What you see on the outside doesn’t always reflect what’s going on inside. And it can be dangerous to assume what a person can do or how they’ll behave, just by looking at them.
Neurodiverse conditions – like dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism – affect approximately one in seven people in the UK, according to the consultancy Lexxic. These conditions affect the way the brain processes information, but often with no obvious signs to the naked eye that the brain is working differently.
These ‘hidden’ conditions can have a massive impact on the way that people work. Although children are being diagnosed much earlier than before, the workplace has a long way to go to catch up. Neurodiverse employees in the workplace are likely to have had a difficult time at school – struggling to keep up and wondering why they couldn’t pick up tasks as quickly as their classmates. Because of this experience, some might try to hide their neurodiversity when they enter the workplace.
This means that often employers don’t know about their employees’ neurodiversity until there’s an issue. This might be linked to their performance or behaviour in the office, and reported by line managers or other colleagues. The employee concerned could feel ostracised, even if the employer handles the situation sensitively after it’s raised. In the worst-case scenario, like with the recent example at npower, employees with neurodiverse conditions are dismissed, with no consideration for reasonable adjustments that could prevent this outcome.
So, what can employers do to encourage employees to be open about their conditions?
First, their needs to be a culture change. Adapting to a modern working environment means workplaces need to be tolerant, inclusive and open. Workplaces that are embracing diversity and inclusivity, and offering support that goes beyond the workplace, are attracting the best new talent.
Encouraging line managers to have regular catch-ups with employees about their work/life balance and stresses can help to create strong relationships. Building this rapport helps employees feel more comfortable, and can encourage them to be open and ask for help if they need it.
Education also has a large part to play. While people are likely to be aware of autism or dyslexia, unless line managers have direct experience of managing these conditions in the workplace, they’re not likely to know what’s involved. That’s where advice from the experts is invaluable. They can help with specialist assessments, suggest reasonable adjustments for employees with neurodiversity, and work closely with employers to find a solution that supports the employee too.
Employers could also carry out assessments when new employees start. This helps anyone with a disability or health condition understand what reasonable adjustments their employer can make to ensure they’re working to the best of their abilities. It’s not just a good idea for the business to understand their employees’ needs, but also lets employees know that their employer is open to diversity in the workplace. From the first impression, this helps to establish an open and inclusive company culture.
Employees with neurodiverse conditions can find some aspects of work challenging, but they also bring a different viewpoint and are an invaluable asset to any business. For example, they are often very diligent and have excellent attention to detail, helping to spot mistakes or highlight potential issues. Before jumping to conclusions, employers should look below the surface, and ensure process, management and the environment offers support to all aspects of diversity in the workplace.
If you are affected by the issues touched on in this post and need further support, get in touch!
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