September 21, 2022 | Barb Carr

Neurodiversity in the Workplace


It’s estimated that 1 in 10 working-age adults are neurodiverse. We all know people in the workplace who seem a bit different. Maybe they don’t talk much or they talk too much. Maybe they are hyper-meticulous, analytical thinkers (to an annoying degree). Perhaps they never focus on one project long, but make incredible creative contributions with seemingly little effort (and limitless energy). Maybe they don’t seem to understand your humor (and you’re hilarious!) or make poor eye contact when you try to communicate with them. And maybe you are aware you are one of the people contributing to neurodiversity in your workplace (but not everyone is aware he or she is neurodivergent).

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is not a mental health condition but refers to several cognitive conditions. People think and process information in different ways. Over time, psychological science has categorized and labeled these different ways of thinking. Some common category labels most of us are familiar with are autism spectrum, ADHD, and dyslexia.

Be careful not to stereotype workers based on those labels. These labels only describe parts of the person who was assessed. All cognitive conditions have traits that some people display and some don’t. For example, one stereotype of autistic people is that they don’t have emotions; however, they experience the full range of emotions. They may not display them in words or body language in the way we are accustomed so their emotions are harder to identify.

Neurotypicals (people who conform to what most people would perceive as normal behavior) sometimes categorize neurodivergent people as difficult or challenged. Neurodivergent workers are not difficult, they are just different, and the challenge for these workers is working in environments that cater to the way neurotypicals like to work. Workers who think differently have pronounced strengths that bring value to their workplaces. Understanding the benefits of a neurodiverse workplace, and how to support these workers in contributing their best work is essential to performance improvement.

Neurodiversity 2

Neurodiverse workers often underperform but not from lack of desire or ability. The most common reason for underperformance is a lack of support and understanding in the workplace. However, matching the neurodivergent worker with the right job and strengthening any system weaknesses that do not support the worker will contribute to the worker’s success.

Tips for Supporting Neurodiverse Workers in their Roles

An accommodating working environment and inclusive workforce helps neurodiverse workers excel in their jobs. Following are a few tips to consider to help your neurodiverse workers flourish.

  • Make necessary adjustments to work environments to improve productivity. Compared to neurotypical workers, neurodivergent workers may have elevated levels of sensitivity to noise, lighting, and smells. Bright lights, noisy production lines, open-plan offices, or a workstation too close to the kitchen can be a source of distraction and anxiety.
  • Provide unambiguous work direction and checklists. Poor short-term memory is common among neurodivergent workers. Offer visual (photograph) instructions with text or an example for them to follow.
  • Patiently check for understanding. They may not ask you questions, even if you tell them to ask. For example, ask them to repeat back the task you assigned.
  • Offer assistive technology, like speech-to-text software.
  • Suggest time management apps. Time management is a common challenge for neurodivergent workers.
  • Involve structure and routine in the workday with clearly defined responsibilities and expectations.

Workplaces that hire employees with a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences are improving creativity, innovation, and problem-solving in their organization.

More Resources

How to Get the Best Out of Your Autistic Employee

Dear Dyslexic (A Foundation for People with Learning Differences)

ADDitude: Support for People with ADHD and Related Conditions

Root Cause Analysis Helps you Identify Weaknesses in your Work Systems

If you are noticing workers are making mistakes and errors, don’t give up on them, improve the system. A TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis can identify weaknesses in many areas, and provide guidance on Corrective Actions that support nondivergent workers with the structure they need to perform well, including:

  • helpful checklists
  • unambiguous and clearly communicated policies
  • adequate work direction
  • favorable working environment
  • better worker-machine interaction (clear displays, easy-to-operate and identify controls, adequate labeling, training on equipment)
  • ease of work turnover

Learn more about improving your work systems by attending a 2-day course or a 3-day virtual course.

Operational Excellence
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