Another year, another Mental Health Awareness Week. A week which, to an extent, I find myself dreading. A week in which there are blog posts, articles, LinkedIn statuses, zoom webinars and initiatives aplenty all discussing how to facilitate ‘awareness’ of mental health in the workplace. For someone who is painfully aware of their mental health for fifty-two of the year’s weeks, this can feel like an excruciating magnifying glass being pointed at an aspect of oneself which often feels detrimental in the workplace.
So, for this week I thought I would approach the topic from a neurodiversity perspective. To me, this felt far less like a spotlight on my faults, but a more inclusive approach to how mental health challenges can be incorporated positively into a diverse working environment. For a while there has been a pervasive theme in mental health awareness materials of “starting the conversation”; whilst it is, of course, important to talk about one’s mental health, conversations can only go so far, and those conversations should be followed with implementing practical changes.
Neurodiversity is a broad term which refers to the diversity of the human brain and neurocognitive functioning. Practically, this means it can refer to various conditions such as autism, dyslexia, attention deficit disorders, and other mental health conditions.
In research by Acas on neurodivergence in the workplace, they found both employers being studied had an equal opportunities policy, but that the policy did not mention neurodivergence specifically as a category of diversity.
The benefits to employers of promoting a neurodiverse workplace are well proven, from making staff feel safer and more empowered, to opening up positions to talented individuals who may otherwise have been overlooked. From a business perspective too, being more open to neurodiversity can reduce the effects of ‘group think’ in decision making, as well as increasing staff retention.
The CIPD guide on Neurodiversity in the Workplace sets out some non-exhaustive recommendations for how to build a more inclusive workplace for neurodiverse people, which includes:
- C-suite advocacy – sending a positive message from senior leadership to make the organisation’s stance clear.
- Awareness training – for both colleagues and managers, which can reduce the risk of any difficulties arising from other members of staff and provide managers with a better understanding of how to give instructions and manage performance sensitively. Awareness training can also reduce stigma in the workplace empowering individuals to be more open about their neurodivergence.
- Working environment alterations – factors such as office lighting, noise levels, and specialist equipment should all be considered in order to enable neurodiverse employees to work at their best.
- Support and mentoring strategies – having a good support network in place at work, such as a mentoring, buddy, or group schemes.
- Tailored approaches to customer interactions - there is not a universal approach which will work for everyone, so appreciating that ‘customer interactions’ vary in each workplace, and neurodiverse employees will all approach these situations in their own way. Ensuring you are best able to facilitate this approach.
Every organisation is different, and every employee is different. As such there will not ever be a magic fix-all formula to achieving the most inclusive workplace. However, grappling with some of the suggestions above can make a real difference for employees with mental health conditions. A workplace environment whereby every individual feels empowered to share their idiosyncrasies will inevitably lead to a more productive, efficient, and happier workforce.