by Rob Hill
You want your team to be happy at work, right? Comfortable with their roles, comfortable working with their colleagues, and clear on their responsibilities. Then you can start creating an inclusive workplace culture today.
It’s a cliché, thrown around so much that it sounds trite, but your team will be more productive if they are happier at work.
There are many ways to achieve this nirvana, but we will focus on one that has particular relevance to our expertise – neurodiversity and making reasonable adjustments.
What are reasonable adjustments at work?
Quite simply, reasonable adjustments are actions that you can take at work to create a more comfortable working environment. Whether you’re a manager or a team member, you can either request reasonable adjustments or install them yourself.
If you want the official definition from ACAS (https://www.acas.org.uk/reasonable-adjustments), then here it is:
“Reasonable adjustments are changes an employer makes to remove or reduce a disadvantage related to someone’s disability. For example, making changes to the workplace, finding a different way to do something, or providing equipment, services, or support.”
The key word there from our perspective is “disability”, as by law that covers neurodivergent conditions (Equality Act 2010 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents).
Reasonable adjustments are obviously specific to individuals. But there’s a big win-win. Many of these changes will probably benefit everyone, and they will do so pretty quickly too. They don’t interfere with productivity. In fact, they’ll probably improve it.
Most reasonable adjustments are simple and very affordable.
With a bit of forethought and planning, they can also be proactive. You can take action before you’re asked specifically to do so.
But making reasonable adjustments in isolation will limit their effectiveness. It’s best to introduce them within the wider context of an improved workplace culture. So we’ll cover that topic first.
10 ways to create an inclusive workplace culture
Creating an inclusive workplace culture – sounds a little bit nebulous, doesn’t it? We all think we know what “culture” means, and how we can influence it, in both our personal and professional circles.
But keeping to our theme, creating an inclusive culture at work means making accommodations to suit both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals. It’s perfectly possible to at least make a start on this right now. It merely requires the will and courage to change our behaviours.
Behaviours, not budgets.
So how can you create an inclusive workplace culture?
Here’s our hit list of ten suggestions, based on years of creating and developing our own training, and consultations with other trainers and course developers.
- Simply listen. Create a culture of active listening, allowing individuals with hidden disabilities to share their experiences and needs openly.
- Champion accessibility. Ensure that digital and physical environments are accessible to all, catering to different sensory needs and abilities.
- Lead by example. Leadership commitment is crucial. Showcase inclusive practices from the top down to inspire your entire workforce.
- Educate your teams. Knowledge is power. Provide ongoing education about hidden disabilities to dispel misconceptions and promote an inclusive mindset.
- Dismantle stigma. Challenge stereotypes and stigmas surrounding hidden disabilities, promoting a culture of acceptance and respect.
- Encourage disclosure. Create and nurture a safe environment for employees to disclose their hidden disabilities, promoting a supportive community.
- Create support networks. Establish peer support networks where employees can connect and share experiences, fostering a sense of belonging.
- Introduce flexible work practices. Embrace flexibility in work arrangements and tasks to accommodate diverse needs and preferences.
- Celebrate our differences. Celebrate the unique contributions of individuals with hidden disabilities, showcasing their achievements.
- Genuinely engage with feedback. Regularly seek feedback from employees with hidden disabilities to continuously improve your inclusion efforts.
Of course, you could be doing some, or all, of these things already. In which case – brilliant, keep going!
Supporting neurodiverse individuals at work
So you’re on your way to creating or improving a culture of inclusivity at work. Good start.
But it’s estimated that 1-in-7 of the UK population is neurodivergent. You almost certainly manage or work with someone who has autism, dyslexia, ADHD, or some other neuro-difference that means they experience their world differently to a neurotypical person.
And you probably don’t even know it.
Or maybe you suspect it. You perceive that their behaviour differs in some way from the expected norms of the office (whatever those norms are….again, such a nebulous and misleading concept).
Or equally as likely, you work for or with a neurodivergent person and you have absolutely no idea because they mask their behaviour. They expend additional mental and physical energy conforming to those aforementioned norms, because they feel like they have no choice. And that is exhausting.
This is where reasonable adjustments can be so beneficial. Making changes to the working environment and approaching your communications and connections with a new perspective.
Here are 8 reasonable adjustments you can make or request at work:
- Changing someone’s workstation, e.g. adjusting the lighting above the desk, providing headphones, installing a text reader on a laptop.
- Genuinely flexible working arrangements, away from the rigid 9-5. Remote working, hybrid working, compressed hours, changing break or lunch times – there’s loads of solutions.
- There’s no need to encourage everyone to speak up in meetings. Socially anxious employees still have great contributions to make – just catch up with them afterwards 1-2-1, or send them an email.
- Creating signage at work so it’s 100% clear where everything is – toilets, stairs, lifts, the canteen, meeting rooms, and tea or coffee areas.
- Set aside a meeting room solely as a ‘quiet area’, where people can decompress and calm down if they’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Introduce fidget toys to meetings. This sounds flippant but trust us. From our own experiences and extensive feedback, this can be a very popular measure.
- Set clear expectations and boundaries for projects. Some people prefer a more concrete framework in which to work. It gives them clarity of purpose.
- Get rid of in-house office jargon and acronyms. Or at the very least, explain what these terms are and what they mean. Make sure any new starter is aware of any jargon you all use.
There are a few changes that require a longer term commitment (and to be fair, some cash too). But again, they will be beneficial to neurodivergent and neurotypical people alike.
What’s your mentorship programme like? Many neurodivergent people feel more comfortable in a 1-2-1 development plan which takes account of their differences without penalisation or patronisation.
Do you support and encourage diverse learning styles? Or do you expect everyone to process information in exactly the same way and at exactly the same pace? Only one of those options is truly inclusive.
And finally, you can introduce specialised neurodiversity training.
Perhaps you’re starting from scratch and don’t know how to kick things off? Or do you have a programme in place that needs some refining?
Our CPD-accredited Neurodiversity In The Workplace training is available as a series of webinars and workshops tailored to deliver the right outcomes for you. Click on the link below to find out more.
If you want to start creating an inclusive workplace today, we can help you deliver that. So do get in touch by emailing us at: