Workplace Wellbeing

Words Matter: How Nuvance Health Is Embracing Neurodiversity for a Brighter Organizational Future

Fostering neurodiversity within your teams drives innovation, enriches company culture, and positively impacts your bottom line. Embracing diversity, as demonstrated by Nuvance Health, ensures that unique perspectives are valued, contributing to your organization's overall strength and success.

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Bianca Elliott
Clinically reviewed by
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    In a world where out-of-the-box thinking is prized, neurodivergent individuals can bring a lot to the table. 

    An inclusive work culture fosters diversity of thought, different approaches to work, and creativity—all of which can drive innovation. Studies have shown that neurodiverse teams can increase productivity by 30%, and companies with inclusive and accessible work environments see 28% higher revenues

    A neurodiverse workforce can revolutionize how we think, create, seek solutions, and innovate at work. With around one in five people identifying as neurodiverse, this is a substantial segment of the population. It’s also one that’s often misunderstood and undersupported by employers. 

    What is neurodiversity?

    Neurodiversity describes the natural diversity of human brains. 

    Neurodivergent describes individuals whose neurological development and functioning differ from what is considered neurotypical. This includes people with a range of cognitive variations such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Tourette Syndrome, dyslexia, and dyscalculia.

    Neurodivergence encompasses a diverse spectrum of experiences and abilities, reflecting the unique ways each brain processes information and interacts with the world. When we use the term neurodiverse, we’re referring to a group, community, or workforce that includes a variety of neurocognitive profiles. 

    Creating an inclusive workplace environment

    When Nuvance Health was evaluating its mental health benefits strategy with their clinical consulting partner, Aon, they knew they wanted to create a more inclusive mental health offering for all employees—including their neurodivergent team members. 

    “We're a healthcare facility,” explains Jaclyn DeMaio, Director of Benefits Strategy and Planning at Nuvance Health. “We're taking care of patients, so we need to make sure we're treating our employees well and taking care of them so they can treat everyone else.”

    This included making sure the needs of their neurodivergent employees were met. To do that, Nuvance Health and Aon first needed a strong understanding of the challenges neurodivergent individuals may face at work. 

    Misunderstanding and stigma in the workplace

    Neurodivergent employees have much to offer organizations. However, their unique strengths are often overlooked by neurotypical individuals who may not see the value of their different ways of thinking and doing things. 

    The challenges neurodivergent individuals may face in the workplace are vast and varied. Some common ones include:

    • Difficulty in prioritizing and planning
    • Literal interpretations
    • Appearing inflexible or too direct
    • Distractibility
    • Sensory challenges
    • Social challenges or anxieties
    • Communication issues
    • Challenges dealing with ambiguity

    When employers are overly focused on these challenges, they may miss out on unique perspectives and abilities that could enhance their teams—like an individual with ADHD who can hyper-focus and work well under pressure or someone with ASD who has innovative problem-solving abilities.

    Because neurodivergent individuals are often misunderstood, many learn to conceal their neurodivergence at work, beginning in the job-seeking phase. Aon’s Vice President of Health Transformation, Elisha Engelen, shared a personal example of this during a recent webinar on neurodiversity

    “I have a friend who has dyslexia, and when she was applying for a job, she talked about not wanting to put that on the application,” Elisha explains. “Despite being a highly qualified senior leader, she struggles with things like email management and communicating her thoughts in writing. It makes sense that she didn’t want these challenges to be held against her—especially since she excels in many other areas.” 

    While Nuvance Health believes it’s up to every individual whether they want to share this or not, choosing not to disclose their neurodivergence can lead to frustrations on the job, miscommunication, and a lack of support, including accommodations. 

    To paint a picture of potential workplace challenges, Elisha offered the following example: “Imagine you’re an individual dealing with sensory challenges, and you're constantly being asked to sit in a room with certain lighting, or be on camera, or sit in the boardroom, and people are giving you feedback like, ‘You're not doing it right,’ or ‘You keep leaving the room—you have to stay in the room.’ Over time, that will wear on your confidence and self-perception.”

    In situations like this, a lack of organizational support and understanding can lead to new or heightened mental health challenges like depression or anxiety. 

    Dr. Neal Kennington, Director of Clinical Partnerships at Spring Health, saw this happen to his son in high school. While his son had learned how to cope with ASD and thrive in school, he became preoccupied with what others might think of him. 

    “His anxiety started to spike. He began to have more problems with his anxiety than symptoms related to his autism diagnosis,” Neal shared. 

    This phenomenon can be common in the workplace, too. On top of navigating their neurodivergence, some individuals develop mental health challenges like depression or anxiety stemming from a lack of support and acceptance, which can be even more challenging to cope with. 

    Strengths of a neurodiverse workplace 

    Harvard has outlined the benefits of hiring a neurodiverse team and even recognized neurodiversity as a competitive advantage. He cited “extraordinary skills, including  pattern recognition, memory, and mathematics.” 

    Other strengths neurodivergent employees bring to the workplace are innovative thinking, general knowledge, creativity, passion, and drive. They also tend to have a high resilience developed from facing everyday challenges and unique coping strategies like adaptability and resourcefulness. 

    By simply experiencing the world differently, neurodivergent individuals contribute to the diversity of thought within an organization, which is crucial for innovation and problem-solving.

    At Nuvance Health, embracing a neurodiverse workforce has also been helpful for talent attraction and retention. “We're struggling like most organizations are,” Jaclyn shares, “So supporting our employees with an inclusive environment and culture improves the overall organization and our employee population.”

    How Nuvance Health created a more inclusive workforce

     Nuvance Health is committed to honoring diverse needs, providing ongoing support for its neurodivergent employee population, and ensuring fair and equitable processes that allow for accommodations. 

    To date, Nuvance Health’s commitment has included: 

    • Partnering with Spring Health to offer expert support, rapid speed to care, and access to family and teen mental health care
    • Setting up employee resource groups (ERGs) to help increase awareness of accommodations and participation in mental health programs
    • Reducing mental health stigma by normalizing talking about mental health  
    • Increasing member engagement tactics like internal marketing and awareness 
    • Normalizing accommodations 
    • Creating a culture of support and acceptance 

    Cultivating a culture of psychological safety was particularly important to Nuvance Health to help employees feel safe and comfortable enough to disclose their neurodivergent condition. 

    Nuvance Health understands breaking down stigma takes time. They set up a system that would allow any of their ~14,000 employees to request medical, religious, or other accommodations in a confidential inbox. Employees can submit an accommodation request to a designated email address, which is then filtered through a third-party vendor. This ensures privacy before employees, vendors, and managers review requests.

    The power of stay interviews

    To further empower employees, Nuvance Health strives to identify hidden strengths through thoughtful consideration and discussion of each individual’s talents and unique abilities. 

    This includes using a tactic introduced by Elisha called “Stay Interviews.” Unlike a job interview that asks a candidate why they want to join an organization or exit interviews that ask why they’re leaving, a stay interview asks employees what it would take for them to stay. 

    Some of the questions Elisha encourages asking are:

    1. What do you look forward to at work?
    2. What do you dread in your day? 
    3. What talents or skills do you have that we don't know yet?
    4. Why do you stay? 
    5. What keeps you coming back every week?
    6. What might entice you to leave?

    In addition to offering insights into engagement and retention tactics, questions like this can reveal potential obstacles individuals face, accommodations that can be made, or new opportunities for them to shine. 

    Words matter. How the language we use supports—or hinders—inclusivity   

    One of the biggest takeaways from our webinar is the importance of the language we use when speaking to a neurodiverse workforce. 

    “The words we use matter,” Elisha shared and suggested asking people what terminology they prefer. For example, one individual might say they are “a person with autism,” another might prefer “a person diagnosed with autism,” while a third might prefer to be called “autistic.” Let them tell you, then do your best to address them that way.

    How measurement supports better outcomes

    Measuring and reporting mental health outcomes is vital to creating lasting change, as it ensures HR and benefits leaders will continue prioritizing it. 

    Make sure that it isn't just a measurement you're taking in, but that you're providing those results to either an individual or a body that will hold you accountable,” Neal suggested. 

    Working with a partner like Spring Health that provides extensive data and continuous reporting can help ensure your mental health benefits remain a top priority and are delivering results. 

    For example, Spring Health’s clinically-validated Precision Mental Healthcare technology pinpoints and delivers exactly what will work for each person. Atlas connects data and insights to relevant action plans, helping HR and benefits leaders optimize programs and maximize ROI.

    Building stronger teams through neurodiversity

    As we navigate the complexities of modern business, the inclusion of neurodivergent individuals and perspectives in the workforce isn’t just beneficial. It's essential. Neurodiverse teams drive innovation, enrich company culture, and positively impact the bottom line. 

    By following Nuvance Health’s example of embracing and supporting neurodiversity in your workforce, you’re investing in your organization's future. You’re fostering an environment where unique perspectives are recognized and celebrated, and individuals are invited to contribute to your business’s overall strength and success.

    Watch this webinar replay to dive deeper into the connection between neurodivergence and mental health and how you can build a neurodiverse-friendly work environment.

    About the Author
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    Bianca Elliott

    As a Reiki Master and holistic life coach, Bianca works with individuals to connect with their inner wisdom to reach optimal performance and wellbeing. She is a seasoned brand strategist who has been helping companies connect with their core essence and authentic narrative for over 16 years.

    About the clinical reviewer
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