You are here

  1. Home
  2. Alumni
  3. Professional Knowledge Bank
  4. Neurodiversity at Work: Organisational Change in the ‘New Normal’

Neurodiversity at Work: Organisational Change in the ‘New Normal’


When lockdown was imposed on the UK, businesses had to react agilely to protect and support their workforces, whilst also maintaining their core operating model. Responsively, organisations who could do so quickly adopted home-working practices. Managing at a distance presented new challenges, requiring high trust, flexibility and strong professional relationships. 

While some staff have struggled with isolation, their situation exacerbated by lack of space, childcare, or connectivity for example, many others have thrived away from the traditional office environment. For some, this change has highlighted previously unrecognised work-related impediments, such as long commutes, work pacing issues, and sensory or social discomforts.

Prior to lockdown, levels of absenteeism, presenteeism and leaveism across all industries was a growing concern (Hesketh & Cooper, 2019, p.1). Feared as a response to undisclosed mental or physical health issues, these behaviours disadvantage both the individual and organisation through reduced productivity, satisfaction, and wellbeing. 

Minimising anxieties induced by traditional office structuring can be optioned by re-evaluating how jobs are constituted. Embracing and centring neurodiversity within organisational culture provides insights into the varied and changed needs of our workforces.

In creating more inclusive workspaces, organisations better represent their diverse communities. An acceptance of difference brings a wealth of benefits; clearer communications, opportunities for authentic interactions and behaviours, personal task optimisation, and sensitivity of other lived perspectives. 
Furthermore, inclusivity widens the talent pool. 

Inviting new skillsets into the organisation varies the range of outputs that can be generated and developed through creative approaches to problem-solving. Autistic hyper-focus for example, can introduce a high level of skills and expertise in combination with deep task attention. This report will positively position neurodiversity within the workplace and offer a practical framework for its inception and sustainment.

Homeworking As The Impetus For Change

The expedited shift to homeworking has offered the opportunity to reassess and reconfigure how jobs are structured. The impact of Covid-19 has demonstrated that previously established barriers to homeworking were inaccurate. What was thought of as impossible, quickly became possible. 

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD, 2020) indicate that home working has been viewed largely favourably by employers during the pandemic, with 37% of employers reporting no change, and 28% citing a noticeable increase in productivity. This realised against a backdrop of significant instability, uncertainty, and global crisis. 

Although not all favour an entirely home-based role, downsizing or terminating office premises can free up capital to be invested elsewhere. Moving office space into smaller, regional, hub-based models can also offer flexibility to those who crave a return to the office, either fully or partially. 

Yet, working from home can deliver a wealth of benefits. The switch to homeworking can free up time, remove a stressful commute, better accommodate domestic arrangements, ease dress code conformity, and boost productivity through reduced social interactions.

Alongside, homeworking provision facilitates autonomous working. Focus becomes centred on outputs and deliverables, not time spent at desks. Risks of presenteeism, staff who present at work when ill (Hemp, 2004) are lessened, as work can be completed in comfortable surroundings, with immediate access to rest facilities when needed. In fact, it is not uncommon for managers to choose homeworking as an alternative to sickness absence. 

For employers to offer the opportunity for work to be paced in accordance with natural fluctuations in ability and capacity, there must be mechanisms in place for managers to support and consult with their teams. Discussions around how people perceive their work will be hindered by the state of relationships already established. 

By changing the nature of the job characteristics and the boundaries constraining it, employees can act upon the role to create a better fit and derive greater meaning from their work (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). Furthermore, the ability to manipulate aspects of the role to suit individual skillsets, may attract a more diverse range of candidates through this flexing of role boundaries. 

Under the Equality Act 2010 (, 2015) firms have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to support prospective and existing employees with a disability. Without appropriate procedures to identify and support individuals covered by this legislation, there persists a reliance on subjective interpretation of employee behaviours. The switch to homeworking has shown that work can be conducted differently, improving accessibility and employability for disabled people.

Although not all neurodivergent individuals identify as disabled, neurodiversity is an umbrella term for those with neurological difference, such as autism, ADHD, or dyspraxia (Corby, 2018). Put simply, neurodivergent individuals perceive and experience the world differently. Often these diagnoses exist concurrently, with frequent disclosure of a co-morbidity (Rommelse et al, 2018). Estimates indicate that around 15% of the workforce is neurodivergent, however, this cannot account for those who are undiagnosed or unaware (ACAS, 2020). 

By embracing and maximising the talents of those who think differently (CIPD, 2018, p.3), organisations can become more innovative and creative in their problem-solving. Research into specialist hiring initiatives revealed that neurodivergent hires helped refine some of the thought processes within the teams of DXC Tech (CIPD, 2018, p.4). JP Morgan Chase discovered that autistic workers were 50% more productive than neurotypical teams after three to six months in role, completing work that other workers had taken three years to reach the same standard (CIPD, 2018, p.4).

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) found that 58% of the reasonable adjustments designed to support neurodivergent individuals in work were either free or inexpensive (JAN, 2020), with survey results indicating employers found these accommodations effective. Participants in the JAN study also reported multiple benefits such as; retaining valued and qualified employees, increased productivity, reducing absence, increased morale, and higher profitability. 

Additionally, widening the diversity of teams can also benefit external networks. In considering neurodiversity across all professional interfaces, organisations can broaden their customer base, improve relationship dynamics, and strengthen existing network loyalty (CIPD, 2018, p.12). 

Therefore, if the benefits of hiring and retaining neurodivergent staff are clear, what can organisations do to invite and celebrate a more diversely representative workforce?

With wider homeworking practices expected to continue in the foreseeable future (Dartnell, 2020), conversations to explore individual perspectives of the change can be triggered as a result. Initiating respectful and honest conversations can contribute towards a more flexible and inclusive culture, although there is no duty on the employee to disclose (ACAS, 2020). 

Acting with neurodiversity in mind is anticipated to benefit all stakeholders, inclusive of those with or without a formal diagnosis. Placing people at the centre of the organisation facilitates a highly personalised and meaningful path for progression, one aligned with individual strengths and interests, balanced across the collective capabilities of the team. 

When recruiting new team members, be explicit about the culture of the organisation, explain the implicit norms and expectations, clarify things which are usually overlooked. For autistic employees, clear communication and documentation reduces the need to infer. Accelerated understanding of the organisational identity better prepares joiners to culturally align and adapt. 

Hiring for and developing people in conjunction with specialist skillsets maximises personal and organisational competencies. Analysing and capitalising upon the existing abilities of the team builds organisational resilience to external change. The culture becomes one of specialism, rather than generalists.

Neurodiversity awareness training can provide insights into different preferences and styles of communication. This favours the sharing of wider perspectives and experiences, minimising judgement of others. Moreover, personal development opportunities can be offered to those willing to mentor others, crafting a highly differentiated channel of peer support. This collective responsibility enables everyone to share in constructing a uniquely advantageous culture.

Early discussions of change benefits all. As change can be particularly difficult for autistic employees, communicating change early and sensitively benefits those who finds change unsettling, whether neurodivergent or not. 

In developing a culture of inclusivity, organisations should seek the inputs of genuinely neurodivergent people, consulting with them to design communications which accurately represent the real, lived experience of neurodiverse groups. The design of workspaces cannot continue to be predicated upon the needs and experiences of a wholly neurotypical labour force. 

To Conclude

Recent events have provided a trigger to examine how employees conduct their roles, and better suit the needs of a more diverse populous. 

A move to homeworking is one way that organisations can offer flexibility to minimise work-related impediments while emphasising specialist skillsets and preferences. Greater accessibility for disabled people to enter the workplace has resulted, offering a wealth of potential benefits to organisations who choose to explore this widened talent pool. 

Neurodiverse employees think differently, bringing creativity, commitment, integrity with novel observations and approaches. This diffuses across the entire organisation, influencing all stakeholder relationships. 

An inclusive culture is inexpensive and simple to implement, but the impact of doing so brings immeasurable societal, organisational and individual benefits. 

© Tracy Smith 2020

Tracy Smith

About the Author | Tracy Smith 

A recent OU graduate, Tracy Smith achieved First-Class Honours in Business Management, and currently studies towards an MSc in Organisational Psychology. Working as a wellbeing and employability mentor, Tracy supports autistic adults to explore, develop, progress and achieve highly personalised career goals. Tracy believes that organisations can be more resilient, innovative, and creative through diverse hiring programmes and creating conditions for everyone to flourish.


Would you like to contribute an article towards our Professional Knowledge Bank? Find out more.