Employers urged to provide support for neurodiverse colleagues as remote working looks set to stay

  • New research conducted by O2 reveals that 81% of employees with neurological conditions feel their employer could provide them with more support
  • Whilst 34% say working from home during lockdown has been beneficial for their focus, 23% say it has made them more aware of the challenges they face
  • Biggest challenges include maintaining focus during virtual meetings (45%), ‘Zoom’ fatigue (44%) and feeling overwhelmed by instant messaging platforms (43%)
  • O2 is committed to being a leading inclusive employer and has partnered with Perfectly Autistic to devise top tips to make workplaces more friendly for those with neurodiverse conditions

 

O2 is calling for increased awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace after new research reveals 81% of those with a condition such as autism, ADHD or dyslexia, feel there is an opportunity for them to be better supported.

With its industry-leading inclusion agenda, O2 has pledged to make its own workforce truly representative. To explore how home working conditions throughout the pandemic have impacted those with neurodiverse characteristics, research was carried out to share insight from employees and leaders of small and medium businesses.

Encouragingly, the data shows the positive effect that working remotely is having on those with neurological conditions, as 34% believe that fewer distractions from other people around has made them more productive. However, almost a quarter (23%) say working from home during lockdown has made them more aware of the challenges they face.

The most common challenges cited include maintaining focus during virtual meetings (45%), ‘Zoom’ fatigue (44%) and feeling overwhelmed by the reliance on instant messaging platforms (43%).

A high proportion (68%) of business leaders state they believe neurodiversity should be celebrated in the workplace and that employees with such conditions can be a real asset to a company. However, 64% admit to having ‘little’ or ‘no’ understanding of the cognitive differences people may have that may make communicating challenging for them. This has been attributed to the fact that 40% think the topic isn’t discussed enough, whilst 33% are worried about saying the wrong thing.

Working from home during the Coronavirus pandemic has made business leaders more aware of differences in the way their employees work, as almost half (48%) say they’ve realised how many team members have different working styles. They’ve also come to realise the impact that remote working has likely had on neurodiverse employees, with 60% believing that remote working would have made the working day more challenging for those employees on their teams.

Kelly Grainger, co-founder and director at Perfectly Autistic, providing Autism training, consultancy and resources for businesses said: The key thing to understand with neurodiversity is that people’s brains are different and are going to respond differently to the same things within the workplace especially when having to adapt to more remote working. But going beyond increasing understanding, it’s essential that businesses can not only talk the talk but also walk the walk when it comes to neurodiversity support.

“It’s also important to remember that some people won’t even know that they are autistic, for example I didn’t receive my diagnosis until I was 44 years old. Others won’t want to disclose due to fear of being discriminated against. So as an employer, having a level of understanding and ensuring your whole workforce is aware of how neurodiversity can cause people to work in different ways is key to making those people feel respected, supported and ultimately valued.”

With remote working bringing different working styles to light, 44% of business leaders surveyed admitted they want to be doing more to understand these differences and ensure they’re putting the right tools in place for people to feel supported. Employees with a neurodiverse condition say the key to this is an increasing awareness of neurodiversity in their workplace (60%), more flexibility to accommodate their needs (54%) and having more options to try out different working styles that better suit their conditions (49%).

Kelly continues:Having O2 open up this conversation is great and it’s encouraging to see such a large organisation putting the wheels in motion when it comes to educating their workforce. I only hope that I will continue to see more follow suit and more people talking about both the challenges and also benefits of being neurodiverse.”

The good news is that 75% of those with a neurodiverse condition want to actively be involved in helping educate and raise awareness within their workplace and 43% of business leaders are ready and willing to do more to understand the differences those with a neurodiverse condition face.

Catherine Leaver, HR Director, O2, said:Having a neurodiverse workforce is really important to having a well-rounded and inclusive team with different talents and perspectives.  At O2 we are immensely proud of our inclusive agenda, and always look for ways to improve and increase inclusive representation. We hope these tips, crafted in partnership with Perfectly Autistic, will help other businesses step-up and focus on how they can fully support the neurodiverse talent they employ.”

At O2, neurodiversity within the workplace is recognised as part of the company’s diversity and inclusion agenda. In 2020 O2 ran a successful programme to help their people improve their inclusive understanding by launching an ‘Instinctively Inclusive’ training course. It saw an impressive 99% success completion rate from our 6,500-strong employee base.

The network provider also recently launched an Inclusion Allies programme, which focuses on building empathy, understanding and inclusive behaviour across the workforce. O2 has also made its ‘Conscious Inclusion’ training mandatory for hiring managers.

 

Five top tips from O2 and Kelly Grainger on how business owners can ensure they’re supporting neurodiverse employees right from the get go:

1. Be mindful from the start of the interview process – Make sure that the interview process is clearly laid out. Use visuals to show where the office is and who will be interviewing. Think about the last interview or meeting you went to. Chances are you googled who you were meeting and where you were going. This information should be included as standard and part of the pre-interview information. Include an itinerary, so people know how long they will be there for and how many different people they are likely to meet. Let them know that they can bring notes if needed and ask if there is anything specific they need for the interview.

2. Be clear with your language – Make sure that the interview questions are clear and experience based and not hypothetical like ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’ For an autistic person this can be impossible to answer. I really struggle with questions like this – as I can take things literally! By asking closed questions where you can talk about relevant skills and experience, it will work much better. If you ask about passions, this is where you may see an autistic person come to light, as they talk about their special interests. Don’t expect and judge the individual on their eye contact (or lack of) as this can be incredibly difficult for an autistic person to maintain. Don’t forget to ask if any reasonable adjustments need to be made if they do get the job.

3. Think about making your workplace more accessible – It takes a bit of planning to ensure that the workplace is accessible. Make sure that there is a quiet, darkened place to decompress, away from the over stimulus of the office. Think about the lighting. Many autistic people also have sensory issues, so bright overhead lighting can be painful, LED lighting is a much quieter, softer and more cost-effective option.  Strong smells like open plan kitchens can cause huge sensitivity issues too, as can lots of people talking or music playing.

4. Be aware of how overwhelming events can be – Some autistic people find it difficult to engage in small talk and can come across as blunt. They aren’t being rude. Take time to get to know the person and find out what they are interested in. Don’t expect people to attend social events after work as mandatory. As part of my old role, I had to attend a lot of awards ceremonies, networking events and after work parties. I was often already suffering from sensory overload from my day at work and found these evening events very hard. The effects of attending them, led me to be being physically and mentally wiped for a couple of days afterwards.

5. Set aside time in advance to catch up – If you want to have a catch up, planning ahead and letting someone know that you need to chat, is far more effective than just ‘popping by’ unannounced. Schedule in some time to chat in a quiet place, even if it’s just giving a 15-minute warning. If colleagues are having long chats nearby, encourage them to book a meeting room so people aren’t distracted.

 

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Notes to Editors

For more information about Perfectly Autistic visit: www.perfectlyautistic.co.uk

Read more about O2’s Inclusion commitments as part of its Blueprint: https://www.o2.co.uk/our-blueprint