Seven ways to create a neuroinclusive business

On 20th February 2024, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) published a guide on neuroinclusion at work.  Here are its key principles:

Principle one: Understand where you are now and commit to a long-term action plan.

Regardless of your organisation’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), there may be some way to go to be truly neuroinclusive.   Remember, your organisation is neurodiverse.  Our brains are unique.  So, this is not just about hiring new talent; it’s also about being inclusive of all the different thinkers you already have, regardless of how many have felt comfortable enough to disclose as neurodivergent.

An essential first step is understanding where your organisation is now regarding neuroinclusion, creating and committing to an action plan, and then acting on it.  The main thing is to demonstrate your lasting commitment to progress.

Principle 2: Focus on creating an open and supportive culture where people feel comfortable discussing neurodiversity

Progress on any aspect of EDI requires people to feel comfortable talking about it.  Raising awareness among all staff of neurodiversity and the importance of a neuro-inclusive workplace can help to build understanding and consideration of others’ working styles and preferences.

We need to start talking about neurodiversity based on understanding what it means and its benefits for teams and organisations.   People will more readily ask for support or adjustments at work to perform at their best if they feel psychologically safe to do so and that others won’t judge or make inaccurate assumptions.

Principle 3: Proactively consider neurodiversity in all people management interactions.

Most workplaces, including people management approaches and policies, have not been designed with neurodiversity in mind. It’s time to change that. Everyone’s brain works differently, and attention to neurodiversity benefits everyone.  Don’t wait for people to tell you they are neurodivergent; many may not want to.

People managers need to consider neurodiversity when managing their team daily. Everyday interactions shape our working experience. People should feel included, treated with dignity and respect, and valued for their contribution.  Neuroinclusive management also involves a willingness to be highly person-centric in management style and the assistance that managers offer. An increased understanding of neurodiversity leads to a perspective shift in managers, managing neurodiversity in a way that considers it will benefit the whole team.

Create psychological safety where everybody welcomes ideas, and people can speak up (for example, to ask for adjustments or call out where something isn’t inclusive) without fear of negative consequences.

Principle 4: Allow individual employees to control their journey.

Be guided by each individual on what they need to perform at their best.  Even people with the same ‘type’ of neurodivergence will be very different in how they experience it, how they prefer to work, and what they need.  Don’t assume what someone needs or what would benefit them at work. Instead, allow people to advocate for what they know they need to be successful at work.  Be guided by what they tell you, and don’t question it or compare them with others.

Invite requests for workplace adjustments from everyone to ‘normalise’ the conversation. Some people won’t know they may be neurodivergent or may not want to share aspects of their identity at work. People can benefit from workplace adjustments for many reasons.

Principle 5: Embrace flexible working to enable everybody to thrive.

Flexible working benefits the organisation as well as individuals.  Even minor changes can make a big difference, and some degree of flexibility is possible, even in front-line roles.  Flexible working (for example, flexibility in working hours and where you work) was the practice that had the most positive impact on the organisational and people management outcomes that CIPD asked about in a survey.

However, it is important to recognise that we all work differently.  Be sensitive to the fact that what works for you or others in the team may not work for everyone.  Wherever possible, focus on results more than ‘how and where’ people work.

Principle 6: Practice ongoing attention to well-being.

Sadly, a third of neurodivergent employees surveyed said their experience of being neurodivergent in the workplace had hurt their mental well-being.  Neuroinclusive organisations constantly think about wellbeing, treating it as a never-ending journey towards excellence.

The people management aspect of a manager’s role should be given due time and priority. Managers should regularly check in with their team and with individuals, giving people the opportunity to raise any issues and ask for support at work if they want to.  Uncover and act on the main causes of ill health (physical and mental) in your organisation and respond to individual needs and circumstances.  HR should carefully monitor well-being sentiment and act swiftly to support people and solve problems.

Principle 7: Empower neurodivergent voices.

Your neurodivergent staff members are often well placed to inform you how the organisation can be more neuroinclusive.  Invite participation, but don’t expect it.  Also, don’t assume existing two-way communication channels are, or feel, accessible to everyone.

If you have a disability or neurodiversity-focused internal employee network, consult them on your strategy and approach, and invite members to take a leadership role in your neuroinclusion efforts. Be sure to recognise their contribution.  However, remember not to over-rely on or over-burden colleagues when, for example, educating the organisation. They have a day job, and organisations must take the lead on improving EDI.  Also, don’t assume someone wants to be involved just because they identify as neurodivergent or have family or friends who do.

Source: CAPD neuroinclusion guide