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What job challenges do neurodiverse workers face?

Adzuna’s mission is to create a more inclusive workplace for all here.

And how are we going about it? We are taking steps to understand the obstacles facing neurodiverse employees and jobseekers, from challenges interviewing and securing work, to hurdles within the workplace.

We know we have work to do to keep improving our inclusivity and educating ourselves on the issues facing different diverse groups is one way we are doing this. Here we speak to Casper Gorniok, a neurodiverse marketing manager from Surrey, asking: What does neurodiversity in the workplace mean? Why does it matter? And what can we do to support neurodiverse workers?

 

Thanks for speaking to us, Casper. Can you share your specific case as a neurodiverse person?

I was born 6.5 weeks premature with Hydrocephalus (water-in-the-brain) in 1970. Once I was old enough to understand this condition, I just battled on through school, university and into work. In 2000, I took a year out to do an MBA.

But deep down, some things were troubling me. I found it incredibly hard to make friends. Frequently, I was misunderstood. I also found I got into hot water due to my honest appraisal of work or social situations. I experienced long periods of unemployment due to taking on interim work, as the permanent door was not open.

Finally, in October 2020, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My world fell apart. I was 50 years old. When I researched the condition, it explained everything about my social / workplace challenges, as well as why thousands of times, I had been misunderstood. 

In the last year alone, I’ve made thousands of job applications leading to just over 100 first round interviews, including at overtly diverse and inclusive organisations. I have also built over 250 relationships via LinkedIn with Directors & CEOs. However, many of these roles remain ‘on hold’. I’m currently awaiting the outcome of three recent interviews. 

 

What does neurodiversity in the workplace mean? Why does it matter?

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term covering a number of health conditions, including ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, and Tourette’s syndrome.

In the workplace, neurodiversity means that there are diagnostic labels used to explain the diverse ways of thinking, learning, processing and behaving. Being neurodiverse comes down to ‘being different’ in how and what we communicate, how we socialise and fit in, how we think, as well as what some will view as our quirky behaviour, in particular physical mannerisms. This can lead to friction between neurodiverse and neurotypical colleagues.

It matters because the vast majority of businesses still focus on hiring for ‘culture fit’, so often excluding neurodiverse candidates, and this reflects a fear that existing employees will not or cannot accept ‘different’ people like those with neurodiverse conditions for many reasons. In response to this, the trend towards hiring for ‘culture add’ rather than fit is gaining traction, as a way of welcoming diverse views into a business from people who are ‘different’ for a variety of reasons (not just disability). But it is taking time to bed in. 

This is affecting a vast number of people. People with a disability make up 20% of the workforce, yet 70% of people with a disability have an ‘unseen’ one. This means 14% of the workforce has an unseen or hidden disability. This is why it matters. 

Thinking about autism specifically, the latest data from the ONS reveals just 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of employment. Personally, I’ve only had 18 months’ full-time and 18 months’ part-time paid work since openly volunteering my disability in May 2010. I’ve given 1000s of hours of pro-bono help and advice to start-ups. I also cared for my mother for 3 years through a succession of life-threatening illnesses. Yes, I also had a failed business venture with my own money. I realised my shortcomings, expensively.

The personal and career price I’ve paid has been extremely high.

 

 

What are some of the challenges you have faced in the hiring process as a result of your own neurodiversity?

The first challenge is getting beyond the application form! The key obstacle here is the AI aspect of form-filling. If neurodiversity has impacted your career, the evidence is there, for example in employment gaps. Your neurodiversity would typically be disclosed in the confidential ‘equal opportunities’ section of an application form. But AI CV reading technologies often don’t correlate these two, meaning the bias remains and the AI may reject the application without adjusting for your neurodiversity.

Assessment centres are a complete no, no. Group exercises are not straightforward, with neurodiverse people typically struggling to integrate with people they’ve never met before, making it challenging to reach a consensus or deliver a project outcome. I accept we may like to ‘dominate’, but I fought this, as I know talking over others is professionally unacceptable.

Psychometric testing is also problematic. I humbly confess to ‘brain freeze’ in verbal tests. My brain panics, particularly when an answer is either ‘false’ or ‘needs more information’. I’ve asked for extra time, but have found this simply doesn’t help, no matter how many times I have practised beforehand. 

There is also the challenge of processing unseen data for presentation-writing in exactly the same time as neurotypical candidates. Seeing this in advance is helpful.

One of the hardest parts of the hiring process as someone who is neurodiverse is being interviewed for a job. You can be prepped to the hilt, but often as soon as I open my mouth, the body language of interviewers changes. It’s something to do with my being so different to other candidates. This is unconscious bias and training is available to reduce this.

 

What are some of the challenges you have faced in the workplace as a result of your own neurodiversity?

There are challenges beyond the interview process too. On one occasion, I secured an interim role at a world-class brand, but chose not to disclose my neurodiversity condition beyond the HR department. Within 10 days, there were ‘productivity issues’, as I highlighted how difficult it was to connect with colleagues as they were always too busy and meetings were frequently rescheduled. As someone with a neurodiverse condition, this left me completely frustrated as I was in danger of missing critical deadlines. I called a meeting with my line manager to explain the situation, and disclosed my condition. Sadly, the outcome was that our relationship deteriorated dramatically and I was micromanaged. It was agreed I should leave the projects early after 7 weeks, and I was left feeling totally humiliated. 

If I had to sum up the main challenges I’ve faced, they would be:

  • Asking too many questions, but simply because I want to avoid mistakes!
  • Being too blunt in emails and meetings is often my only way to express myself.
  • Being misunderstood.
  • Misunderstanding others when what I hear is ambiguous.
  • Productivity: It can take me longer to deliver solutions, although I often land on better outcomes in the long term.
  • My own voice – it seems to unnerve people.
  • Difficulty with small talk and socialising. I spent 12 months of my 1st 3 years in and out of hospital and ever since I’ve struggled with this.
  • Adapting to different views within a company: I believe in following the company line to achieve targets, but so many times the line manager’s view is different.
  • Being too honest – I tell it like it is.

 

 

How can employers ensure that both the hiring process and the workplace is more neurodiversity inclusive?

There needs to be a hybrid approach to hiring people with neurodiversity conditions. There has to be an opportunity to discuss with HR and perhaps hiring managers about our skills and past experience, and, yes, employment gaps if need be. It’s also an opportunity to go beyond the CV and focus on proven strengths. It’s vital to overcome the negative stereotyping of neurodiversity.

Other key steps include:

  • Top-to-bottom buy-in, from the CEO championing neurodiversity in the workplace, to the entire workforce receiving anti-bias training. It’s also vital that Diversity & Inclusion teams embrace neurodiversity and spend more time talking about hidden disabilities to ensure these candidates are not overlooked.
  • Providing the opportunity for neurodiverse employees, or candidates, to disclose their conditions without fear of retribution. This includes options on application forms for job seekers to highlight if they require a different hiring process, as well as providing the opportunity to discuss these needs with hiring managers, and within the workplace.
  • Adjusting onboarding for neurodiverse employees. At first, the new hire may be the only neurodiverse person in the team. They must feel equally valued.
  • Consider workplace adaptations, such as quiet areas or pods to allow neurodiverse people to be more productive.
  • Provide clear career paths for neurodiverse employees.
  • Collaboration with neurodiversity and disability charities such as Scope, National Autism Society, and Ambitious About Autism. They have free and low-cost resources to help.

 

Are there any particular HR policies employers should look to implement to create this inclusivity?

Every aspect of the recruitment process needs to be adjusted for neurodiversity, from application forms, to the interview process, to onboarding, and ultimately to supporting neurodiverse people within the workplace. This is tricky, but we need to interrogate how to achieve the same understanding/capability of all candidates, even if they are not being assessed against the same selection criteria.

Work trials can be one way used to recruit neurodiverse employees, providing an alternative assessment method to the traditional interview process. They’re great because they focus on the candidate’s ability to do the job. 

Offering flexibility is also helpful. Depending on the specific role and candidate, there may be a need for them to work differently to be productive and happy. This may mean working-from-home, or in a hybrid arrangement. It may mean offering flexi-hours. Offering more flexible contract options such as job sharing, is another option.

 

 

Finally, what are the key do’s and don’ts?

  • Do make job descriptions/adverts clear, in order to relate to neurodiverse applicants.
  • Do give neurodiverse people a chance to be considered & hired.
  • Do run anti-bias training. HR has to understand the proportion of people with a neurodiversity condition, and that it is becoming more commonplace. Especially as more women than ever are being diagnosed later in life. The pool of neurodiverse talent is growing.
  • Do work with whoever you need to, to understand and develop a range of career pathways for neurodiverse candidates. 
  • Do create a safe space for neurodiverse people to be able to be open in an organisation without fear or consequences. 
  • Do be age inclusive. Understand that neurodiversity conditions are predominantly innate (from birth).

 

  • Don’t be patronising. Show authenticity and mean it.
  • Don’t threaten. There has to be a clearer understanding with line managers about goal-setting. This can only be done with a thorough understanding of the employee’s strengths and development areas.
  • Don’t think only about young employees – this is too tempting. Everyone at every stage in their career deserves to unlock and fulfil their potential.

 

Thank you Casper for taking the time to educate us about this important topic. We really appreciate your insights and it’s great to learn from you how we can better support neurodiverse people in the workplace. 

If our readers have other suggestions to add as we look to improve, we’d love to hear from you and you can get in touch with us here.

 

Useful resources to learn more:

Neurodiversity at Work, Amanda Kirby and Theo Smith, August 2021, for more information on how to develop neurodiverse practices including inclusive job-descriptions, workplace adaptations, hiring manager training, interview adaptations and on-boarding strategies. 

Three ways to support neurodiverse employees in the workplace, DiversityQ, February 2022

A rising tide lifts all boats, Deloitte Insights, January 2022

Neurodiversity at Work, CIPD, February 2018

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