9 More Tips to Get the Best Out of Your Neurodiverse Workforce

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Following this piece, where we gave you 14 tips, here are another 9 top tips for getting the best out of your neurodiverse workforce.

Remember, too, we have a rich stock of webinars touching on this topic, too, such as this one on Unlocking Neurodiversity in the Workplace.

Beware of burnout and exhaustion in your neurodivergent employee

Perhaps because of stigma, or desire to fit in or prove themselves, burnout can be an issue for neurodivergent people (see this article). Often neurodivergent people will work evenings and weekends to catch up and compensate for not being able to work as productively as they’d like to, due to their conditions, in a busy, sensory-overloaded office. 

Identifying this as early as possible and coming up with adjustments to accommodate them is the best thing to do as overworking in the longterm is not sustainable. One solution for some, for example, may be to build in more flexible working at times when they can be more productive.

Don’t get sidetracked by the label, treat the person in front of you

As Karen Phillpotts, Head of Clinical Standards, Optima Health says, in terms of occupational health, “it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you’ve got a diagnosis, what we look at is the person’s functioning and the emphasis is on treating people as individuals”.

Beware that a neurodivergent diagnosis often intersects with other conditions

Neurodivergent employees often present with multiple conditions/diagnoses, says Phillpotts.

“It could be mental health conditions, it could be physical conditions, but people often present with multiple conditions as well as neurodivergent conditions,” she says.

Jon Salmon is an award-winning content producer and co-founder of Byte Entertainment, as well as Co-CEO of the Speakers Collective social enterprise who campaigns on mental health and neurodiversity. He has seen this in his experience, too:

“I’ve found out by talking about my dyslexia that people with learning difficulties are more likely to experience feelings of anxiety, depression and low self esteem. That wasn’t the reason that I got really ill with my mental health but I think it was a contributing factor.”

Salmon is speaking at The Watercooler Event in London on 23-24 April about ‘Why neurodiversity and wellbeing need to be considered together in the workplace‘.

Beware, too, that it can be harder to disclose Neurodivergence than Mental Health 

Salmon explains why this was the case for him, in relation to his own dyslexia diagnosis:

“For me, mental illness was something I’d be able to recover from, whereas being dyslexic is part of me, and will always be part of who I am and the way I think and do things.”

The condition became easier to accept when he educated himself about the advantages and skills, but it was an adjustment and he only disclosed it in the workplace when he became self-employed because of the worry it would put employers off.

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“I felt a complete imposter at first. I thought if I disclosed it to organisations it would really hamper my career progression. It’s only been something I’ve started to talk about recently,” he says, adding he actually discloses his dyslexia via his email footer which reads ‘Made by dyslexia; expect creative thinking and small typos’.

Don’t shy away from conflict; it can be productive (and might be part and parcel with some neurodivergent conditions)

As Richard Peachey, Psychological Safety and Neurodiversity Advocate and co-founder of consultancy Lemonade, explains in this piece, conflict can often arise when certain neurodivergent colleagues interact with others, not necessarily with the intention of this. Workplaces need to get better at managing and benefiting from this conflict – which is essentially difference of opinion, which is needed to innovate.

As a neurodivergent person himself, Peachey suggests “reframing” to increase clarity. For instance, rather than instantly taking offence at something someone has said, try saying:

“I think what I heard you ask was this – is that right?”

“When someone says something you don’t agree with, it’s really powerful to ask them to repeat it,” he says. “For example saying ‘can you say that again?’. I’ve been told I’ve irritated people sometimes, but I’m just speaking. Some neurodivergent folk often think very quickly, often not fully thinking through the effects of what they’re saying, or how it might impact others, whilst storytelling can grow arms and legs.”

Neurodivergent colleagues may need more time to process information

“It takes me longer to do things,” says Salmon of his dyslexia. “So maybe in a meeting, I’ll be listening more than talking sometimes. I need time to process information. And sometimes in the workplace, there just isn’t enough time given to people to do this.”

He suggests being clear of the meeting agenda beforehand, so people can digest this before it starts. He also suggests “alternative ways for people to provide information” when it comes to recruitment, such as video or audio submissions.

“Listening to audiobooks has been a revelation for me!” he adds.

Leaders need to share their Neurodiversity stories

“The organisations that have made the biggest leaps in cultural change is where leaders at the top are leading by example,” says Salmon.

“Maybe sharing a small challenge or trauma or something from their past. Yes, you can have small groups within organisations supporting neurodivergent employees, but it really has to come from the leaders and managers. Only then are staff really going to feel comfortable opening up and bringing their true selves to work.”

Does your occupational health provider really understand neurodiversity?

Don’t think, either, that because you’ve taken on a provider that says they can deal well with neurodivergent colleagues that you’ve solved your lack of support for neurodivergent colleagues. According to auticon’s Cook, companies are often surprised and disappointed by the reality of provision when, for example, they undertake anonymous feedback surveys, with neurodivergent colleagues sharing their experiences openly.

“Often companies expected that their occupational health teams would understand neurodiversity and the support needed, but that’s not always the truth,” says Cook.

Take time for conversations to better understand your colleagues, neurodivergent or not

At the heart of unlocking the collective neurodiversity of your teams is understanding your colleagues and how they think and operate. Yes, this is an added challenge for already-stretched managers. However, it is one which will reap rich rewards. 

Also, it needn’t be too time consuming, either. Fundamentally, it’s about building in conversations so people can understand each other better. This can be done informally through starting conversations at the beginning of meetings (a trend started in Covid-19) or there are a raft of conversation-starting psychometric tools such as Myers-Briggs, DISC and Insights.

“It’s short term pain for a long term gain,” says Cook. “The objective is to ask the right curious questions to find out how someone works best, and to understand the whole team intimately. The truth is, though, teams are very rarely having these conversations.”

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