How to support employees with hidden conditions

Workplace wellbeing has never been so high up the corporate agenda. There’s a growing recognition of the importance of supporting employees’ physical and mental health, both inside and outside of the workplace. Supporting employees in the workplace can sometimes feel like an overwhelming and difficult task, with many individual circumstances and variables to consider. Although challenging, it’s important that all employees get the right support for their needs, as this helps employers get the best from them too.

A recent discrimination case illustrated the issues that many employees with neurodiverse conditions - like dyslexia, dyspraxia or autism - face. The employer had failed to put appropriate support in place for an employee with a diagnosis of ASC - Autism Spectrum Condition, instead taking disciplinary action when issues arose around their behaviour, rather than exploring the root of the issue. Sadly, this is by no means a stand-alone case. So how can employers support their staff? Specifically those with neurodiverse conditions.

We have recently partnered with Lexxic - a consultancy that specialise in supporting employers and employees with neurodiverse conditions – to showcase what positives these hidden conditions can bring to a workplace. Here are our top tips for employers on supporting employees with neurodiverse conditions, particularly ASC:

Open up a dialogue

Employers can encourage employees to open up by making it clear that they’ll support them. By starting a conversation, employers show that they are willing to listen and understand the employee’s struggles. Having an honest discussion allows employers to find out what support the individual needs, and what adjustments could make their working life easier. More often than not, it could be something relatively simple. If they request something that can’t be achieved, employers can look for a compromise.

Sooner, rather than later

Adjust the hiring process so that once a candidate is offered the job, they complete a new-starter health screening that identifies any medical conditions and reasonable adjustments. For example, if an employer knows that their new-starter has ASC, they could invite them to look around their workstation and suggest any adjustments that would support them. Employers can also introduce them to their line manager or main point of contact on the first day, so they know who to ask for and who will be training them.

Understand their strengths

Employers want the best employee for the job, with the most appropriate skills. Employees with neurodiverse conditions bring many positives to a workplace – including a different perspective, plus new ideas and thinking. For example, many employees with ASC are very organised and have a higher level of attention to detail than average. Employers should take the time to find out what skills and strengths these employees have, and then encourage them to follow a career path that makes the most of their talents.

Consider the environment

Things like where a person sits in the office, where their locker is, and how their desk or workstation is set up, can have a huge impact on their productivity. For an employee with a neurodiverse condition, small changes to these things can have a powerful and positive impact, without costing the business anything. For example, those with ASC may find it difficult to sit in a busy open plan office for long periods of time, so moving them to somewhere quieter or providing noise cancelling headphones could be suitable solutions. They might also find it difficult in busy offices or next to walk ways, where there’s constant noise or distractions. Hot-desking isn’t advisable, neither is working next to different people each day. Providing these employees with a clear timetable of their activities, and highlighting any changes that will affect them, will provide them with certainty and security.

Train line managers

Employers should train their line managers to understand neurodiverse conditions and how they impact on a workplace. Raising awareness of neurodiversity also helps other employees understand the difficulties. If organising everyone to come together is difficult, look at online learning options - Lexxic even have their own online learning series in Neurotalent Unlocked that employers can tap into.

Support managers too

Anyone who manages an employee with a neurodiverse condition may need training to know the best way to work with that employee. For example, anyone who has dyslexia could find reading through large reports particularly challenging. Taking the time to understand what support employees need, what they find difficult and what adjustments would help, can make an enormous difference to their working life.

Continue the conversation

Support for employees with neurodiversity shouldn’t be a one-time thing, but form part of an ongoing conversation, with regular reviews to ensure that any adjustments are working. This means support can be tweaked and changed as their role and duties evolve. It also helps if an employee doesn’t want to have adjustments made straight away. By keeping it on the agenda, employers are reminding them that the help is always there if they want it.

Many of these tips have no cost attached, and those that do can be delivered in cost-effective ways. By taking these steps, employers are not only supporting employees with neurodiverse conditions, but also helping their team make the most of the skills they have to offer. Above all else, employers should be honest, up-front and treat them with the respect and compassion that all employees deserve. 

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