Managing neurodiverse employees

Neurodiversity refers to neurological differences that shape how people think and interact, all of which are natural variations to the human genome. Neurodiversity is estimated to make up 15-20% of the world’s population – a world not built to accommodate how a neurodiverse individual thinks, feels or behaves. And this is often the case in our workplaces as well. It is, therefore, essential to note that neurodiversity is something to be understood and accommodated in a work setting.  

When neurodiverse employees thrive and obtain high performance, it is often due to their differences and behaviours being well understood and accepted within their organisations. It also occurs when supportive leaders work with the individual to identify their strengths, weaving these into the job design of their role. Where organisations have put appropriate support measures in place, neurodiverse individuals prove to be comparable to neurotypical employees in work quality, efficiency and productivity and in some cases exceed their neurotypical counterparts in innovation. This is only achieved when organisations create awareness, reduce stigma and upskill their teams and leaders to work empathetically with their neurodiverse colleagues. When these protective factors are not in place, neurodiverse employees can find themselves in a set of circumstances that directly contradict their thought processes, sensory requirements and ability to sustain high performance outputs, which can lead to unnecessary performance management processes.

Providing general awareness programs is an excellent start to becoming a neurodiverse-inclusive organisation. However, neurodiversity is diverse, including but not limited to people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and Tourette syndrome, and often requires a more tailored approach to ensuring an individual can thrive in their place of work. As a leader it is about building your capabilities in managing neurodiverse employees to unlock their strengths and provide a psychologically safe culture for them to thrive in.  

So, what do you need to consider as a manager of a neurodivergent team member?

Become educated 

The first step in managing neurodiverse employees is to get educated about their specific conditions and needs. This knowledge will help you develop a management style that is more effective and inclusive. 

Create a psychologically safe workplace culture 

Creating a supportive workplace culture is critical to the success of neurodiverse employees, in fact to all employees. This includes developing a culture of empathy and understanding, where all employees feel valued and respected. Encourage open communication and make sure that all employees feel comfortable discussing their needs and concerns. You can do this as a leader by being vulnerable yourself and role modeling these positive behaviours.

Provide accommodations 

Many neurodiverse individuals may require accommodations in the workplace. This can include changes to their work environment, such as noise reduction or sensory-friendly lighting, as well as adjustments to their work schedule or workload. These accommodations can help neurodiverse employees perform at their best and contribute their unique strengths to the team. 

Identify and embrace strengths 

Neurodiverse employees often have unique strengths that can benefit the workplace. Work with your neurodivergent employees to identify these strengths and where possible weave these into the job design of their role.  

Provide clear instructions and expectations 

Neurodiverse employees may prefer communicating instructions to them in a particular way so they are better set-up for planning, organizing, and prioritizing tasks. It may be written instruction or even needing tasks to be broken down into smaller steps.  

Be flexible  

It is essential to be flexible when managing neurodiverse employees. Neurodiversity is a spectrum, and each individual’s needs and abilities are unique. Being willing to adapt to the needs of each employee and adjust your management style accordingly can help create a more inclusive workplace where all employees can thrive. 

Managing neurodiverse employees requires a flexible and supportive management style that prioritizes understanding, empathy, and willingness to make reasonable accommodations. If you are wanting to create a more inclusive management style, call our experts at Resilia to discuss our best-practice coaching program.  By participating in these coaching sessions, you’ll gain valuable insights and practical strategies to support your team members with diverse neurological abilities. You’ll learn how to recognise and appreciate different communication styles and adapt your management style to better suit their needs. Overall, you will strengthen your skills as a leader and be part of a positive change in your organization.