Neurodivergent people often perceive and experience the world differently from the majority of people, and a one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment and working practices can prevent them from being successful.

Often, the adjustments they need are minor, yet will have a big impact. They just require employers to think flexibly about their hiring processes, their workspaces and their management practices.

Rachael Leisk, Communication Specialist at the North East Autism Society, explains what the typical differences are in neurodivergent employees and how this can create challenges at work.

↓What the challenges can be
Rethinking hiring practices
↓Clear communication
↓Promoting neurodiversity in the workplace

What the challenges can be

The typical areas of difference in neurodivergent people are communication, social interaction, sensory differences and how they select and focus their attention. So these can be pressure points in the workplace.

Interviews can be particularly challenging, with their emphasis on social competence, eye contact, and open-ended questions. In work, neurodivergent colleagues might appear as socially awkward or find it difficult to grasp the "unwritten rules" of the workplace.

Sensory differences might mean they find workplace lighting or background noise overwhelming, feel uncomfortable in certain clothes, or have difficulties using public transport during rush hours.

And some neurodivergent people - like some neurotypical people - thrive on routine and can find unexpected change stressful.

The important thing to remember is that no two neurodivergent people are the same, and each will have their own individual strengths and challenges. So managers should take the time to get to know them and how they respond to certain situations.

Rethinking hiring practices

Traditional recruitment processes can have the unintended consequence of excluding neurodivergent talent.

Think about how you write your job roles and advertisements, avoiding jargon and being specific about the skills required. Not everyone is a generalist so, if appropriate, focus on the narrower core skills essential for the role.

If you are holding interviews, it is beneficial to send out the questions to all applicants in advance and to ask if they require any adjustments on the day. In the interview, do not let body language, eye contact or other social perceptions get in the way of your judgment about who could perform the role.

But do you need an interview? Work trials, practical assessments and mini-placements are alternative routes into work that could be more accessible.

In the longer term, consider visits and taster days as a way to reach out to potential future recruits who may need help in building up confidence before they are employment-ready.

Clear communication

As with the recruitment process, clear communication is essential in the workplace. Again, it benefits all employees, not just neurodivergent staff.

Information can be overwhelming during the induction process, so try providing some in advance and offer a variety of formats. It is helpful to address aspects of workplace culture and convention that not everybody will find obvious, such as when and where to take breaks, dress codes and who to ask for help. 

Managers should ensure all communications are clear and introduce any changes to organisation well in advance to give people time to feel comfortable with it.

Day to day, some neurodivergent employees might benefit from having instructions communicated by email rather than verbally, so they can process them and go back to them. It's important to understand a person's preferences in communication styles.


Under the Equality Act (2010), employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure staff with disabilities are not substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.

These adjustments will very much depend on individual preferences and needs, and the role someone is performing in the workplace. They are often low-cost or free and can make a huge difference to whether or not someone can do their job.

If office lighting poses sensory problems, allowing an employee to sit near natural light can help. The use of headphones, or working in a quiet space, can prevent an employee being distracted or overwhelmed by background noise, while adaptive equipment such as keyboards or screen filters might be required.

Flexibility in someone's working hours or job role can also make the difference between a colleague thriving at work or having to leave.

Promoting neurodiversity in the workplace

Championing neurodiversity in the workplace not only supports neurodivergent colleagues but sends a strong message externally that your organisation is an inclusive place to work.

This might include senior leaders blogging or speaking about neurodiversity, mentoring or buddy schemes, a neurodiversity network, or case studies and news highlighted in internal comms.

Awareness training for all staff - including managers - is also important for workplace culture and how colleagues treat each other.

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Read our 10 tips on how to help autistic people to thrive at work