefit open to families, because it will positively affect engagement and productivity,” she says.
There may be no one employee benefit that supports neurodiversity in the workforce, but reward and benefits professionals and providers have a key role in ensuring that traditional benefits such as group risk and private medical insurance are inclusive, that they lobby for change, listen to employees and adapt their strategies.