Person holding a spinner toy

Turning differences into positives: managing neurodivergence in the workplace

It’s estimated that around 22% of the population is neurodivergent. Some of the most common neurodiversities are dyslexia (10% of people); dyspraxia (6% of people); attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or ADHD, which impacts around 5% of the population); and autism (around 2% of the population). But what does this mean at work — and how can you ensure you give all your people the support they need to be their best selves?

‘Neurodiversity at Work 2023’, a report from Birkbeck, University of London, highlights the positive impact neurodiversity can have on performance. However, it also makes clear there’s more that organisations can do to make neurodivergent employees feel comfortable. This is demonstrated by the fact that 55% of neurodivergent employees reported that they worried about potential discrimination from their colleagues due to their neurodiversity.

Organisations shouldn’t take this lightly. For neurodiverse people, negative experiences at work can have a significant impact on confidence and self-esteem. For example, individuals with ADHD and/or autism may be at higher risk of anxiety and mental health issues.

Recruitment and induction accessible to all

Supporting neurodivergent employees begins with recruitment. For example, research from Made by Dyslexia found that 75% of people with dyslexia felt disadvantaged by the recruitment process. 

So how can companies make processes more inclusive to ensure that you not only attract all the best applicants but give them an interview experience that leaves them feeling confident in you as an employer that will offer them support?

It’s all about flexibility and clarity, with small things making a big difference, such as:

  • multiple application methods
  • circulating questions ahead of the interview
  • providing extra preparation time.

Throughout the recruitment process, demonstrating an open culture where unique abilities and strengths are valued will make people feel more comfortable — and more likely to want to work for you. 

You’ll also need to tailor your induction and training to make them similarly inclusive once new employees join. Communication is key here. Ask what has worked previously for them — and, equally importantly, what hasn’t. This shows a willingness to listen, which can then be continued with regular reviews. 

The art of open management

Although employee feedback is a great start, it’s unlikely to be enough alone. After all, depending on their past experiences, employees might not know what would be most helpful — or even simply what’s possible. 

Employers therefore need to be able to analyse how each employee’s experience of neurodiversity impacts them as individuals in the workplace. Managers may be tempted to focus on the issues, but neurodivergence shouldn’t be viewed as a weakness or a problem. Neurodivergent people have plenty of strengths, so don’t forget to focus on these.

After all, many steps you take to support neurodivergent colleagues will actually benefit your entire organisation. For example, laying out instructions clearly in a bulleted email will help someone with dyslexia, but clear, consistent information benefits everyone.

At a glance: your guide to supporting each individual


  • Frequent catchups encourage two-way positive and constructive feedback
  • Offer buddying or mentoring
  • Beware overusing cameras and chat for online meetings, as getting multiple streams of information simultaneously can be hard to process 
  • Ensure clear email trails
  • Always consider inclusivity when offering rewards or arranging team building sessions
  • Encourage employees to discuss both difficulties and successes in real-time

Organisation and planning

  • Agree how deadlines will be set
  • Consider technology like Trello or Microsoft Planner to help employees visually track tasks and projects
  • Set regular check-ins to help prioritise tasks
  • Encourage regular breaks (e.g. with the Pomodoro technique, a working pattern involving 25 minute blocks of concentration followed by 5 minute breaks, with longer, 15-30 minute breaks per four consecutive intervals)

Information processing and instructions

  • Ask employees whether everyone understands your preferred way of laying out expectations and instructions
  • Create a psychologically safe space to ask questions about work and provide more information if needed
  • Introduce inclusivity software such as Read Aloud or Dictate

Memory and concentration

  • Software such as OneNote can help employees organise tasks and processes
  • Follow up verbal instructions with clear written summaries to ensure important details are not lost
  • Encourage employees to take notes in a way that works for them
  • Balance the need for multitasking with understanding when someone needs to focus on a single task 

Work environment and hours

  • Show a forward-thinking approach to hybrid, flexible and remote working
  • Allow noise-cancelling headphones
  • Hot desking can lead to anxiety — permanent desks offer more certainty
  • Plan desk locations to limit distractions
  • Consider sit/stand desks to keep people active
  • Minimise the effects of lighting/glare
  • Manage any triggers for anxiety


  • For some neurodivergent people, masking involves hiding behaviours they don’t feel will be accepted, so create an environment where people are comfortable being themselves
  • Encourage ‘stimming’ (repetitive actions or movements which soothe and manage emotions) 
  • Allow fidget tools or activities to aid concentration
  • Implement a traffic light system to communicate wellbeing
  • Link to relevant networks within the business as well as benefits and resources you can offer
  • Consider the benefits of a Wellness Action Plan


No two businesses are the same — and every employee is different too. A flexible approach to neurodivergence is therefore crucial to ensure that everyone feels listened to and supported, from recruitment to induction and beyond. If you create a welcoming, inclusive environment, this can improve employer health, happiness and productivity. And with inclusivity and accessibility more important than ever, it’s not something businesses can afford to ignore.

For Unum’s Group Income Protection customers, our in-house Vocational Rehabilitation Consultants (VRCs) can provide advice and guidance to support neurodivergent employees at work. Click to learn more about Unum’s available absence management tools.

We also have an online screening dyslexia tool available to identify traits of dyslexia and to help to identify what adjustments may be beneficial.

Our customers can also access our Neurodivergence at work webinar for numbers of 15 or more. This session is designed for managers and enables attendees to build their understanding of the four most common types of neurodivergence: dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder. We’ll examine the key role that managers play in supporting and engaging individuals throughout the employee journey, including practical strategies and tools that contribute to managing the challenges all team members may experience.

For more information, email