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Guest blog: Neuroinclusion in the workplace

By Amber Rowe

Neurodiversity is a hot topic at the moment, but what is it? Here's an introduction!

Image of a person's head with a question mark.

Neuroinclusion in the Workplace

It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

Neurodiversity is a hot topic at the moment, but what is it? Below are some quick definitions to bring readers up to speed.

Neurodiversity: This is an umbrella term that describes the range of differences in brain wiring, functioning, and behavioural traits – regarded as being a normal part of the variation of the human population. All brains are wired differently!

Neurotypical: Describes people with typical or common brain functioning. This doesn’t mean better, it just means more commonly occurring.

Neurodiverse and Neurodivergent: Both terms refer to people who are not neurotypical. This can be people whose brains are wired differently, which means they process, think, behave, and/or act different to what is considered typical.

"It is important to remember that differences should not be viewed as deficits. Differences enhance a workplace, provided the workplaces are inclusive and accessible for all."

Neurodiversity is good for everyone, not just neurodivergent people. There are neurotypical people that would also benefit from the recommendations shared in this article. People who feel supported and included in their workplace are more likely to stay and be consistent high performers.

"Creating neuroinclusive workplaces is not just the right thing to do, it’s a smart business decision."

Neurodivergence is more common than we might think. Formal statistics of diagnosed people sit around 20-25%₁, however there is research acknowledging the various barriers someone might face for diagnosis means that an estimated 30-40%₂ of the general population are neurodivergent.

So, what can I do?

There are many easy tweaks we, whether managers or colleagues, can do to make workplaces neuroinclusive.

Be mindful of the language we use and the environments we create

Sometimes the things we say, particularly about neurodiversity, can make people feel unsafe about sharing this part of their identity with others or ask for reasonable accommodations.

Get to know people

People are their own best experts. They often know what they need or how they best work. Create opportunity for them to share this with you as their colleague or manager.

Normalise individualised ways of working

Enable everyone to work in a way that is going to bring them the most successful outcomes at work. This might be:

  • Ensuring assistive technologies are available on work devices.
  • Giving people flexibility around where or when they work.
  • Providing a variety of workstations within an office space.
  • Create office zones for the quiet and louder workers in an open plan set up,
  • Encourage movement and use of sensory items during hui and throughout the workday.

Work to someone’s strengths

No one is good at everything, but everyone is good at something. Hire people for their strengths and utilise them.

Encourage break and leave taking culture

The work will always be there, and productivity will always boost after a break. Often it is our managers and leaders that need to model that taking a break and taking leave is not only okay, but it is essential.

People who are burned out are not going to be top performers.

Provide feedback for work well done

It is so easy in our fast-moving world to only tell people the things they have done wrong or need to change. It’s really important that we provide positive feedback, so people know what mahi they do well and are encouraged to continue doing it. It is also important from a wellbeing perspective for people to have balance in the feedback they receive and to make them feel valued.

Offer communication in a variety of methods

Everyone processes information differently. If you are communicating with one person, check in with them what works best for them. If you are communicating one message to multiple people, communicate this in multiple ways – verbally, written, individually, a group setting.

Think about the accessibility of our written communication

There are so many ways of making our written communication more accessible, however some quick tips:

  • Size 12 sans serif font.
  • Use simple and concise language.
  • Utilise bolding for headings and key points.
  • Avoid long paragraphs, break things into smaller paragraphs or use bullet points.
  • Always have dark text on a light background – never white text on a dark background.

Form or support a neurodiversity or disability network

Employee Led Networks can help people to feel a sense of belonging and connection at work with others who share similar lived experiences. It can help people less alone and empower people to ask for they need.

Continue learning about neurodiversity

With neurodiversity being a popular topic right now, there are plenty of resources, webinars, seminars, and education available. There is plenty more information around neuroinclusive workplaces, recruitment, and leadership out there!

https://umbrella.org.nz/neurodiversity-in-workplace/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-does-neurotypical-mean#neurodivergent

About Amber Rowe:

Amber is neurodivergent and has completed studies in psychology and human development. She works as Senior Adviser Inclusion and Diversity for Ara Poutama Aotearoa – Department of Corrections. She is the chair for the Corrections employee-led national Neurodiversity Network and has created a nationally delivered learning package on neuroinclusive practice and workplaces. She has worked for the department for six years and previously worked for eight years in the disability sector, working primarily with neurodivergent youth and young adults.

Click here to find Amber on LinkedIn, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or would like to discuss this more.