Your (Already) Neurodivergent Workplace

It's easy to get sucked in to thinking that buzz words are just that - buzz words. That they don't really mean anything and, like platform shoes and Noel Edmonds, they'll be consigned to the dustbin and maybe occasionally revived for nostalgia's sake.

But neurodiversity is different. Among all the chatter and the thought leadership, there is real-world evidence emerging that neurodivergent workplaces do better than others - and indeed, there is real-world evidence that the only difference is between those who know they are neurodivergent, and those who don't know.

In other words, there's more neurodivergence than you thought, and if you know, then you can help people.

A step back - what is neurodiversity?

A person who is 'neurodivergent' would be someone whose brain functions differently from someone who would be 'neurotypical'. That may imply differences in how they react socially, how they learn or how they focus.

Often, this would imply people on the autistic spectrum, people with ADHD or medical conditions that might present challenges or even strengths when it comes to different situations in the workplace.

So now you know what it is...

Here's what's happening in organisations right now - once you know what neurodiversity is, you start to notice it more. Indeed, once you start to diagnose neurodiversity, as is the case with Michael Queenan, the CEO of Nephos Technologies, you can do something about it. He has recently been in the news after being diagnosed with autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

He himself had noticed burnout, sensory overload and as a result being overly blunt with people.

Once he was formally diagnosed, he changed the way he worked. For example, he told people only to bother him with something if he needed to be directly involved. He would manage his diary better, reducing back-to-back meetings and bought noise-cancelling headphones.

So if one man can do it...

Queenan's example is very specific, but as greater numbers of adults in the workplace are receiving formal diagnoses of neurodiversity - after spending their whole lives unaware - it's now a workplace issue. Or, rather than seeing it as an issue - it's a workplace opportunity.

Greater numbers of businesses are creating conditions for neurodiversity, and there are large numbers of start-ups that are focusing on neurodiverse people and how to help organisations create those conditions. 

That includes a better understanding - company-wide - of why people may be reacting certain ways to workplace pressures. And once you have that understanding, developing new working practices to integrate neurodiversity.

That could be:

  • Reducing volumes of meetings
  • Changing working hours
  • Identifying sensory overload at work & creating measures to reduce it
  • Training teams on neurodiversity

But a greater understanding could ultimately lead to changing of roles and responsibilities, or at the very least, a changing of how certain roles operate.

In my own world of digital marketing, I've noticed significant neurodiversity in paid search. I've recently met several people with ADHD who thrive in managing multiple paid campaigns at the same time, as it gives them the opportunity to jump between tasks. They are magnificent plate-spinners and approach problems in a different way to someone who could be described as neurotypical.

They tend to need support when it comes to things like ad copy, for example. A workplace that has a neurodiversity policy would be able to recognise this and put procedures in place that would support these employees with elements of their role where they are, perhaps, less able.

And when it comes to training people in the workplace, are we confident that everyone learns the same way? Neurotypical people may find it easier to take on reams of information in a short period, but this isn't always the case with neurodivergent people. 

As always, it's a case of recognising first, and then creating the environment second.

So you likely already have a neurodivergent workplace. You just don't know it, and many of your people may not yet know it. A little training may go a long way...

Published on Mar 01, 2023 by Gareth Cartman