5 Major Risks of Ignoring Neurodiversity at Work

Neurodiversity literally refers to the diversity of human brains and minds. There’s no such thing as any one “normal” brain, and in reality everybody thinks differently. Hence, every team, and every organization, is by definition neurodiverse.

However, this fundamental fact has rarely been taught in schools. As a result, while every interaction at work – every interview, meeting, catch up with your manager, you name it – takes place between people with different brains (and consequently different ways of experiencing the world), the vast majority of such interactions take place without neurodiversity in mind. Instead, norms have developed that suit what we can call the “neurotypical” majority – norms in workplaces such as an overreliance on interviewing, or open plan workplaces, that favour some people’s thinking styles over others.

Not having one’s specific preferences recognized or accommodated for – when it comes to communication, organising work, problem-solving, work environment, and more – risks making individual workers less comfortable and productive than they might otherwise be. What we’ve learned at Uptimize, the leading global neurodiversity training company, is that while the typical lack of attention to neurodiversity can be sub-optimal for everybody, it is typically and unsurprisingly most acutely felt by the up-to-1-in-5 people who may be in some way neurodivergent: people such as autistic people, ADHDers, and dyslexic people with a distinct set of traits and a distinct neuroidentity within the broader spectrum of human neurodiversity.

For example, I have spoken with neurodivergent professionals who describe their manager allowing to organise their work in their own preferred fashion as quite simply critical to their ability to perform at work. Another told Uptimize in a focus group interview, exasperated, that she’d struggled for months as her boss called her into his office to give her rapid-fire, verbal instructions, as she struggled to process information in this way: eventually, she plucked up the courage to ask for instructions in a different format.

Most organizations today recognize the importance of their people – their most expensive asset, and in the case of professional services firms (and others) often their vital commercial resource. Witness the following statements, taken from a handful of top company websites, annual reports, and diversity statements: “It is important for us to create an environment where difference is valued”… “D&I is an integral part of how we do things as a firm”… “Investment in our people has and will continue to be an important priority”… “We value and encourage diversity with respect to each individual’s career path and professional experiences….

And yet, despite such statements, neurodiversity – and neuroinclusion – too often remains a critical blind spot, one that will likely continue to hamstring the fulfilment of such commitments. No longer, though, is neurodiversity a focus only of a handful of pioneer firms: companies around the world, including many we are partnering with at Uptimize, are acting to address these gap and ensure neuroinclusion is woven into the fabric of the organization across all levels. Failing to do so, everything I have seen in this field tells me, carries significant and growing risks… which can be summarised as follows:

1. Damaged brand reputation

I have a neurodivergent friend who joined a global tech company. She was impressed by the company’s stated commitment to DEI, and this was highlighted again and again during onboarding. The reality on the ground, though, was VERY different… as she has told people ever since. In the age of Glassdoor and transparent employee experiences, organizations with such a gap between words and actions risk ongoing damage to their reputation.

2. Attrition and turnover

It can cost upwards of £15,000 to replace a mid-level manager, and north of £50,000 to replace a senior executive. 1 in 4 employees typically leave voluntarily every year: and often, on further investigation, issues with managers, not feeling included, and so on are major cited factors behind such decisions. As one neurodivergent self-advocate told me, proud of his organization’s efforts in this area, “I could never work again for an organization that wasn’t trying to be more neuroinclusive”. Is your company doing enough for the perhaps 20% of people who may be neurodivergent in some way to make them feel the same?

3. Losing talent to competitors

Per point one here, today’s talent is far more interested in and aware of brand reputation (and the reality of this on the ground) than ever before. Your employee experience matters: it’s a crucial factor in your ability not only to keep, but attract, great talent. At Uptimize, we know from our community focus groups that neurodivergent job seekers often examine an organization’s careers and diversity web pages, seeking any sign of commitment to neurodiversity and neuroinclusion… often none can be found. As organisations in all industries begin to change this – and neurodiversity is celebrated and highlighted – those that lead this charge will benefit, while others may find themselves skipped over.

4. Unintentionally excluding talent

Even where neurodivergent people do apply to corporate roles, there are often many barriers or friction points in conventional hiring processes that can serve to unintentionally exclude them. For example, our community focus groups at Uptimize have talked about confusing, poorly formatted, stressful (timed) application forms, off-putting job descriptions, seemingly illogical tests, problematic group exercises, and being interviewed by interviewers manifestly ignorant of neurodiversity. We may know we want “diversity of thought” in our teams: uninformed hiring processes, though, seriously risk failing to deliver it.

5. Disruption by more innovative competitors

Diversity of thought, of course, underpins organizational creativity, and the creative skills and thinking of neurodivergent people at work can be a major contribution both individually and within a collaborative team context. However, though every organisation is by definition neurodiverse, many organisations are less neurodiverse than they could be (one survey for example, found only 1% of corporate managers identified as dyslexic, compared to 10% of the general population) for all the reasons highlighted above. CEOs, today, rightly insist on the urgent importance of innovation. We lower the potential for innovative outcomes by failing to include and empower (through psychologically safe team contexts) the full range of human thinking styles.

_

To learn more about how Uptimize can help your organization with their neuroinclusion efforts, through our neurodiversity training and consulting solutions, please contact us to schedule an initial discovery call.

Ed Thompson Founder CEO Uptimize

Ed Thompson is the CEO and founder of Uptimize – a unique corporate training platform that helps organizations attract, hire and retain talent that thinks differently. Uptimize works globally with organizations like Salesforce, JPMorgan Chase, Deloitte and IBM, building robust and impactful neurodiversity at work programs. Ed has also become a frequent speaker on the topic of neurodiversity in the workplace. His book, A Hidden Force, is available now.

Looking for something different?

Related Articles

What is Neurodiversity?

What is Neurodiversity?

What is neurodiversity (and particularly in the context of work and business)? Well…   “Search as you might, there is no brain that has been pickled in a jar in the basement of the Smithsonian Museum or the National Institute of Health or elsewhere in the world...

read more
A Look Into Neurodiversity at Work Trends for 2024

A Look Into Neurodiversity at Work Trends for 2024

At Uptimize, working with organizations around the world to train and certify their professionals in neuroinclusion, we have a privileged and often exiting viewpoint into the global progression of neurodiversity at work.   Things have certainly evolved since our...

read more
Optimizing Your Hybrid Teams Through Neuroinclusion

Optimizing Your Hybrid Teams Through Neuroinclusion

Want to know how neuroinclusion training can help you optimize your remote team(s)? Read on…   Remote work, of course, wasn’t spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic.   Many organizations have been offering remote or hybrid work options for some time, while some...

read more

Interested in reading more?