Neurodivergence in the Workplace: What to Know

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Key takeaways

Neurodivergent workers are often highly qualified but overlooked because they don’t fit the norms of a “good candidate.”

Most hiring managers have been there before: A candidate looks excellent on paper, but then they struggle during the interview, perhaps with difficulty articulating thoughts, avoidance of eye contact and nervous habits. It’s easy to pass on this candidate in favor of a poised, well-spoken prospect, but the employer could be missing out on a hardworking, capable employee with excellent credentials.

That’s because some prospects who struggle in social situations like interviews could be “neurodivergent.” Verywell Mind shares, “Neurodivergence is the term for when someone’s brain processes, learns, and/or behaves differently from what is considered ‘typical.’” There are many conditions that fall under the neurodivergent umbrella including autism, ADHD, dyslexia and a host of additional chronic mental health conditions. 

Neurodivergence isn’t a problem or illness, but rather a different way of learning and processing information. People who are neurodivergent often struggle to fit the profile of what makes a good employee—good communication skills, being a team player, emotional intelligence, persuasiveness, ability to network, and ability to conform to standard practices. However, many neurodivergent individuals have higher-than-average abilities that employers seek.

Untapped Potential of Neurodiverse Workforce
This is leading a growing number of companies to prioritize “neurodiversity”—which recognizes and embraces differences in the ways people’s brains process information, function and present behaviorally. The neurodiverse population is a largely untapped talent pool, with unemployment running as high as 80% and many neurodiverse people who are working being underemployed. 

Organizations that are hiring neurodiverse talent are experiencing many advantages:

  • Productivity gains
  • Quality improvement
  • Boosts in innovation
  • New perspectives 
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Stronger reputation
  • A greater sensitivity to individual employee needs

How to Support Neurodiversity at Your Workplace
Are you ready to prioritize neurodiversity at your workplace and tap into a pool of highly qualified workers? Here are three strategies to support neurodiversity at your organization. 

1. Neurodiversity Training and Awareness
Training can help employees understand what to expect from neurodivergent colleagues—and can help managers know how to best support neurodivergent workers. Opening up the conversation about neurodivergence in your workplace can raise awareness about the strengths and challenges experienced by neurodivergent workers. This will help build understanding at your company, while tackling discrimination and stereotyping. 

2. Inclusive Hiring Practices
Traditional hiring practices and interviews oftentimes screen out neurodiverse talent. Drop superficial norms that traditionally make a “good candidate” (such as good eye contact and a strong handshake) and instead consider a flexible approach that tailors the hiring process to candidates’ specific needs. 

For example, some people may be more comfortable being interviewed on the phone or virtually, rather than in person. Others might excel in a noninterview-based assessment that allows prospects to demonstrate their abilities through casual interactions. Some neurodiverse individuals may do better presenting examples of their work rather than performing on-demand assessments. This flexible approach requires employers to discuss a candidate’s needs—and then tailor the interview process accordingly.

3. Reasonable Adjustments for Workers
There are many simple, low-cost adjustments you can make to your workplace to help support neurodivergent workers. Accommodations could vary person to person, but examples include

  • Allowing remote work and flexible working arrangements
  • Reducing sensory stimuli (different lighting, noise-canceling headphones, privacy rooms)
  • Giving employees freedom to take breaks as needed
  • Providing assistive technology (live captioning, speech-to-text or text-to-speech software, writing assistant apps, time management apps)

Want more? Check out these 5 employee benefits that help support diversity.

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