Six ways to support neurodivergent staff
Article submitted by the Public Sector Neurodiversity Community of Practice
For the first time, the 2023 APS census included a neurodivergence question. This is an unprecedented opportunity to gather data on this important characteristic and work towards greater inclusion across the APS.
The recently established Public Sector Neurodiversity Community of Practice (CoP) aims to enhance the representation, inclusion, retention, advancement, and wellbeing of neurodivergent people in the APS. The CoP will also advocate and contribute towards the APS becoming an employer of choice for neurodivergent people; an outcome that provides access to an enormous reserve of untapped talent and better reflects the diverse community our agencies serve.
The CoP uses neurodiversity as an umbrella term to describe people with neurological differences and diverse thinking or processing styles including Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Autism, ADHD, and others. Neurodivergent individuals can experience challenges in the workplace, but with appropriate supports they can make unique and important contributions.
Here are six ways HR professionals can support neurodivergent staff in your organisation.
Build manager capability
HR professionals can promote education and awareness of neurodiversity to all staff members; however, inclusive leadership benefits the entire organisation. Training managers can help them better understand neurodivergent individuals' needs and strengths, reduce stigma and misunderstandings, and create a more accepting and inclusive work environment. It is important to ensure neurodivergent perspectives are included in any resources or training you use, as the saying goes “nothing about us without us.”
Workplace adjustments can make a significant difference for neurodivergent staff, helping them perform at their best and reducing stress and anxiety. Adjustments may include flexible schedules, quiet workspaces, noise-cancelling headphones, alternative communication methods, additional time to process information, and many others. Never assume what someone needs, instead, it’s best to offer some examples of possible adjustments and ask what would be most helpful.
Share diversity stories
Senior staff can have a big impact by ‘coming out’ and sharing their own diversity characteristics and how they may have affected their career. It’s difficult to be what you can’t see and having diverse senior role models can help build a culture of acceptance and inclusion. This might encourage more staff to share their neurodivergent or other diversity status and seek any adjustments they might need, contributing to a significant and positive impact on productivity and staff wellbeing.
Nurture staff networks
Provide support for a neurodiversity staff network within your agency and ensure any existing disability networks are explicitly welcoming of neurodivergent staff. Recruit SES champions who are members of the communities they are representing, and ensure resources are allocated to support staff networks so the burden doesn’t fall on neurodivergent staff, who may already be disadvantaged.
Make systems accessible
Review the accessibility of HR systems for neurodivergent staff and consult with them if you would like to target policy and strategy more effectively. This may include workplace employment policies, performance management processes, inclusion strategies or recruitment processes and will have sustainable benefits for the whole organisation.
And as an individual,
Don’t make assumptions
‘If you’ve met one neurodivergent person, you’ve met one neurodivergent person.’ Take the time to learn about neurodivergence in general, build a safe and inclusive environment where people feel safe to share what makes them unique and are encouraged to ask for what can best support them at work.
HR professionals can create a supportive workplace for neurodivergent staff by promoting education and acceptance, offering workplace adjustments and flexibility, and focusing on strengths and inclusion. By doing so, employers can create a more positive and productive workplace for all staff.
Join the community
To facilitate collaboration on neurodiversity inclusion, encourage and promote cross-agency events, and share resources, the steering committee launched a GovTEAMS community.