Why Is Neurodiversity in the Workplace Important?

Discover why a diverse team matters, and learn how to create an inclusive workforce for those with autism and special needs.

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Why Is Neurodiversity in the Workplace Important?

People have all types of different abilities. These include both physical capabilities and special needs, as well as differences in cognitive functioning. The term “neurodiversity” reflects the idea that people think, learn, communicate, and behave in a variety of ways.

Neurodiversity often relates to the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It may also describe neurological conditions like learning disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Individuals who are neurodivergent and have atypical mental or neurological functioning can increase overall diversity and inclusion in your workplace. Learn why neurodiversity in the workplace can benefit your team. Discover how it can help you achieve a more diverse workforce.

What is neurodiversity?

Harvard Health Publishing explains neurodiversity in this way:

  • People experience and interact with the world in a wide variety of ways.
  • There’s no “right” way of thinking or behaving.
  • Differences aren’t deficits. Rather, they can strengthen individuals and teams, including those in the workplace.

To support neurodiversity, employers and professional leaders must promote the inclusion and equity of neurological minorities. These may look like an autistic employee or a worker with ADHD.

Why is a diverse workforce important?

Employing people categorized as neurological minorities can help expose your workers to different types of people and ways of thinking. An inclusive workplace can make all workers feel more accepted at work. More diversity can also increase innovation.

As we’ve covered in our post on measuring diversity and inclusion in the workplace, there are major business benefits to creating a diverse inclusive team. Compared to teams that lag in diversity and inclusion, these benefits include:

  • Potential to increase overall performance by as much as 50%
  • A 19% increase in revenue
  • 2.3x higher cash flow per employee

Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are also connected to employee well-being. Companies that focus on these efforts are 1.7 times more innovative, too.

From recruiting, to hiring, to training and support, there are ways to ensure you effectively include neurodivergent employees. By accommodating them in your workplace, you can increase engagement for all your employees. You can also improve results for your business.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are also connected to employee well-being. Companies that focus on these efforts are 1.7 times more innovative, too.

How do you accommodate neurodiversity in the workplace?

According to Drexel University’s National Autism Indicators Report, 51% of autistic workers said their skills were higher than what their job required. Yet, many people with autism never make it past the interview stage because they’re not viewed as a “culture” fit. Others may not make the interview process, due to an issue like a spelling error on a resume.

It’s up to companies to recognize neurological differences. Businesses can combat prejudice throughout the hiring process. To attract and hire more neurodivergent employees, companies can:

  • Be more forgiving of imperfections on resumes, such as a typo
  • Focus only on must-haves for job descriptions in order to attract a more diverse candidate pool
  • Include neurodivergent employees in the interview process
  • Work to understand signs of neurodiversity, such as a lack of eye contact or a verbal tic
  • Feature neurodiversity in company training
  • Provide coaching and work support services to individuals who need special help
  • Offer flexible and remote schedules
  • Promote a focus of hiring employees from diverse backgrounds, with diverse capabilities and needs

If you discover a candidate has autism or another neurodivergent condition, work to accommodate them throughout the hiring process. This might look like providing them with interview questions in advance. Or, you might clearly outline what to expect from the interview process every single step of the way.

The National Autistic Society has a guide for hiring autistic employees. You can access it for tips that can help companies improve neurodiversity in the workplace.

Accommodating neurodivergent employees’ needs

Once neurodivergent individuals become employees, employers can work to support those employees in their work environments. Employers should encourage employees to talk with their supervisors about what their needs are. Adjustments might look like:

  • Creating a quiet break space at the workplace
  • Allowing movement breaks
  • Using clear communication with both verbal and written instructions
  • Building custom career-development plans that provide targeted support as employees work to advance their careers

When dealing with any employee, managers and leaders should use empathy and patience. Encourage supervisors to avoid judging employees. Some actions may be due to neurodivergent causes.

Foster open communication. Make employees feel comfortable to talk with their managers about what they need for an effective workplace.

Why you should hire neurodivergent employees

While we often overlook those in neurodiversity minorities while hiring, your business can be a leader in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Consider how hiring neurodivergent employees can give you an advantage.

1. It helps you fill labor shortages

In June 2022, the United States Chamber of Commerce reported there were significant labor shortages in industries including:

  • Food service
  • Hospitality
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail trade
  • Education
  • Health services

For businesses that are struggling to fill jobs, targeting neurodivergent employees can help you fill them.

Businesses can create an employee referral program to motivate employees to refer diverse candidates for open positions. You might also work with a recruiter that specializes in sourcing neurodivergent candidates so that you target all types of talent.

Another big benefit of hiring neurodivergent employees is that you can increase retention of your workforce. “Entrepreneur” reports employers who embrace disability in their talent strategy report a 90% increase in the retention of valued employees.

Much of the neurodivergent talent pool faces barriers to employment. When you hire these employees, you may see them stay at your company longer and put in greater effort to contribute.

What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve

Answer to see the results

2. Neurodivergent employees are becoming more prevalent

As we learn more about neurodiversity, that has led to a higher incidence of diagnosis of neurodivergent conditions. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in 2000, 1 in 150 children received an ASD diagnosis. In 2018, the number had steadily risen throughout the years to 1 in 44 children.

The labor pool is more likely to continue to have more neurodivergent individuals in it. Companies can adjust and accommodate differences now so that they’re set up for future success.

3. A diverse culture attracts consumers

Accenture studied 140 U.S. companies and identified “Disability Inclusion Champions” based on key categories related to disability inclusion and employment. The study found over the 4-year period researchers analyzed, Disability Inclusion Champions achieved:

  • 28% higher revenue
  • 111% increased net income
  • 30% higher economic profit margins

The Ipsos Global Trends 2021 report found 70% of respondents purchase from brands they believe reflect their own principles. Companies can promote their inclusion efforts to the public. This can attract both consumers who identify as neurodivergent and consumers in general who want to purchase from inclusive brands.

4. Neurodivergent employees make other employees more effective

teams with neurodivergent professionals can be 30% more productive than those without them.

According to Deloitte Insights, teams with neurodivergent professionals can be 30% more productive than those without them. Inclusion can also boost team morale.

To effectively work with neurodivergent employees, workers must use skills like communication, empathy, and understanding. As you diversify your workforce, all your employees can broaden their understanding of humanity and develop important skills.

This helps your entire workforce be more accommodating, and can lead to improved problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity for your business. That can improve your product or service and how you present your offerings to customers.

5. Neurodivergent employees offer unique talents

As we previously mentioned, the majority of neurodivergent employees feel like they have more talent than what they’re using on the job. Some neurodivergent employees have savant-like skills in particular areas. These unique talents can propel your business.

Strengths-based leadership benefits all your employees. According to Gallup research, employees who use their strengths are 6x more likely to identify as engaged at work. They are also more productive and perform at higher levels. By enabling neurodivergent employees to use their strengths at work, you can reap great business benefits which can extend to their team members and departments.

Neurodiversity in the workplace strengthens inclusion

Not all special needs are visible. Some may not even reveal themselves from the onset of hiring.

When you prioritize inclusion at all times, your business can:

  • Motivate neurodivergent candidates to apply for work at your company
  • Make your workforce feel supported
  • Improve your workforce culture, which can engage both employees and consumers

To make your workforce more inclusive, evaluate your current hiring methods and organizational structure. Identify areas you can improve to be more inclusive and less exclusionary. Provide training to hirers and managers so they facilitate open communication regarding special needs.

When you promote understanding and empathy from the top down, you’ll naturally be more inclusive. Focus on the human side of your workforce. Celebrate differences. Business results will be more likely to follow.

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