Neurodiversity In The Workplace – Adjustments And Practices For Employers To Consider

Increased workplace focus on neurodiversity; John Lewis/Wairose adapt interviews. City & Guilds report highlights need for inclusive policies, adjustments, and support mechanisms.
UK Employment and HR
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Whilst the term neurodiversity has been around for a long time, it is only within the last three to five years that there have been increased discussions about it within the workplace. John Lewis and Waitrose were the latest large company to announce changes within its organisation which will likely help neurodiverse job applicants. Their announcement confirmed that candidates will now see interview questions ahead of an interview in an attempt to make the process fairer. It has long been said that neurodivergent applicants are far more likely to struggle in interviews because of high levels of anxiety when in unfamiliar situations. Given the number of job vacancies in the retail industry it is hoped that by making this change it will be easier for John Lewis and Wairose to fill their vacancies.

According to a recent report on neurodiversity in the workplace by the City & Guilds Foundation there is a hidden pool of neurodiverse talent that employers are missing out on if they do not have an inclusive recruitment policy or an inclusive workplace that retains neurodivergent employees.

Statistics from the report show that out of the neurodivergent individuals they surveyed:

  • 50% had been off work during 2023 due to neurodivergent-related challenges
  • 36% had not received any guidance from their employer
  • 20% were still waiting for adjustments in the workplace to be put in place

Therefore, whilst neurodiversity in the workplace has become a far more familiar topic and the City & Guilds Foundation report an improvement in support for neurodiverse employees compared to previous years, it is clear there is still a lot more that can be done to support this demographic of the workforce.

Neurodiverse conditions are likely to mean that neurodiverse individuals will meet the definition of a disabled person contained within the Equality Act 2010. Therefore, where there are practices that disadvantage neurodiverse employees, employers are required to put in place reasonable adjustments to remove the disadvantages.

Examples of reasonable adjustments that have been found to help neurodiverse employees in the workplace:

  • Adjusting start times as some neurodiverse individuals can find mornings more difficult.
  • Shorter breaks throughout the day to help with concentration and avoid outbursts and heightened emotions.
  • Allowing more working from home as some neurodiverse individuals can become easily distracted in a busy office environment.
  • Have more one-to-one supervision sessions if this would help the individual to prioritise their workload, as neurodiverse individuals can find it difficult to concentrate on the one task when they have a high workload.
  • Allow the individual to work in a quieter part of the office to help with their concentration.
  • Giving clear verbal as well as written instructions. Depending on the individual it can be helpful for verbal instructions to be given one at a time and in a quiet location.

A recent case bought against the DWP by a former autistic employee found that the DWP had not made reasonable adjustments due to their failure to:

  1. allow the employee to bring a person of his choice to a formal meeting (rather than just a colleague or a trade union representative). The employee had wanted to be accompanied by a representative from a specialist organisation that supports autistic individuals; and
  2. deviate from their rule of not applying their "job carving" policy to employees on their probationary period. The claimant in this case was in his probationary period. It was found that the DWP's "job carving" policy, which endeavours to find alternative roles for people with disabilities, would have eliminated the disadvantage he was at in his role.

This is just one example of many where Tribunals have found that employers have not gone far enough to support neurodiverse employees in the workplace.

In order to prevent neurodiverse employees from being at a workplace disadvantage in the first place and to create an inclusive environment where neurodiverse employees feel supported, organisations should consider whether they can implement any of the following support mechanisms:

  • Have a peer mentoring programme where neurodivergent employees have a dedicated person in the business that they feel they can speak to about their conditions and can seek support if they need it.
  • Have a neurodiversity champion programme which promotes and supports the inclusion of neurodivergent individuals in the workplace. Neurodivergent champions can also serve to raise awareness and understanding of neurodiversity within the business helping to create the culture of openness and inclusivity.
  • Implement neurodiversity training for HR, managers and any neurodivergent champions you might have in the business to create a better understanding of the types of conditions, the potential impacts at work and how employees can be supported.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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