Performance Management

A guide to managing neurodiverse employees

Read OpenBlend's guide to managing neurodiversity in the workplace and discover the tips for supporting employees with neurodivergence effectively.

Neurodiversity is getting a lot of press at the moment, with more adults becoming aware that they may not be as ‘neurotypical’ as they previously thought. For a lot of people, this realisation has stemmed from issues in the workplace: why do I keep forgetting things? Why am I always misspelling emails? Why do I feel so burnt out after a day in the office? Whether you are managing an employee who has been diagnosed as neurodivergent or is in the process of getting a diagnosis, you need to understand how you, as a manager, can help them thrive in the workplace.

Here, we answer your questions and share some of our tips to managing a neurodivergent employee.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a term that recognises that not all brains work the same. While neurotypical people experience the world in a similar way, neurodivergent people (around 15-20% of the population) experience it differently, changing the way they process information and emotions, react, communicate and manage time.

Neurodivergent employees, just like any other employee, have strengths and challenges, and can bring a different perspective and set of skills to the workplace. The key for managers is understanding what those differences are and helping those employees to succeed.

What is neurodivergence?

Neurodivergence covers a range of conditions or labels, including:

  • ADHD and ADD: behavioural conditions that can affect concentration, time management, impulsivity and emotional response.
  • Autism/ASD: a broad spectrum of conditions, characterised by challenges with communication, social skills, and differences in problem solving and learning.
  • Aspergers: a form of ASD.
  • Dyscalculia: a specific difficulty understanding numbers and mathematics.
  • Dyslexia: a neurological difference that can affect reading, writing, spelling and verbal processing.
  • Dyspraxia: a disorder that affects movement and co-ordination.
  • Meares-Irlen Syndrome: a type of visual stress that includes sensitivity to bright light and difficulties with fine vision tasks.

Is neurodivergence a disability?

Neurodivergence qualifies as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Not every neurodivergent employee will think of themselves as having a disability, but it is important you learn how their neurodivergence affects their needs in the workplace, and make sure they don’t suffer discrimination. For instance, say an employee with ADHD struggles with organisation. You don’t make any reasonable adjustments to help them with this, but measure their performance against it. You’re placing them at an unfair disadvantage based on a protected disability.

How do I know if a report is neurodivergent?

Some will be forthcoming once they accept the role, or even during the application process. Others will be less inclined to share the information, worrying that disclosing their neurodivergence will change the way they are perceived in the workplace or their chances at promotion.

Yes, legally, neurodivergence is protected as a disability, but that doesn’t remove the fear that some people feel around bias. The key is creating an open, honest environment and making sure that the employee understands that disclosing the information will help them to succeed, not inhibit them.

How can I support someone who thinks they might be neurodivergent?

With so much dialogue around neurodiversity now taking place, the UK has seen a spike in adults seeking diagnosis, with a 400% rise in adults seeking ADHD diagnosis and a 787% increase in overall autism diagnoses (including adults). Making sure that these people get the support they need is so important in helping them to understand themselves and providing the support and conditions they need to thrive. Create a culture where people know that they can talk to their manager about this without fear of discrimination or misunderstanding.

Should I manage a neurodivergent person differently?

Well, yes and no. Yes, a neurodivergent person will have specific needs and management requests that will help them perform at their best – but so does everyone. Every employee has different circumstances, personalities, priorities, challenges... if you already take a people-first approach to management, then managing a neurodivergent person is just an extension of this. It’s about finding out what they need to thrive, and helping them to unlock that potential. These are the same conversations you should be having with every single employee, but for neurodivergent reports, they can be even more critical to their performance.

These are the same conversations you should be having with every single employee, but for neurodivergent reports, they can be even more critical to their performance.

Read on for our 8 tips for tips to managing a neurodivergent employee effectively. Or download our guide in full below.

Download the guide


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