By Heather Suttie
When Chancellor Jeremy Hunt suggested a default return to the office to encourage water cooler moments and foster creativity, he failed to acknowledge the challenges faced by neurodivergent employees in the traditional office environment.
For many, the office can be the least productive place, where social signals and hidden context can be overwhelming. Instead, remote or hybrid working is what allows neurodivergent talent to thrive and actively contribute to the workplace.
To understand the role of the environment, let’s consider a useful analogy. A cactus thrives and blooms in the desert but may struggle to survive in a different climate. We wouldn’t consider the cactus broken or in need of fixing; we would recognise that the environment wasn’t suitable for it to reach its potential. Similarly, neurodivergent individuals require adaptations to their work environment to thrive.
Flexible working, accelerated by the pandemic, has shown that productivity doesn’t solely rely on physical presence. Online platforms have facilitated team building and idea generation, allowing neurodivergent employees to contribute effectively to meetings.
The chancellor’s remarks perpetuate the myth that productivity is tied to physical presence and overlook the need for workplace accommodations for neurodivergent individuals.
Presenteeism, the act of showing up physically without being engaged or passionate about the work, leads to demotivation, inefficiency, and disengagement. It results in missed deadlines, poorer quality work, more mistakes, and decreased attention to detail.
For neurodivergent individuals, the prioritisation of face-to-face interactions, open-plan layouts, and social norms in the office can be overwhelming and hinder their performance. The pressure to be physically present, even when struggling, often leads to compromised health, work-life balance, and mental well-being.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for working patterns when it comes to neurodiversity. Each individual has unique requirements, and it is crucial to establish open communication channels, a supportive environment, and flexible policies. By accommodating the needs of neurodivergent employees, everyone is given the opportunity to work to their full potential.
A survey indicates that an increasing number of individuals are turning to social media platforms for insights into their neurodiversity traits. This trend highlights the prevalence of discussions and content related to neurodiversity, particularly among younger individuals.However, despite growing awareness, the survey also reveals that many diagnosed individuals still feel uncomfortable discussing their condition with colleagues or employers.
The survey further explores the positive and negative effects of neurodiverse conditions in the workplace. Neurodivergent employees may struggle with concentration, sitting still, meeting deadlines, or showcasing empathy. On the other hand, they often exhibit hyper-focus, creativity, problem-solving skills, and out-of-the-box thinking. These attributes can be valuable to employers if the right support and accommodations are provided.
While 48% of respondents believe that employers should support neurodiversity in the workplace, 50% agree only to a certain extent. This indicates that while employees acknowledge the need for additional tools and accommodations, they may be less receptive to granting similar benefits to others. However, 29% of respondents feel that their employers are overly accommodating, and 4% report that their employers make work more challenging for neurodivergent individuals.
Employers are actively taking steps to provide support for neurodiversity in the workplace. These include options to work from home, positive and inclusive language, and clear communication channels. Despite these efforts, the survey suggests that there is still work to be done to fully embrace inclusivity.
Glasgow-based consultancy, This is Milk, notes that 40% of their team are neurodivergent which they see as a strength. Embracing the unique perspectives and cognitive differences within the team fosters an environment that drives innovation, curiosity, and exceptional results. They have a core team of 16, with an additional eight expert consultants. Setting a new standard for workplace flexibility, 50% of the team works remotely, while the remaining 50% have the freedom to choose between remote work and in-office days. This hybrid approach not only increases productivity but also promotes a positive and empowering work environment.
By eliminating concerns about commuting times and costs, accommodating family commitments, and embracing individual work styles, This is Milk ensures that its team members thrive in their roles. Rather than conforming to a traditional in-office model, the company’s focus on autonomy and flexibility empowers employees to leverage their strengths and unleash their full potential.
Contrary to conventional concerns about remote work, This is Milk has witnessed a significant boost in productivity. The high-performing team demonstrates a deep understanding of their unique capabilities and effectively capitalises on them, propelling the company’s success.
“We firmly believe that embracing neurodiversity and providing a flexible work environment is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic advantage,” said Angela Prentner-Smith, MD and Founder at This is Milk. “Our team’s diverse perspectives and collaborative spirit fuel our innovation and drive us to achieve outstanding results for our clients.”
This is Milk continues to prioritise diversity, inclusivity, and empowerment, setting an example for other companies within the digital sector. Through their unwavering commitment to neurodiversity, the company reinforces the notion that diverse teams create stronger organisations, foster innovation, and deliver exceptional value to their stakeholders.
Creating an open and inclusive workplace that accommodates neurodivergent employees is essential. Employers need to recognise that everyone’s brain works differently and that unique strengths and weaknesses exist in all individuals. By providing the necessary support and accommodations, employers can foster employee wellbeing, engagement, understanding, teamwork, and ultimately, performance.
Embracing neurodiversity benefits not only neurodivergent individuals but the entire workforce.
This is Milk focus on human-centered change, digital strategy, research-based product design and education and up-skilling for the future. The team regularly blog on neurodiversity, learning and more, here.