Neurodiversity at work is a topic growing at an exceptional rate. As HR professionals and people managers, we know you have so many questions! So we’ve invited Mel Francis, Director of Neurodiversity at Work at Do It Solutions and founder of Neuroinclusive HR to answer some of your burning queries.

Hello! Thanks for having me today, hopefully I can help clear up a few questions and a couple of myths for the HR world. We recently teamed up with 10to3 to bring you a 3-part series covering recruitment, culture and employee relations aspects of neurodiversity at work. You can watch the full series here, but I’m going to run through some of the live questions that came through ‘on the day’ and my advice for these challenges. Let’s go!

Q: How do I ‘just get started’ with building awareness of Neurodiversity at work?

A: Building awareness of neurodiversity at work is critical so we can all understand and appreciate our brilliant brains.  But not everyone is on the same page, so my advice is to treat this as a marathon and not a sprint.  Talk to others about their experiences and start to gather your tribe of fellow neurodiversity (ND) champions.

Once you have a few people in your tribe, start to plan what you are going to do to raise awareness across the business.  Ask questions like; does everyone understand what ND is, and what the conditions are?  If not, then an awareness session is a great start, but then what?  Plan for the next steps once you have raised awareness.  That could be the creation of an Employee Resource Group and/or a place to post useful resources.

You may want to train a group of people to be Neurodiversity Champions, who can be available to discuss ND and to support all ND conversations across the business.  The ND Champions work in a similar way to Mental Health First Aiders in that they are colleagues with a higher level of knowledge and can signpost to appropriate support.  The course is run by Professor Amanda Kirby’s business, Do-IT Solutions Ltd.

Q: How can we give people the confidence to manage neurodiversity at work?

A: ‘The fear of saying the wrong thing’ is real! Start by building a safe space in your organisation to have open conversations. Our introductory workshops or lunch-and-learn sessions can really help kickstart this process.

If you aren’t quite there yet, share these free videos with your team.

When you are in a position to invest in neurodiversity work training, that is your next step. Do It can help you design something bespoke that will work for your team.

And finally – make support readily accessible. 10to3’s collection of Neuroinclusive videos are designed as a just-in-time learning resource that will help managers have great conversations about neurodiversity exactly when they need it.

Q: Line managers don’t have time to give extra support – how can I overcome this mindset?

A: The first point to make here is that neurodiverse conditions are covered by the Equality Act 2010, so managers have a legal obligation from day 1 to ensure that people are not discriminated against throughout the recruitment process and employment.

Not everyone needs extra support, but some people do. It is really important that managers get to know their team and understand their strengths and their challenges.

Taking time to understand neurodiversity, through an awareness session is a great investment of your time.  You can then encourage your teams to speak to each individual to begin to understand them better, and help to put in place the right mechanisms to enable them to thrive.

Adjustments will be unique to each person, but some examples might include; text to speech software (did you know that this already exists on Office 365?), lighting changes, specific seat allocation (maybe away from thoroughfares for example), meeting agendas in advance, the choice to have cameras off in remote meetings and so on and so on!

To reiterate, these are personal and unique and there is no ‘one size fits all’. Not everyone with autism needs noise cancelling headphones and nor does everyone with dyslexia need coloured paper.  Ask and you will be surprised.

Most of the accommodations people would find useful are low or no cost. Where costs are involved, it is worth exploring possible funding through Access to Work.

Q: Should we be providing examples of reasonable adjustments? How do I sustain a reasonable adjustment approach?

A: What is ‘reasonable’ depends on what is required and the extent to which it can be ‘reasonably’ supported.  But, there is no definition of what is ‘reasonable’ and I would like to think that we will do all we can to enable someone to do their job.

The employment tribunal will look at the size of your organisation when determining the line of ‘reasonableness’. If you are a large employer, with the ability to support accommodations, then they will expect you to do so. Failure to do so could be seen as discriminatory.

Q: What if a neurodivergent employee is brilliant at their job technically, but consistently has poor people skills and can’t work as part of the team? 

A: Be careful not to write someone off for doing things differently. In this situation I’d first ask a couple of questions:

  • Is working well with a team part of their job?
  • Do they ‘not communicate well’ or do they ‘not communicate like everyone else?’

Then make sure you have raised the challenge with the employee; tell them it’s not okay (this feedback technique will work well here) and the impact it’s having, and provide some coaching if needed. There are loads of brilliant neurodiversity coaches out there to support you.

When you have a truly neurodiverse team it will bring its own challenges. But the benefits of achieving true neurodiversity at work will create brilliant, growing, boundary pushing organisations that brilliant people want to be a part of.

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