Environmentalist Greta Thunberg credits her Asperger syndrome with helping her “think outside the box” and challenge those in power
Like many human characteristics, such as height, weight or shoe size, there is a natural variation in the anatomy of people’s brains. This can lead to a range of different behavioural and psychological characteristics – for example seeing things through a different lens to everyone else.
The term neurodiversity is often used to describe dyslexia, dyspraxia, autistic spectrum (which includes Asperger’s syndrome) and other neurological differences.
As Thunberg demonstrates, many neurodiverse people are highly able – and often very successful in their fields of work.
However, they can also face challenges if their employers do not understand their strengths and weaknesses and do not provide the working environment they need to succeed and flourish.
The conciliation service Acas estimates that one in seven UK workers is neurodiverse.
But polling last year by the HR professionals’ body CIPD found that only one employer in 10 considers neurodiversity in its people management practices.
Neurodiverse members may face unexpected challenges in the workplace, so it is important that employers provide them with appropriate reasonable adjustments and support.
It is often advantageous for neurodiverse people to disclose their status to their employer. When employers are aware of a staff member’s neurodiversity, they must make reasonable adjustments.
Prospect recently published a briefing to guide reps in starting conversations with neurodiverse members about the advantages of obtaining a professional assessment.
Reps are vital in negotiating the frameworks which underpin reasonable adjustments and providing neurodiverse members with personal representation to ensure they receive adjustments which are tailored to them.
For any of us, having insufficient control over our work is likely to be a significant source of stress, but it is especially so for those who are neurodiverse. Change can be especially difficult for those who are neurodiverse.
It is likely that, over time, they will have built up strategies to make their working lives easier. With the introduction of change, such as new structures or procedures, or the arrival of a new line manager, those coping mechanisms will become redundant and new strategies will need to be established.
Therefore, a change process that takes the time to explain, consult and incorporate the suggestions of those involved is a good starting point for success. A sensitive approach like this will benefit everyone.
Many employers operate appraisal and performance systems, some of which are linked to pay. Neurodiverse people may be at particular risk of losing out where there are discretionary-based pay systems or payments linked to productivity.
Performance management needs to support neurodiverse members. It must not be used as a mechanism to punish them.
Ensuring that neurodiverse employees receive appropriate adjustments should go some way towards this, and employers should assess performance after a reasonable adjustment has been put in place.
The line manager, who generally conducts the appraisal, is key to ensuring discrimination does not occur. Therefore, it is crucial that line managers receive appropriate training in conducting appraisals and reasonable adjustments.
Where behavioural issues are part of the assessment process, line managers should be aware of how neurodiversity may affect performance. For some individuals, it may be appropriate to remove this element from the assessment criteria.
Prospect has a range of resources to support reps in encouraging employers to make workplaces neurodiversity friendly – https://prospect.org.uk/topic/neurodiversity