Embracing neurodiversity for frontline workers

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In May of this year, Thriiver attended The Watercooler event where we conducted a workshop presenting three case studies of individuals with neurodiversity in an office environment. During the event, we had an interesting conversation that made us realise that whilst we hear about the importance of creating neuro-inclusive offices, there is rarely talk about best practice approaches to supporting frontline workers. This highlighted the lack of recognition that this topic deserves. 

Creating a neuro-inclusive environment is not only beneficial for individuals, but also enriches workplaces by bringing in diverse perspectives and talents. Various frontline sectors, including hospitality, customer-facing roles, and construction have significant representation of neurodivergent individuals. However, these environments often struggle to accommodate their needs effectively. 

Navigating employment

When considering suitable work environments for neurodivergent individuals, it’s important to address the unique challenges and opportunities these frontline roles present. Roles in hospitality or shop floor settings might initially seem less suitable due to erratic work schedules, prolonged working hours, intense sensory atmospheres, and high levels of customer interactions. However, with around 30-40% of neurodivergent people unemployed, these jobs can offer certain advantages such as lower entry barriers, flexible working patterns, and minimal qualification requirements (City Guilds, 2023). If the right accommodations are made these roles can become viable and fulfilling options for neurodivergent individuals. 

Neurodiversity in hospitality

According to The Burnt Chef Project (2022), it is estimated that one in two people working in hospitality is neurodivergent. This statistic highlights the industry’s potential for embracing diversity and the importance of appropriate accommodations. Additionally, the hospitality industry faces alarmingly high rates of mental health issues, with four out of five workers reporting having experienced at least one mental health issue during their career (Mental Health at Work, 2024). By accessing the right support, employers can transform these workplaces into inclusive environments that welcome and support all employees. 

Neurodiversity in construction

The construction sector also stands out for its significant representation of neurodivergent individuals, with one in four workers identified as neurodivergent according to a report by the National Federation of Builders (2023). Despite this presence, the same report revealed that 36% of workers had not disclosed their neurodiversity to their employer. However, encouragingly, of those who did inform their managers, 80% had reasonable adjustments made for them. 

This underscores the importance of fostering an environment where disclosure is encouraged and the positive outcomes that can result from it by implementing necessary accommodations. 

Neurodiversity in social care

Around one in four social care workers are neurodivergent, however a pilot study conducted in 2022 by Deb Solomon, Jenette Beetham, and Amanda Kirby, found that over half of the participants reported they received no specialist workplace support. 

Challenges for employees

  1. Unpredictable shifts: neurodivergent individuals often thrive on routine as it reduces stress and anxiety. However, working in environments such as hospitality means that shift patterns are unpredictable. 
  2. Disruptive work environments: similar to office-based roles, there can be high levels of noise, bright lights, and interruptions.
  3. Lack of awareness: many workplaces lack understanding and training on neurodiversity, resulting in insufficient support for neurodivergent individuals. 
  4. Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD): this involves extreme emotional sensitivity to perceived or actual rejection, which can be exacerbated in a high-pressure environment. 
  5. Burn out: this can be a challenge for everyone, particularly for neurodivergent individuals who tend to hyper-focus or find it hard to recognise cues such as feeling hungry or exhausted. 

How organisations can help

  1. Inclusive application process: simplify the application process and offer alternative ways to apply. Focusing on clear, concise language and outlining only the essential skills necessary for the role will encourage neurodivergent applications.
  2. Inclusive interviews: allowing candidates time to prepare for interview questions by giving them beforehand to decrease stress and anxiety. 
  3. Create a psychologically safe environment: a workplace that prioritises employees’ well-being and values their contributions will help create a psychologically safe working environment. This will lead to open communication where employees speak freely regarding concerns and make effective contributions. 
  4. Flexible work arrangements: where possible offer predictable schedules or provide advance notice of shift changes to accommodate the need for routine. In addition, communicate with employees to understand their work preferences. 
  5. Neurodiversity awareness training: conduct regular training sessions to educate staff and managers about neurodiversity. 

Case Study: Marriott International 

Marriott International announced its commitment to incorporate neuro-inclusive practices because of joining forces with The Neu Project, an initiative from Google’s Experience Institute. Since November 2023 Marriott-hosted customer meetings and events will have a quiet room, the opportunity to request accommodations such as fidget toys and noise-canceling headphones, and real-time subtitles and captions during stage presentations. 

Marriott International sets an example for other organisations on how to create a more inclusive environment demonstrating that any sector can become a welcoming place for all employees. 

About the author

Mia Kenward-Levene is a Sales and Marketing Executive at Thriiver, a company dedicated to empowering individuals and fostering inclusive workplace cultures. With experience working within current HR practices and policies, she emphasises the importance of diversity and inclusion. Drawing from her lived experience with neurodiversity, she is passionate about educating others and creating welcoming work environments through strategic marketing campaigns. 

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