There is no such thing as the perfect workplace. Everywhere could benefit from some improvements, from revisiting office norms to a complete overhaul of the climate and culture of an entire organization. However, achieving these improvements can be hard as workplace norms and routines are often deeply embedded, and often only change in a piecemeal fashion as the personnel or leadership changes over time. To make an impact in a short period of time, without losing or replacing large numbers of staff, business leaders need to find a vehicle for change that can’t be ignored or avoided, which is where hiring neurodiverse employees comes into play.
The benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace
Everyone wins when organizations hire people on the autism spectrum, not just the individuals who get a well paid, meaningful job that helps to build their own skills and independence. Some of the main benefits of having employees with ASD in the office include:
- Increased empathy – to truly understand someone with autism, employees will have to massively expand their ability to see the world from someone else’s viewpoint, especially when that viewpoint is drastically different to their own. Hiring people on the spectrum will require a lot of additional training for the existing staff with a big focus on those who will be supervising and working alongside the individual. This training should include ideas on how to modify expectations appropriately, support successful interpersonal interactions and how to create an autism friendly work environment. In an ideal setting this training should be outsourced to the autism employment agency who organized the hiring process as they will have an in-depth knowledge of the employee and the training that they undertook to get the job.
- Reviewing old norms – one of the hallmarks of people with autism is that each task is looked as new and fresh; it can take a while for learning in one part of the job to be transferred across to a similar area. This means that employers have to break down each job into its component parts and help the individual on the spectrum to master each piece of the chain. This break down makes for an ideal opportunity for employers to really dig down into each task and see where efficiencies can be made. The icing on the cake is that people with autism often see problems in a very different way, meaning that they could, and indeed should, be part of the task design process as their insight into how to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the job will prove to be priceless.
- Simplified interactions – any time that a group of neurotypical humans get together for a common purpose, group norms and social codes become developed. The office is the perfect breeding ground for these behaviors, and with a well-established and long serving staff, these workplace place norms can become overly complex. Throw in an individual on the spectrum who may have a harder time reading even basic social cues and it’s a potential recipe for disaster. However, the introduction of an employee on the spectrum will force everyone to simplify their interactions; all sarcasm has to be removed, all emails will need concrete terminology and requests will need to be direct and concise. All of these simplified interactions will have a positive impact on the workplace as a new set of norms and expectations start to form around the employee with ASD.
- Higher productivity – one of the main skill sets of an employee on the spectrum is the ability to do repetitive tasks to a high level of performance for extended periods of time. Employers should see this as an opportunity to reform roles and to free up other members of staff to perform more complex and novel parts of the job.
Hiring someone on the spectrum also helps the world at large. Not only does it send a positive image about the company itself, but it reduces the burden on the state’s welfare system, as most adults on the spectrum take benefit payments, and it puts an extra person into the tax base. Both of these will have a positive knock on effect for everyone, all from one simple change in hiring policy.