Tactics for HR leaders in Building Neurodiverse Workplaces

As HR leaders work to build better workplaces, engaging a major source of untapped talent in neurodiverse employees can contribute to competitive advantage, ESG metrics, and DE&I efforts. HR leaders are in a unique position to drive these business-critical objectives by building a comprehensive approach to not only hire, but support, retain, and empower neurodiverse employees.

Neurodiversity is defined as the divergence and variance in the way people think, including dyslexia, autism, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental conditions. Research suggests that up to 15–20% of the U.S. population is neurodivergent. A neurodiverse workplace supports a spectrum of ways to think, learn, interact, and perceive the world.

Inclusion on neurodiversity matters for employees, clients, and consumers. That’s why a growing number of prominent companies like Bank of America, SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Ford, Microsoft, and others are building extensive neurodiversity programs. This range of industries demonstrates the broad application of neurodiversity efforts.

Disclosure around company neurodiversity is also central to Environmental, Social, Governance metrics, a key focus for many investors and a powerful lever for company growth. Neurodiversity and mental health are deeply relevant to ESG framework since investments in employee wellbeing often have significant return on investment (ROI) in the long term.

HR professionals can lead the way, harnessing their key role in the organization’s culture and processes. They are the leaders doing the hiring, investing in the Employee Assistance Programs, and creating the manager trainings.

“The more we can equip HR professionals to better support workplace mental health, the more we can drive both better business performance and greater inclusion,” says Wendi Safstrom, President of the SHRM Foundation, “HR leaders can take actionable steps to start to build a company’s comprehensive strategy.”

HR professionals can utilize the below tactics to enhance workplaces for neurodiverse employees:

Assess current status. Conduct internal surveys, hold forums, and solicit feedback from employees and clients alike. There is a significant gap in metrics to track and support neurodiverse inclusion. Tactics to improve a neurodiverse workplace must be focused on setting baselines and goals.

Raise awareness about different needs and ways to communicate. Neurodiverse employees need a multidimensional approach to accommodate processing differences, communication and sensory needs, and various social environments.

Implement supportive, flexible work policies. This means tailoring individual work settings and understanding individual contexts. Employees in neurodiversity programs need to be allowed to deviate from established practices. Accommodations may not be very expensive, like headphones to prevent noise overstimulation, but they do require flexibility and support from managers.

Partner with knowledgeable organizations to fill gaps. Many pioneers are changing the talent management game. Partnering with organizations and social partners like governments or non-profits already engaged in supporting neurodiverse people will bolster efforts. Additional resources can also be utilized like the Neurodiversity Hub, specialist consultation like at Specialisterne, specialized workplace designs, case studies, and publications.

Evolve hiring processes for neurodiversity: use nontraditional, non-interview-based assessments and training processes. Skills-based assessments can connect people with the right role and minimize biases from behavioral interviews. Include clear language on the role description and hiring process.

A neurodiverse workplace is a stronger workplace. The objective of these tactics should be geared towards a support ecosystem that can help neurodiverse employees thrive. Leaders and HR professionals can draw on innovative thinking and emerging best practices to build inclusion for neurodiverse employees at every organization.

Disclaimer: SHRM Foundation partnered with One Mind at Work to bring relevant insights and tactics for HR professionals related to neurodiversity.

Authored by:

Christina McCarthy, Executive Director One Mind at Work

Wendi Safstrom, President of the SHRM Foundation