Neurodiversity in the Workplace

By Azrin Manzur

Reading time 10 minutes ⏰


The average adult is expected to work 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day until the retirement age of 65, which indicates that work is expected to be a large part of our lives. For neurodivergent (or ND) individuals, there are many challenges to be faced when it comes to the workplace and the job seeking process. For autistic individuals in particular, an estimated 85% of the autistic population faces unemployment compared to 4.2% of the neurotypical (or NT) population (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). However, there is evidence that being more inclusive of ND individuals can benefit companies and give them a competitive advantage, which is why some employers are already in the process of changing their recruiting process.


Firstly, it is important to recognize that the hiring process is structured in a way that can be discriminatory for ND individuals. It often requires knowledge of unwritten rules and social contexts such as specific, rehearsed answers to common interview questions. According to Austin & Pisano of the Harvard Business Review (2017), HR divisions are often hyperfocused on a small set of skills that ND people, especially autistic people, may struggle with. This includes verbal communication skills, teamwork, networking abilities, adapting to a fast-paced environment, and so on. The hiring process rules out those who do not fit these criteria even if the job itself does not explicitly require them, thus excluding ND individuals even when they may be qualified.


When ND individuals do make it through the job seeking process, they can feel alienated or overwhelmed in relation to their fellow NT coworkers. Part of this can come from masking, which is changing one’s mannerisms, tone of voice, and the way one interacts with others in order to better fit in with NTs. This can be done consciously or unconsciously, often at a vast emotional toll to oneself (Rakshit, 2021). For ND workers, constantly feeling the need to mask can be extremely tiring, especially in addition to the work they are already performing. In addition to this, some common aspects of workplaces such as a lack of breaks, excessive distractions, and general refusal to provide accommodations can be exceptionally taxing for ND workers (Price, 2022).


For employers: there is evidence that points to the benefits of changing the hiring process to accommodate and attract ND individuals. For example, those with autism or dyslexia can be exceptionally talented in mathematics, pattern recognition, and possess above average memory (Austin & Pisano, 2017). Autistic individuals specifically are also known to excel at tasks requiring sustained attention to detail, and have the ability to focus on complex and repetitive tasks. Dyslexic individuals are often extremely creative and innovative with their thought processes and ideas (Price, 2022). In order to make the hiring process more accessible to ND (especially autistic) individuals, it is important to keep job postings clear and concise, and only list relevant skills and requirements. There are many things an interviewer could do to make the interview process easier, such as use clear language when asking questions, consider providing said questions to the candidate a couple days in advance, and set times for breaks. A work trial could also be used as an effective alternative to the traditional interview (National Autistic Society, n.d.). Some employers have already implemented programs or modified the recruiting process in order to bring in more ND individuals. Companies like this include SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Microsoft, Willis Towers Watson, Ford, and EY. (Austin & Pisano, 2017). Making the workplace more accessible to ND individuals will result in a more inclusive work environment, new ideas and perspectives, and a more forward-thinking company.





References


Austin, R.D., & Pisano, G.P. (2017). Neurodivergence as a competitive advantage. Harvard

Business Review.

https://hbr.org/2017/05/neurodiversity-as-a-competitive-advantage.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum

Disorder. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.


National Autistic Society. (n.d.) Employing autistic people – a guide for employers.

https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/employment/employing-autistic-people/employers.


Price, Alan. (2022, February 15). Neurodiversity And The Workplace. Forbes.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2022/02/15/neurodiversity-and-the-workplace/?sh=6ccd39792a22.


Rakshit, Devrupa. (2021, October 25). ‘Masking’ for Years Can Leave Autistic People Confused

About Who They Really Are. The Swaddle. https://theswaddle.com/masking-for-years-can-leave-autistic-people-confused-about-who-they-really-are/#:~:text=Masking%20is%20the%20suppression%20of,camouflaging%2C%20compensating%2C%20adaptive%20morphing.