By Deana Phillips – Solicitor
Diversity. Inclusivity. What does this mean in today’s working environment? Why does acknowledging and embracing neurodiversity lead to creating a thriving workplace culture? Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of neurological differences, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. As these conditions often remain invisible employers must be aware of the signs, their legal responsibilities, and the benefits of having a neurodiverse workforce.
The UK Equality Act 2010 means it is illegal to discriminate against people with neurodivergent conditions. Employers are expected to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs.
Behavioural expectations should be based on the individual’s abilities, not stereotypes associated with their condition, and handled sensitively.
Here our employment law expert Deana Phillips explores neurodiversity, offering practical tips for both employers and employees. These details are based on diagnosis following recognised tests completed by trained professionals. As everyone is different, the signs can be unique to the employee so avoid the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Also, be aware that some employees may not want to openly divulge their condition.
People diagnosed with autism may have traits which are actually unique strengths such as exceptional attention to detail, deep focus, heightened problem-solving abilities, and innovative thinking. They can approach tasks with a fresh perspective, leading to creative and innovative solutions. Their commitment to tasks can result in exceptional productivity and quality of work.
Additionally, neurodivergent employees can possess specialised skills or niche expertise, making them valuable to a business.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
People with this neurodevelopmental condition can face challenges in maintaining attention, controlling impulses, and managing hyperactivity. These traits can mean that employees with ADHD are often highly creative, think outside the box, are hyper-focussed and thrive in dynamic, fast-paced environments.
Individuals with ADHD can bring energy to the table, motivating others and infusing a sense of urgency into projects. An ability to multitask can be an asset in roles that are juggling multiple responsibilities requiring problem solving skills, and a talent for adapting swiftly to change.
This neurodivergent condition can result in difficulties in reading, spelling, and sometimes writing. People with dyslexia exhibit exceptional strengths such as problem-solving, visualisation, creative thinking and a fresh viewpoint that can be highly valuable in the workplace.
Many dyslexic employees are innovative, and highly adaptable (having developed ways to manage their reading and writing difficulties). This adaptability can extend to handling uncertainty or responding to new situations effectively.
By offering support and being adaptable (including with written and verbal communications), employers can tap into the unique strengths of neurodivergent employees.
8 tips for unlocking the potential of neurodivergent talent
1. The invisible nature of neurodivergence and signs for employers to look out for
Neurodivergent conditions can be masked, presenting unique challenges for individuals during social interaction, with certain communication, and sensory processing. Employers should watch out for signs such as difficulty with eye contact, sensory sensitivities, social anxiety, or exceptional attention to detail. Recognising these signs can be the first step towards supporting neurodivergent employees.
2. Understanding employer responsibilities
Employers have a legal responsibility to create an inclusive workplace for all employees, including those with neurodivergent conditions. The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate against employees based on disability, including neurodivergence. Educating staff about neurodiversity is an important part of fulfilling these responsibilities, and can be within a wider Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policy to promote positive mental health and wellbeing.
This is not a tick-box exercise.
It is not enough to simply have a policy sitting largely undisturbed in a dusty corner (virtual or actual). It’s UK law. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to support neurodivergent employees.
A supportive and inclusive workplace culture is vital in a progressive business. Raising awareness of neurodiversity can include specialist training or signposting employees towards expert guidance. A culture that recognises different ways of thinking or working, and has made reasonable adjustments, can create an environment where neurodivergent employees feel they can speak freely about their condition.
3. Neurodivergent conditions and myths
Neurodiversity encompasses a wide spectrum of conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. Common myths that individuals lack empathy or cannot excel in certain roles because they have been diagnosed with a neurodivergent condition must be rejected. Each person’s capabilities are unique, and embracing neurodiversity while providing the right environment for employees to thrive can unlock hidden talents.
4. UK neurodiversity among genders
Recent UK research from the National Autistic Society reveals that neurodiversity is not gender-specific. About 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum (other neurodivergent conditions are not uncommon). These statistics show the need for inclusive practices across genders.
5. What can employers do to support neurodivergent employees?
Provide diversity training: Do your employees understand what neurodiversity is (and what it is not) and the importance of equality and inclusivity in the workplace? Training should be available to all employees and regularly followed up so theory becomes practice.
- Promote supportive practices: Educate employees on how to create a supportive and inclusive workplace environment. Think about what can be done to remove barriers for neurodivergent employees in the workplace to encourage everyone to reach their potential. Steps are to be action-based, not merely paying ‘lip service’ to EDI.
- First Aiders: Make sure individuals are trained by recognised experts to help with mental health and neurodiversity-related concerns. Having help on-hand from mental health first aiders in addition to physical first aiders, is essential for creating a supportive and inclusive culture.
6. Create a culture of open communication
Following on from 5 above is creating a positive environment that encourages employees to talk about their challenges and needs.
Let’s consider the famous singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi who has been open about being neurodivergent. Following his performances at Glastonbury in 2023 he announced his need for rest and recuperation, admitting the challenges he faced (as have others in the spotlight). The resulting attention highlighted why it is important to provide the right environment for people to admit when they are struggling. Lewis voicing concerns was seen by many as a sign of strength, paving the way for others to speak out when they are experiencing difficulties, without fear of judgment.
7. Embedding neurodiversity awareness in business
Given the UK statistics about neurodiversity, raising knowledge and awareness should be considered and positive processes embedded within organisations. Review recruitment and daily operations for improvements. How could your business create a happier, inclusive and diverse environment that is fostering innovation and creativity?
8. If you have a neurodivergent condition, what steps can you take to receive the right support at work?
- Self-advocacy: Speak openly about your condition and how it can impact your work.
- Request support: Ask for reasonable adjustments to help you excel in your role.
- Educate colleagues: Share information about neurodiversity to raise awareness.
As a UK employer, it is important to recognise the invisible nature of neurodivergence, understand legal responsibilities, taking sensitive and proactive steps to create an equal, diverse and inclusive culture.
With the right support and practical steps in place, both employers and employees can create a thriving, neurodiverse and positive environment in which everyone can reach their full potential.
Would you would like legal advice from our employment law team about requirements under The UK Equality Act 2010? Or, do you want to find out more about HM3 Legal’s practical training that provides tips about creating a positive and inclusive workplace culture?