Neurodivergent Employees Boost Productivity and Innovation in the Workplace. Is Yours Reaping the Benefits?

Embracing neurodiversity and fostering a robust support network boosts team morale, promotes a strong sense of belonging, sparks diverse perspectives, fuels creativity, and drives groundbreaking innovations.

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Dave Fisse
Clinically reviewed by
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    One in five adults in America is neurodiverse. Globally, 15-20 percent of the population exhibits some form of neurodivergence.

    If you think about it, that means around one out of every five employees in your organization may be neurodivergent. It's easy to understand the imperative need to evolve and adapt—to meet the diverse needs of this growing segment.

    In this article, we’ll explore neurodiversity, how to create a neuro-inclusive workplace, and why it's essential to prioritize and invest in the success of neurodiverse employees.

    Understanding the dynamics of neurodiversity

    Harvard Medical School describes neurodiversity as “the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.”

    Neurodiversity refers to the natural diversity of human brains, recognizing and honoring the neurological differences among individuals. 

    Here’s a helpful breakdown of the terminology:

    • ‍Neurodivergent refers to individuals or groups whose brain functions differ from what is widely considered to be “normal” (neurotypical). ‍
    • Neurotypical refers to those whose brain functions align with societal norms. ‍
    • Neurodiverse encompasses both neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals in a mixed group.

    The link between neurodivergence and mental health

    When the term “neurodivergent” is used, many people think only of Autism or ADHD. But it’s far more expansive, including: 

    • Dyslexia and other learning differences
    • Auditory processing differences
    • Tourette's Syndrome 
    • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
    • Bipolar Disorder
    • Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

    Neurodivergent people’s brains are wired differently than what is considered “typical,” this falls along a continuum that includes different ways of thinking, moving, behaving, visualizing, communicating, and processing information. 

    While it’s not considered a mental health issue, there’s mounting evidence that neurodivergence can increase the risk of mental health issues—often stemming from a lack of support, a lack of knowledge, and the stress of trying to appear neurotypical. 

    Psychology Today reports that nearly three in ten children diagnosed with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. Autistic people have higher rates of anxiety, eating disorders, and OCD, and HSPs have a greater risk of anxiety and depression.

    Understanding neurodivergent employees

    It’s never easy to present as “atypical,” which is another reason for the link between neurodivergence and greater mental health issues. This can easily lead to feeling misunderstood and at a disadvantage, burying the unique strengths every person has to bring to the table. 

    Recognizing the individual strengths of neurodiverse team members and understanding what they need to fully utilize them can help overcome or reduce daily challenges. This is also essential for building a truly inclusive environment.

    Here are some of the challenges that many neurodivergent employees face:

    • Difficulty prioritizing and planning 
    • Literal interpretations 
    • Appearing inflexible or too direct
    • Difficulty reading non-verbal cues
    • Sensory challenges
    • Social challenges
    • Information overload
    • Emotional fatigue

    The advantage of integrating neurodiverse workers throughout your organization

    Neurodivergent employees possess a unique and often sought after blend of hard and soft skills that can boost key business performance and productivity indicators (KPIs). 

    A Deloitte report states, “Research suggests that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them. This is likely because of neurodiverse employees’ unique skills and cognitive abilities, allowing them to solve problems and approach tasks differently than their team members."

    Neurodivergent employees possess diverse strengths and unique talents that can be invaluable in the workplace. Here's a quick look at just a few:

    • The ability to hyperfocus on tasks and remember large amounts of detailed information
    • Identifying trends, rules, and patterns in data 
    • Rapidly processing visual information
    • Remembering large amounts of detail
    • Good problem-solving skills
    • Out-of-the-box, big picture, and critical thinking ability 
    • A high level of empathy and integrity

    What every employee needs is different, and it’s always best to ask, never assume. Here are a few things you could offer, to get this conversation started: 

    • Established routines
    • Clear expectations
    • Structure and consistency
    • Flexible environments 
    • Sound and light management
    • Task management tools
    • Permission for remote employees to turn the camera off during a meeting

    A neuro-inclusive workplace delivers meaningful benefits

    As the number of neurodivergent individuals in the workforce continues to climb, every organization must ensure its environment is conducive to all employees. 

    A neuro-inclusive culture and comprehensive support system boosts team morale and a sense of community and belonging—and encourages diversity of thought, creative approaches to work tasks, and new innovations.

    But many organizations are hesitant or resistant to hiring neurodiverse talent. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review states, “many people with neurological conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder and dyslexia, have extraordinary skills, including in pattern recognition, memory, and mathematics. Yet they often struggle to fit the profiles sought by employers. 

    Companies that have reformed their HR processes to accommodate neurodiverse talent are seeing productivity gains, improved work quality, boosts in innovative capabilities, and increased employee engagement.

    How HR and People leaders can support neurodivergent employees

    Supporting your neurodivergent employees means equipping your leaders with the tools to understand neurodevelopment differences, foster empathy, and normalize conversations around them to combat stigma. 

    There are several ways to cultivate a neurodiverse-friendly workplace, including these proven strategies: 

    • Avoid assumptions—instead, take the time to discuss each employee’s individual preferences, needs, and goals
    • Communicate and acknowledge expectations regarding work performance and workplace etiquette
    • Offer customized task management tools to help employees complete work and achieve performance goals
    • Establish structure and consistency in daily routines, providing advanced notice of changes
    • To accommodate unique needs, provide flexible workspaces and environments, such as managing sound and light
    • Use inclusive language that promotes understanding and respect 
    • Above all, practice kindness, patience, and empathy in all interactions

    Become a neurodivergent ally

    We’ve touched on how challenging it can be to navigate the world as a neurodivergent individual. Therapy and coaching can provide invaluable support by helping neurodivergent employees understand their unique wiring, advocate for their needs, and healthily manage their emotions. 

    Here are a few more ways you can become an ally for your neurodivergent employees:

    • Reflect on your own biases as someone who may be neurotypical or neurodivergent
    • Emphasize the strengths, individual skill sets, and potentials of each employee
    • Engage thoughtfully, recognizing and respecting the differences among employees
    • Take the initiative to learn more about neurodiversity independently, deepening your understanding and empathy

    Read this blog to learn six effective strategies for creating an inclusive environment for neurodiverse team members. 

    About the Author
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    Dave Fisse

    A proud Pacific Northwest native, Dave lives in Los Angeles where the abundance of sunshine fuels his creativity. The University of Oregon School of Journalism provided the foundation for his 15-year career as a copywriter and storyteller. Dave is passionate about advocating for men's mental health, spending quality time with his wife and three-year-old, and watching Oregon Ducks football in the Fall.

    About the clinical reviewer
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