Organisations missing out on ‘pool of talent’ by failing to support neurodivergent employees

New Acas guidance highlights urgent need to de-stigmatise conditions such as dyslexia and autism in the workplace

Organisations missing out on ‘pool of talent’ by failing to support neurodivergent employees

The UK’s employment watchdog Acas has today published employer guidance to help employers better support neurodivergent employees in the workplace.

According to the organisation, one in seven UK workers are “neurodivergent” – an umbrella term that includes neurological conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, many remain largely unsupported in the workforce.

As a result, many employers already have a neurodiverse workforce, possibly without realising it, and failing to tackle misconceptions could lead to loss of talent.

Tom Neil, Acas senior guidance adviser, said: “Our guidance aims to help both employers and employees create workplaces where all staff can fulfil their potential. Workplaces are beginning to recognise the unique gifts that neurodivergent staff can bring and it is a great time for employers to start thinking about how they can better support all of their employees.” 

The report follows CIPD research published last year, which found almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of employers did not include neurodiversity in their people management practices.

Claire McCartney, CIPD associate research advisor, who described the guidance as “excellent”, said it was great to see the profile of the issue being raised.

“Often this area feels a bit daunting to employers, but there are different practical steps which can be taken. More employers are now open and aware but more still needs to be done. Keep talking about how you might do things differently,” she said. 

Acas highlighted that employees often didn’t tell their manager or colleagues about their needs because a lack of general awareness meant they feared being judged or discriminated against. 

Employers were advised to create an inclusive company culture by highlighting the organisation’s commitment to neurodivergence and offering training and workshops to educate staff. 

It also recommended creating “neurodiversity champions” and a support network, updating policies and guidance on disability to also refer to neurodivergence and ensuring line managers were adequately trained. 

Cutting out bias at the root was crucial, it continued, and job design and recruitment practices had to be carefully looked over. 

Creating a more inclusive workplace could open the organisation up to a pool of talent that may otherwise have been overlooked, help retain skilled staff and reduce recruitment costs, it said, pointing out as just one example that National Autistic Society research found just 16 per cent of adults with autism were in full-time paid employment. 

The whole workforce could benefit from necessary changes, the report added: “Remember, everyone is different. While creating a workplace that supports neurodiversity is particularly important for neurodivergent employees, the actions and strategies put in place can benefit all staff and help an employer get the best out of their whole workforce.” 

Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, previously told People Management businesses were moving on from the notion of employing people with cognitive disability as a form of charity, to realising it could be good business.

“They’re realising they can think in ways neurotypical people can’t, can identify problems invisible to neurotypical employees and suggest solutions outside of the box,” he said.