What a good manager would do
"Recognising the strengths as well as the weaknesses of a neurodiverse employee is one of the most effective supports a manager can provide" Fitzgibbon associates
Line managers and supervisors should receive training in dealing with neurodiverse workers. This will help to remove or alleviate stressful situations for both parties. In addition, it would be advantageous for the member’s work colleagues to receive some awareness training so that they have a better understanding of their behaviour.
Of course, this should only be conducted if the member agrees to disclose their neurodiversity to their colleagues. As with other impairments or disabilities, the reasonable adjustments required for neurodiverse workers will be specific to an individual’s needs, so it is imperative that they are involved in determining what reasonable adjustments are appropriate for them. These may be relatively straightforward for the employer to provide.
It is important that a proper workplace needs assessment is carried out, preferably by a specialist in neurodiverse conditions, as every individual’s needs will be different and it may not occur to the member what adjustments could be provided for their own circumstances. See our Links section for some suggestions.
It should also be standard practice for all employers to make many of the following adjustments proactively, regardless of whether any individuals within their organisations have been identified as neurodiverse, as a significant proportion of their workers are likely to be neurodiverse even if they are not aware of it or have chosen not to disclose it.
Also remember that many of these adjustments would benefit everyone in the workplace and not just those who require reasonable adjustments.
Reasonable adjustments might include:
- a working environment that minimises distractions – for example, in an open-plan office consider noise-reducing partitions, headphones, thoughtful siting of printers and photocopiers and quiet ‘breakout’ areas;
- other adjustments to the environment – for example, lighting, temperature and noise;
- professional assessment of the employee, paid for by the employer;
- specialist training for the member – for example, in developing memory skills (including using visual memory strengths to compensate for difficulties with verbal working memory). Training could also cover time management, work planning, understanding personal work styles and developing communication skills. This is especially important if the employee has not previously been aware of their condition, which is common in people with dyslexia;
- options for home-working, at least part-time, to be considered. Appropriate IT and communications support should be provided;
- flexible working hours, enabling earlier or later start and finish times;
- fixed hours, rather than variable shifts may suit some;
- recognising that overworking is a common compensatory strategy for some neurodiverse people that in the longer-term can lead to stress and burn-out. So, for instance, when a neurodiverse condition has been identified or disclosed, appropriate reasonable adjustments should be put in place promptly, even if an employee’s performance is good;
- change of work location – for example, to be nearer home, or nearer support facilities, or to a work location that is quieter or less over-stimulating;
- clear and concise communications, both written and oral. Recorded instructions may be helpful, or ‘easy read’ manuals’;
- structured routines, such as project plans, mind maps and flowcharts;
- providing a mentor and/or ‘buddy’;
- individual support where schedules are unavoidably disrupted and when changes are introduced;
- it is vital that tests for suitability for appointments, promotion or job changes and so on should be designed not to disadvantage neurodiverse people. For example, tests should not depend on listening to long lists of instructions or reading or writing large amounts of material in a short time;
- interviews for selection or promotion should be appropriately structured, taking account of the inefficiency in working memory that is a characteristic of many neurodiverse people. So questions should be put clearly and succinctly. Also allow and ance should be made for the sometimes poorly structured replies that can give the impression that an individual is much less competent than is actually the case;
- some neurodiverse people may find it easier to read from pastel coloured paper, with a larger font size, say Arial size 14. Alternatively, a coloured overlay or changing screen colours may help;
- providing clear signage within buildings, enabling navigation or orientation around the workplace;
- regular breaks;
- mechanisms to help with breaks in routine, such as delays in public transport, or a breakdown of computer systems;
- templates to help with reports and so on;
- ergonomic adjustments of workstations;
- relaxation of triggers for disciplinary action for matters such as sickness absence or mistakes arising from executive function impairment (the abilities that enable people to translate motivation into action);
- additional time off for treatment and/or appointments, as part of a policy for disability leave;
- reallocating some work to colleagues, with the individual’s agreement, at times of stress or change;
- a personal workstation (rather than sharing a workstation or ‘hot-desking’) and specific tools to aid work organisation, such as a visual timetable or organiser app;
- appropriate software including speech recognition, such as Dragon Dictate, as well as packages such as Texthelp for reading and writing, and various mind-mapping programs. Specialist advice is available;
- raising awareness among colleagues.
This is not a comprehensive list and there is more information from the organisations listed in our Links section.
See also our section on What we can do together
Neurodiverse people may have problems with ‘normal’ forms of communication. Some people on the autistic spectrum, for example, have difficulties in reading other people’s facial expressions, body language or nuances within conversations.
- try to avoid using jokes, sarcasm or ambiguous statements;
- be clear and direct, using concise sentences;
- use short sentences in written communications;
- sometimes diagrams are better than written communications or instructions;
- where appropriate, use closed rather than open questions;
- speech-to-text software may be helpful for digital communications;
- where there are organisational changes, managers should ensure that people with neurodiverse differences are included in the plans particularly affecting their work and that they are regularly kept up-to-date.
It is important that managers and colleagues are aware of the differences in communication styles for those who are neurodiverse. For example, they may appear to be ‘blunt’ when talking, they may talk to themselves, or they may unintentionally invade other people’s personal space.
Remember that it is illegal under the Equality Act to pass on any costs of adjustments to the individual concerned.
Managers should remember that monitoring will reveal any potential for indirect discrimination, particularly in recruitment, selection and promotion procedures, performance reviews and so on. Regularly conducted equality impact assessments on these policies and practices, jointly with the trade unions, is likely to highlight a possible need for reasonable adjustments and avoid unnecessary capability or disciplinary actions.