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Why neurodiversity could give your business a competitive advantage

September 01, 2022 Andrea Warmington

Workplaces that are embracing neurodiveristy are reaping the rewards of hiring neurodiverse employees.

There’s a reason why many of the world’s biggest companies, including Microsoft, SAP, and Ford, have begun investing in neurodiversity programmes as part of their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies. Workplaces that “make an extra effort to recruit, retain, and nurture neurodivergent workers can gain a competitive edge from increased diversity in skills, ways of thinking, and approaches to problem-solving,” says Deloitte Insights

Many people with autism, ADHD, learning disorders such as dyslexia, and other conditions under the neurodiversity umbrella have “higher-than-average abilities” in many areas, according to HBR. “Research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics.” 

There’s no better time to embrace neurodiversity in the workplace. With talent shortages being reported in every industry, BetterUp notes that “employers would benefit from turning their attention to the advantages of neurodiversity in the workplace”.

Do bear in mind, however, that, as with all diverse employees, it’s important to avoid stereotyping neurodiverse employees or categorising people into certain skill sets based on their diagnosis - let them show you where their individual skills lie.

Innovative thinking and approaches to problem-solving

Every workplace could benefit from a greater diversity of opinions. Neurodivergent employees can bring “different and valuable ways of thinking and problem-solving that could lead to innovative solutions and give companies a competitive advantage,” according to Deloitte Insights. 

“Abilities such as visual thinking, attention to detail, pattern recognition, visual memory, and creative thinking can help illuminate ideas or opportunities teams might otherwise have missed.”

HBR agrees. “Because neurodiverse people are wired differently from ‘neurotypical’ people, they may bring new perspectives to a company’s efforts to create or recognise value.” 

Increased productivity and efficiency gains

“Research suggests that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them,” says Deloitte Insights. 

This is backed up by EY, which found that “processes that took two to three hours were reduced to just two minutes, thanks to programming by members of their neurodiverse workforce,” according to BetterUp. 

“These employees were able to see inefficiencies that neurotypical employees had either become used to or had never even noticed.”

JPMorgan Chase saw similar increases in efficiency, finding that neurodivergent employees in certain tech roles could be up to 140 percent more productive than neurotypical colleagues, reports People Management.

Enhanced employee engagement and retention

Improving the workplace for neurodivergent employees can improve the workplace for everyone, improving employee engagement and retention - especially crucial for companies struggling with talent shortages due to the Great Resignation.

“Developing policies that support the well-being of any employee supports all employees,” says BetterUp. “When you support neurodiversity at work, you make it easier for everyone to ask for the support they need.”

In fact, research from HBR found that “managers have begun thinking more deeply about leveraging the talents of all employees through greater sensitivity to individual needs.” 

Similarly, accommodations that workplaces are making for neurodiverse employees can also benefit neurotypical employees, found EY, including setting clearer expectations, giving more explicit feedback, and providing consistent communication.