14 Tips to Get the Best Out of Your Neurodiverse Workforce


We’re publishing this feature just ahead of Neurodiversity Celebration Week on Monday 18 March – Sunday 24 March. Some food for thought before it starts!

Here are 14 tips that we’ve collated from a range of experts, for inclusive employers who want to understand the key issues and strategies when it comes to supporting your neurodiverse workforce. If you’ve still got questions after reading this, don’t forget to tune in to our webinar “Unlocking neurodiversity in the workplace – debunking myths and embracing differences”.

1. Move to recognising neurodiversity is a spectrum much like mental health

Businesses are gradually realising that neurodiversity is a spectrum that we’re all on and there needs to be an evolution (similar to what’s happened in mental health) to increase understanding of this. 

We need to understand neurodivergent conditions – like autism, ADHD and dyslexia – generally better whilst also understanding the way these manifest in behaviour can be very different and each individual is, well, individual!

2. Younger generations are joining the workforce expecting you to be familiar with, and able to provide, the support they need

Quite apart from the legal requirements to provide reasonable adjustments for protected characteristics (of which neurodiversity is one; under the Equality Act 2010) at work, employers should be aware that younger generations joining the workforce now expect their neurodivergence to be accommodated. 

With so many more diagnoses now being made, greater numbers are coming to the workforce having had tools to help them through the education system which they expect to have from day 1 at work.

Global technology firm Texthelp, which creates software for inclusive learning and working, partners with many schools, colleges & universities in the education sector. According to Principal Marketing Specialist Donna Thomson, “while there is still great progress to be made, the education sector has seen improvements in supporting neurodiverse students in recent years. For example, there has been a growing recognition and understanding of neurodiversity among educators, students and parents. And, this awareness is helping to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with conditions such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD. This mindset shift is having a positive impact on students in education today as they are growing up with more confidence in their own abilities and the knowledge that it’s okay to think, learn and work differently from your peers. In fact, thinking differently is where innovation and out-of-the-box thinking happens.”

The problem is, there’s a “massive gap between the awareness and support that’s provided throughout the education system and the world of work, and this has to change”, says Thomson.

3. Ask everyone what work accommodations they want, not just neurodivergent people

The problem with singling out neurodivergent colleagues for ‘adjustments’, as Thomson says, is that’s still not inclusive:

“Say for example that a member of your team is confident enough to ask for additional support to do their job and they get the tools they need. In one sense, this can be effective as it removes barriers for this individual to work. However, the flipside is that this person is still working in isolation, working differently from their peers and therefore likely still faces barriers to collaborate at work. Getting help is still not normalised – it’s not mainstream.”

Consequently, it’s important, especially when graduates are taking their first job, to understand that they may not want to draw attention to themselves or, as Thomson says, “do anything that risks not getting the job, or getting promoted, or being stigmatised for being different”. A whopping 76% of people do not disclose at work. For that reason, inclusive onboarding where every new recruit is asked what they need to work at their optimum is paramount.

4. Support must be ongoing

But don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve ‘done’ neurodiversity if you are recruiting neurodivergent employees and providing them with adjustments, or tools, as part of the onboarding process.

“This is not just about putting a poster up and recruiting neurodiverse people. It’s about really continually listening and responding to every individual and making those adjustments to make sure they can thrive,” says Jon Salmon, mental health campaigner and Co-CEO of the Speakers Collective social enterprise.

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Salmon, who is also an award-winning content producer through his co-founded firm Byte Entertainment, is speaking about ‘Why neurodiversity and wellbeing need to be considered together in the workplace’ at The Watercooler Event in London on 23-24 April.

“Enabling your entire workforce with inclusive technology is a great first step in becoming more neuro-
inclusive” says Thomson. “It can be easy to implement, work across multiple platforms and devices and offer discreet support without requiring employees to self-identify. But to truly drive workplace inclusion and make an impact, business leaders, DEI teams, ERG leads and champions must work together to create a safe workplace environment where everyone is comfortable bringing their authentic self to work and this won’t happen overnight.”

How are you driving inclusion in your workplace?

5. Ask yourself – could your company do more on adjustments?

The general consensus from Neurodiversity consultants is – yes. Companies could be doing a lot more.

As an example, Richard Peachey, Psychological Safety and Neurodiversity Advocate, cites walking meetings, and outdoor workspaces. He says the tech giants like Facebook and Microsoft are leading in innovative adjustments. Facebook, for example, even has a walking track around its premises to encourage outdoor walking meetings. These can be particuarly good for some neurodivergent people, as well as neurotypical people, and can be achieved with standing desks and treadmills too.

Optima Health also recommends these guides for inspiration on adjustments:

ADHD Reasonable Adjustments (adhduk.co.uk)

Employing autistic people (autism.org.uk)

Reasonable Adjustments in the workplace – British Dyslexia Association (bdadyslexia.org.uk)

6. Hot desking may not suit some of your neurodivergent colleagues

Hot desking can be a source of anxiety for neurodivergent people, such as those with autism, dyslexia or ADHD, especially if they have to sit in a noisy location. 

“People with concentration problems may really struggle with that,” says Karen Phillpotts, Head of Clinical Standards, Optima Health. “One of the easiest solutions is, if a person is coming into the office a few times a week, then they get allocated a certain desk.”

She adds noise cancelling headphones can also help. 

“Again, the biggest emphasis needs to be on the individual and what they need,” she says.

7. Embrace technology

Technology has helped in the destigmatisation and normalisation of adjustments, like listening rather than reading content. 

Keep on top of what tech might be on the horizon to help (AI is developing at an astonishing rate, for instance) and bear in mind that, while it might specifically help neurodivergent colleagues, it will probably help the workforce in general too.

8. Keep consulting your staff

Neurodiversity isn’t a tick box exercise. 

For one thing, attitudes towards it and variables like terminology are constantly evolving. Therefore it’s imperative that companies are “constantly getting the temperature and asking employees what they think,” says Salmon. 

He suggests regular surveys (auticon in this article talks about how revealing its anonymous surveys of neurodivergent colleagues tend to be) and engagement work.

9. Terminology

Knowing how to describe someone can be tricky as people often have very personal preferences. Best practice currently is to ask them and follow their lead.

“The bottom line is people will want to be labelled in the way they want to be labelled. I think that is one thing that will remain a constant in a landscape that is ever changing when it comes to language,” says texthelp’s Thomson.

10. Don’t use the superhero narrative (or at least be wary of it)

With the rise in awareness around neurodiversity has come the rise in a narrative where neurodivergent people are often described as having “super powers”. 

While some like this narrative, some hate it. And it’s worth bearing in mind that, while some may have exceptional strengths which can be harnessed for good in society, others may really struggle to find peace with their condition. 

Many neurodivergent people also struggle to find, or stay in, employment. So, talking about superpowers may seem at times insensitive, trite or lacking in understanding. 

Kirsty Cook, Global Director, at neurodiversity & inclusion consultancy auticon, agrees: “Neurodivergent people do have a lot of strengths. But they’re not superhuman. It does us a disservice to present that message.”

Salmon has a very personal take on this, too:

“For a few years, people have talked about neurodiversity being a superpower. And when I first heard it, I quite liked it. But was it a superpower when I was struggling to get my Maths GCSE? No. It certainly wasn’t. So yeah, language is really important.”

11. Encourage them to bring their whole self to work

Again, people are divided on this one but, certainly, it’s acknowledged that many neurodivergent people end up putting a lot of energy into ‘masking’ their conditions to fit in and, therefore, have less energy to be productive in their jobs. 

A culture which embraces and encourages them, and everyone else, to be open about their challenges, as well as their strengths, is only going to help unlock more of their bandwidth.

12. Beware that stigma still exists

“There is a still a stigma [around neurodiversity],” says Phillpotts. “Especially with those who are uneducated around this area, but hopefully that will change as people are increasingly empowered to come forward.”

13. Make education a priority 

“There’s still a lack of understanding within the workplace around neurodiversity,” says Salmon. 

For instance, in the case of dyslexia (which he now has a diagnosis of), he says one in ten people in the UK have some degree of dyslexia. “Whereas only 17% of employers have a good understanding of the condition,” he says.

In his experience, this lack of understanding manifests from the minute an individual applies to work for an organisation in terms of how the recruitment process is structured.

14. Could a 4 Day Week work best for your company?

For auticon’s Cook, the 4 Day Week is a “no brainer” for neurodivergent colleagues.

“Given their challenges around regulations, a 4 Day Week could really help,” she says.

Neurodivergent talent could benefit from a 4 Day Week, for instance, because they take Wednesdays off which gives them a chance to “re-regulate” then go back to work refreshed and at their highest productivity level.

As with any neurodivergent accommodations, tailoring is key. For others, a Monday may be difficult
due to the impending small talk that they’re rather avoid that day altogether to reduce anxiety
and distraction from their work.

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