How To Create A Sense Of Belonging For Neurodiverse Employees?

How To Create A Sense Of Belonging For Neurodiverse Employees?
Summary: This article explores the importance of, and offers tips on how to create, a sense of belonging for neurodiverse employees at your workplace.

9 Tips To Establish A Sense Of Belonging For Neurodiverse Employees

John is fiercely passionate about social justice and contributing to a fairer world. Alyssa can identify unique patterns in data. Erick is a master of lateral thinking and can offer a different perspective on a complex problem. The three of them work in different companies, but all have two things in common: they're neurodiverse employees lacking a sense of belonging and struggling with fitting in. Their workplaces aren't giving them an opportunity to use their abilities in their work, causing a sense of alienation and otherness. But many people feel like Alyssa, Erick, and John. They struggle with giving their best at school, college, and work because many of these environments weren't developed to recognize and leverage their skills.

You Might Work With A Neurodiverse Employee Without Even Knowing

Employers are often unaware they're hiring neurodiverse people, or have no initiatives and programs that would augment their strengths and eliminate the roadblocks they face. Yet, approximately 15-20% of the global population is neurodiverse, and the odds are high that you will work with a neurodiverse employee at some point.

Neurodiversity is a term for differences in how the brain works and how it thinks. These differences affect how people get along with others, how they learn, and how they feel. These individuals can adopt new skills and knowledge just as well as neurotypical people, but they learn differently and encounter different challenges.

What Barriers Neurodiverse Employees Encounter

Even though everyone has a unique learning style and approach, workplaces and learning spaces typically don't address the issues neurodiverse individuals experience. They rarely share their struggles with bosses, managers, and co-workers, fearing they'll be judged or misunderstood. But these individuals often encounter barriers even before starting a job. According to the 2020 survey, 50% of respondents admitted they wouldn't hire neurodiverse talents [1]. For instance, 32% said they would be uncomfortable hiring autistic people, and 29% wouldn't recruit those with dyscalculia [1]. Yet, the bias is strongest toward those with ADHD/ADD and Tourette's syndrome, as more than 6 in 20 managers and leaders admitted they wouldn't hire them.

Employers often have stereotypes and prejudices about neurodiverse people, holding them back from tapping into a greater talent pool and fostering genuine inclusion. Nevertheless, even many companies and organizations open to hiring neurodiverse employees have no mechanisms to facilitate and accommodate individuals with cognitive differences. No wonder 75% of neurodiverse employees hide their condition at work, and 25% of those who disclosed it regretted doing so. They often face discrimination, forcing them to stay silent and work in inadequate environments.

Neurodiverse employees often work in one-size-fits-all workplaces and don't feel like employers understand their learning and behavioral patterns. Many must perform tasks in a format that doesn't suit their skills and capabilities, or interact with the team in a way that feels uncomfortable and unnatural. A recent pilot study tackled the experience of 60 neurodiverse social workers and found that 34 participants received no specialist workplace support. Moreover, the respondents explained that they struggle with stigma and ongoing self-imposed doubts about performing their jobs. They said they fear talking about their condition because others might think they're incapable of completing their tasks.

WTW's Global Benefits Attitude survey found that 50% of neurodiverse workers reported feeling burnt out at work, compared to just 38% of neurotypical employees. The respondents also said they wish they had more personalized benefits to help manage their emotional health, and they noted that increased flexibility would greatly help. Finally, the same survey also found a significant link between neurodiversity and mental health issues. Neurodiverse workers often encounter a lack of empathy, understanding, and support, resulting in feeling isolated and alone in their struggles. How can employers and learning developers change that, and help their neurodiverse employees feel comfortable and able to learn and grow? The best way is to ensure a sense of belonging.

9 Tips On How To Establish A Sense Of Belonging For Neurodiverse Employees

1. Foster A Genuinely Diverse, Inclusive, And Equitable Culture

A thoroughly inclusive, equitable, and diverse company culture is a prerequisite for a Learning and Development (L&D) program that incorporates and nurtures the same values. These characteristics should weave through all operations, procedures, departments, and policies. It starts with a hiring process that allows you to recruit people from a variety of sources and cast a much wider net. Thanks to this, you can reach and acquire candidates with different skillsets, capabilities, and skills.

You can actively source neurodiverse talents by partnering with relevant associations and organizations, expanding your campus recruiting efforts, and catering to this group of people. Assessing your selection process and cleansing it from algorithmic and recruiter bias is vital. Otherwise, you risk eliminating neurodiverse job applicants, as they might use atypical speech and expressions. Consider that the interview process may also require several tweaks.

Recruiters often ask abstract questions that don't determine whether a candidate can perform the job. Thus, not everyone, even neurotypical individuals, will uniformly connect the dots. You can encourage people to let you know how the ideal interview would look for them and meet them halfway. This way, you also allow everyone to be authentic and not anxious.

Company policies supporting neurodivergence and broadening diversity lenses are essential for nurturing a genuinely diverse culture. Codify and define unspoken rules your neurodiverse workers might miss otherwise. Consider setting targets for recruiting neurodiverse candidates and consult legal counsel to establish a lasting commitment with clear objectives and expectations. Finally, prioritize involving neurodiverse teams and employees when building any program to make sure no one is left out.

2. Respect And Acknowledge Individual Differences

Both neurotypical and neurodiverse employees may have different learning styles and preferences. One worker might need detailed instructions and guidance, while the other could prefer completing every task independently and with freedom of decision-making. Gauge what approach unlocks the potential and productivity of every individual, allowing you to adapt the lessons and programs to their needs. Additionally, some employees might find communication and interaction with co-workers in a hybrid environment difficult.

3. Understand Neurodivergent Terminology

The words you use can make a significant difference. For instance, presenting a task as something an employee can complete in a matter of minutes can cause severe stress and anxiety for someone if they perceive they might need more time. Consider not being strict on timelines, especially with neurodiverse employees, and check their progress instead. Offer help if they're struggling.

Avoid describing projects and assignments as easy, as not everyone has the same abilities and focus. Even though this typically comes from good intentions (wanting to relieve the pressure), it can have a contrary effect. Also, refrain from perceiving neurodiversity as a spectrum (e.g., one employee is very autistic while the other is not as much). Rather approach it like a circle, because one person could have stellar language skills, making them high-functioning, but also struggle with other traits that make their everyday life challenging.

4. Offer Diverse Learning Methods, Formats, And Practices

Two employees with autism might prefer different learning methods. Base this decision on your individual workers and identify what works best for each of them. Don't put everyone in the same box and expect them to learn at the same pace and in the same setting. Prioritize diversity in every sense, including in the learning content and delivery. Offer eLearning, but don't neglect team workshops and face-to-face lessons. Play with different formats and experiment until you learn what's the most helpful and effective approach for your workforce.

5. Leverage Coaching And Mentorship

Coaching and mentorship can be stellar support for all your employees and their careers, especially for neurodiverse individuals. These professionals can provide helpful advice to neurodiverse workers, and also advocate for their needs and rights. They can also be work buddies, introducing these employees to the team and workplace. This would provide neurodiverse workers with trusted support that can help them navigate the work environment, get to know others, and create new connections.

6. Collaborate With Neurodiversity Experts And L&D Developers

Collaboration with relevant experts can help you understand the depth and complexities of neurodiversity and provide better support. For instance, Instructional Designers and L&D developers specializing in neurodivergence can help you create a more inclusive and genuine training and learning program.

7. Provide Tailored Career Paths

Help neurodiverse employees to a sense of belonging by helping them find the answers to crucial questions concerning their careers and professional goals. Offer relevant tools and mechanisms that help them unlock their potential and create personalized experiences that help them contribute to the team and workplace.

8. Avoid Predefining What Growth And Success Look Like

Not everyone has the same idea of career success, development, and ideal path. Although you should help everyone who strives to become a leader reach that position, some employees are happy with staying in their roles. Leadership in the sense of traditional hierarchy isn't the final goal of every employee, and employers should respect that. Moreover, some workers love to work solo, while others thrive in a team. Don't force a specific idea of success because it won't resonate with everyone. Instead, encourage both neurodiverse and neurotypical employees to determine their own career paths (but offer support) and let them create their unique success.

9. Nurture A Tight-Knit Community In Your Workplace

Neurodiverse employees can only feel a sense of belonging in the workplace if the team is cohesive and they can freely express themselves and talk about their condition, struggles, and objectives without fear of being judged. Because of this, it's vital to prioritize open but empathetic communication and mutual understanding. Focus on building a tight-knit community where everyone can be who they are and receive support and kindness instead of snarky remarks and belittling. Lead by example and demonstrate the same harmony in the exec team and toward your employees.



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