The Benefits Of Neurodiversity In The Workplace
Autistic environmental activist Greta Thunberg once commented that given the right circumstances, being different is a superpower. Within the workplace in particular, we know this to be true – diversity in the form of race, gender, and cultural background has been proven to boost innovation, engagement, and problem-solving. In recent years, however, the spotlight has also focused on neurodiversity, a term which encompasses conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. Although these conditions can cause challenges, they’re also proven to provide companies with a competitive edge that brings measurable benefits. Silicon Valley giants have been taking advantage of this untapped trove of talent for years, with SAP, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and Dell all transforming their HR processes to accommodate neurodiverse talent. However, no organisation is too small to follow in their footsteps. In this blog post, we’ll be taking a look at some of the specific benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace, along with how to attract and retain talent that thinks differently.
Creativity and innovation
How many times have you read in a job advertisement that a company is looking for candidates that ‘think outside the box’? The qualities of creativity and innovation are highly coveted by organisations seeking to respond to complex challenges or reinvigorate their way of doing things, particularly if they’ve become stuck in an innovation rut. Although it’s important to understand that not all neurotypical people are ‘gifted’ in the traditional sense, many do possess a unique way of looking at the world. For example, scientists have discovered that people with autism concentrate more of their brain’s resources on visual processing, and less on tasks like planning and impulse control. The result of this is that they can be up to 40% faster at problem-solving – an obvious plus point for companies always looking to stay a few steps ahead of the competition. Similarly, although individuals affected by ADHD can sometimes be impulsive and easily distracted, they’re scientifically proven to have the edge when it comes to creativity. They’re also more likely to take risks, which, when given due consideration, can prove more profitable than sticking with the status quo.
Increased productivity levels
If you’ve ever worked in a busy office, you may or may not be surprised to discover that the average worker is productive for only three hours per day, or an average of around 15 hours per week. Part of the reason for this is that we’re naturally easily distracted by social interaction, along with other activities we may consider more entertaining such as browsing Facebook or completing today’s Worldle before that ultra-competitive colleague. In contrast, however, certain neurotypical brains possess the ability to ‘tune out’ the surrounding world and achieve hyper-focus. This level of intensity can be channelled into tricky and time-consuming tasks that may confuse and overwhelm their neurotypical colleagues - for example, completing elaborate research or comprehensive data analysis. In fact, research has indicated that neurodivergent employees in certain tech roles are 90% to 140% more productive than their NT co-workers.
Although all human beings are pattern-seekers, for certain neurodiverse people, the ability to identify trends in information and data appears to be supercharged. In particular, people with autism often excel at pattern recognition and spotting anomalies, which could account for the higher-than-average prevalence of those on the spectrum within the IT industry. This is one of the reasons that defence forces around the world, such as those belonging to the Australian and Israeli governments, have actively been seeking autistic recruits for some time now, and we’re likely only just scratching the surface of what can be achieved if such talents are harnessed and supported in the right manner. However, it’s also important to consider that this ability to more effectively process information may also cause an individual to experience sensory overwhelm from stimuli that the neurotypical brain can normally tune out, such as blinking lights or background noise. It’s for this reason that employers must carefully consider how they can effectively support ND employees in the workplace in order to allow them to reach their full potential.
Increased employee retention rate
It’s an unfortunate fact that many neurodivergent candidates struggle to find employment. In fact, the ONS has confirmed that only 22% of autistic adults are able to find a job – a statistic that exceeds even the disability employment gap by nearly 30%. Part of the reason for this is that the recruitment process for most companies is geared entirely towards neurotypical abilities, instead of finding ways to support all candidates. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that when neurotypical candidates find employers that support and understand their needs, they’re highly loyal. This is confirmed by stats from the world’s largest autism hiring programmes at EY, SAP, JP Morgan, and Microsoft, each of which has an employee retention rate of more than 90%. This is all the more impressive given that tech firms traditionally have a higher than average staff turnover rate.
Increased employee engagement levels
We know that only 3% of neurodiverse employees are happy to disclose this to their employer. We also know that around 30% of the population is considered to be neurodiverse in some form. This means that many employees with conditions such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia work alongside their colleagues without the aid of adjustments that could make their working lives easier and happier. Employers that focus on recruiting and retaining neurodiverse talent are making a clear statement to their entire workforce that thinking differently is recognised and valued, giving that under-represented percentage a much-needed boost. Furthermore, in a recent workplace study, employers described their neurodiverse employees as “dependable, engaged, motivated, and highly productive.”
How to attract neurodiverse employees
Given that the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce are so clear, it’s only natural for employers to wonder how they can follow in the footsteps of Silicon Valley’s finest. Here are some of our top tips.
- Ensure your workplace works for everyone. Being clear and direct in all workplace communication is a great place to start. For instance, avoid asking if you can ‘have a two-minute chat’ with a co-worker if you know it’s more likely to take thirty; most will understand that this is a turn of phrase, but neurodivergent employees may not. It can also be helpful to allow all employees to stick to a predictable routine, keep working spaces free from excess noise and bright light, and allow easy access to equipment such as noise-cancelling headphones without asking questions. Furthermore, management should be trained to spot and avoid unconscious bias in themselves and their team, which can cause people to be favoured on the basis of subjective characteristics such as likeability, rather than their work performance.
- Become familiar with the issues candidates face. For instance, autistic people often have a strong desire to know in advance what’s going to happen and when, which can cause the typical hiring process to seem haphazard and stressful. It can be very helpful, therefore, to know which adjustments to make throughout the process to allow everyone to participate fully. It’s also vital to understand that some neurodiverse people may not understand how to fully explore and utilise their own strengths, and so may need assistance to uncover their own potential. Furthermore, it's beneficial for HR teams to understand that it’s fairly common for ND individuals to also suffer from mental health conditions such as anxiety, which has the potential to impact personal relationships and behaviour.
- Make neurodiversity part of your brand. This might include highlighting stories of your diverse workforce to showcase on your careers site, social media, and other communication platforms your organisation uses. In addition, ensure your company has a strong ED&I statement which reflects this commitment, and establish metrics that will enable you to tangibly measure the success of your efforts.
- Show your support. Ensuring that neurodiverse employees feel valued is key to attracting and retaining them. Managers should receive training to enable them to understand how best to support employees with extra requirements, and regularly update their knowledge. Organisations can also help to reduce stigma by appointing ambassador, or launching employee groups.
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