Supporting neuro-diverse colleagues at work

A Forbes article says According to BCG research, increasing workplace diversity improves the company's bottom line by 19%. The benefits of a diverse workforce are becoming known to all! Companies across sectors have upped both their efforts and investments in the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) space. These attempts however are more focussed on embracing diversities in gender, cultural background and ethnicity. While these are definitely important, it is also crucial to support and understand neurodiversity.

What exactly is Neurodiversity? Neurodiversity is a scientific concept arising from brain imaging. It refers to variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions in a non-pathological sense or a Forbes article says Neurodiversity is the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, which is regarded as part of normal variation in the human population.

This includes individuals with autism, ADHD, dyslexia etc.

Research shows that organizations that employ neurodiverse individuals have a competitive advantage. These employees come with valuable skills and organizations stand to benefit from their diverse ways of thinking and operating. Gartner reveals that neurodivergent candidates are wired to think out of the box and gifted in skills that are essential for digital success. For example, people with ADHD have exceptional focus and problem-solving abilities. Similarly, autistic people are meticulous and have higher analytical thinking.

Ways to support neuro-diverse colleagues:

In order to help these individuals harness their full potential, each one of us has a role to play. Here are 3 ways in which you can support your neuro-diverse colleagues:

  1. Maintain structure and routine

If you are working with a neuro diverse colleague, coming up with a routine and setting a structure is important. Ensure you take time out to plan the day in advance and avoid last minute surprises. For employees with Asperger’s or ADHD for example sudden changes may cause a lot of stress. Be flexible to their needs so that they can maintain a healthy work life balance. An organized and harmonious way of operating is sure to reflect in their productivity.

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  1. Workspace accommodations

Many neuro divergent individuals struggle with sensory overload. Working in an ‘open’ office set up with a lot of people around can be detrimental both to their productivity and their mental health. Providing the option of a quiet place with minimal distractions may be a good idea to help them thrive. Facilities like noise cancelling devices can be a blessing for some autistic employees. As a colleague you could offer your support by not interrupting them when they are in the middle of a task.

  1. Giving them time out

Considering their special needs, a break from continuous work could actually help them work better when they get back. Whether it be for a check-up or simply for spending time alone or with family being considerate of their needs would go a long way. Be a good listener and allow him or her to share their thoughts. Offering a non-judgmental space to your colleague so that they can share how they feel would help to build rapport, lead to a fruitful collaboration and result in outstanding deliverables.

While dedicated efforts are still required, the seeds are definitely being sown. Some organizations have started to relook at their hiring practices and amend their policies keeping in mind the neuro-diverse work population.

Let’s hope that in the near future every organization is truly diverse and looks at neurodiverse employees as a welcome addition to their teams. Organizations that are taking the steps now are sure to reap benefits in the future and proudly march ahead of their competitors!

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