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Neurodivergent Staff

Assisting neurodivergent staff in the return to the office

Assisting neurodivergent staff in the return to the office

‘Neurodiversity’, ‘neurodivergent’ and ‘neurodivergence’ are words which relate to the concept that certain individuals’ brains work and interpret information in a different way to those who are deemed ‘neurotypical’ (ie those who interpret information in the way that is expected). Neurodivergence is commonly recognised where individuals have been diagnosed with neurological conditions such as: autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and others.

Since workplaces have been reopening, employers have likely been exploring options for how to deal with staff that they wish to return to the workplace, including neurodivergent staff.

Adjusting the workplace

Not making suitable adjustments for neurodivergent staff can be detrimental to their mental health, particularly those with depression and/or anxiety. A report indicates that bringing neurodivergent staff back to work too early could have trigger risks, for example, people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) may be led ‘to increased or problematic safety behaviours like excessive hand washing and cleaning rituals – especially as we have been instructed to avoid public spaces and not use shared equipment for months.’

It may be that a longer period of either flexible or homeworking measures will be the most practicable option. This is because neurodivergent people are said to work more efficiently where there are less distracting social interactions within their surroundings or things that can cause a ‘sensory overload’.

Should it be necessary to require a neurodivergent member of staff to attend the office, practical considerations to make this more comfortable is to provide them with a designated workspace, rather than 'hot desking', possible aware from too many distractions to enable them to concentrate. Having a clear plan and communicating it to affected staff members will also help neurodivergent staff adjust to any changes.

Communication is critical

Employers will need to think strongly about how to communicate with neurodivergent staff when discussing changes to their work pattern, and consider the impact that a hybrid working model may have on their ability to perform and manage their reactions to changes, as this way of working may be too disruptive to their work.

The key consideration in making any changes to where employees work is to discuss it with them, to smooth over any concerns and establish what is needed to allow that worker to do as asked. This is even more important in the case of neurodivergent staff, and managers may need guidance in the best ways to handle this.

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