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My takeaways from the 2023 Neurodiversity in Business report

Jun 14, 2023

Disclaimer: I have no official connection with the Neurodiversity in Business organisation - this is my personal interpretation of the report they published this year

I've been reading the Neurodiversity in Business report. Highly recommend having a skim. The authors surveyed 990 neurodistinct individuals and 127 organisations in the UK to find out what challenges neurodistinct people face in the workplace and what accommodations have helped. The data is recent (collected from Nov 2022 to Jan 2023) and although it's probably not super representative on the employer end (employers likely self selected to participate if they already had strong inclusion policies), the data from ND folks does seem valuable.

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Table of Contents

Key takeaways

Strengths of ND employees

Both ND employees and employers said that ND employees have the following strengths:

  • Hyperfocus
  • Creativity/innovative thinking (and entrepreneurialism to a lesser degree)
  • Detail processing
  • Authenticity

It's worth noting that these strengths are only strengths in the right environment. When I used to work as a checkout clerk at a supermarket, my hyperfocus on scanning items was not necessarily a strength because it meant I didn't tend to make conversation with customers. (I also didn't like that job very much). When I worked in a hierarchical organisation, my innovative thinking (sending the managing director an email with some suggestions for how the company could improve) got me disciplined for breaking the chain of command. My detailed processing (noticing really minor grammar issues in code comments) resulted in me upsetting colleagues who felt like I was nitpicking.

In the right environment, I and other ND people can flourish. In my current role, hyperfocus is an asset: I solve coding problems in a flash, power through support tickets and generally get a lot done in a short amount of time. My creativity, innovative thinking and entrepreneurialism are welcomed (it helps that I was running my own business before it got acquired). I've gotten better at knowing when detail processing is necessary and how to communicate my feedback so it doesn't feel hurtful. And because I am relatively advanced in my career, I am not afraid of being authentic because I am confident I could easily get another role elsewhere if I wanted to leave.

I'd hope that as organisations become more aware of the latent power that exists in the neurodiverse workforce, there will be more workplaces where ND peeps can thrive.

Top Challenges

What is getting in the way of unlocking those strengths? The survey data showed that the top 6 challenges for ND employees are:

  1. Self care (looking after yourself mentally and physically)
  2. Concentration
  3. Asking for help
  4. Managing boundaries at work
  5. Working memory
  6. Understanding other people's intentions

I can certainly relate to these challenges. The self care aspect is huge. My work is important to me and if I get criticised or stymied, it brings up intense emotions. Hyperfocus can be a problem at times: if I'm not careful, I can easily spends hours hunched over my laptop, ending up with neck pain and headaches due to poor posture.

Asking for help can be hard because I get into a headspace that no-one else can do it the way I want it done and do the work myself. Which leads straight into managing boundaries at work - when I say yes to too many projects (common state of affairs), I end up working late into the evening. Vicious cycle with self care.

Working memory has always been an issue for me but because I know I can't trust my memory, I write everything down.

Understanding other people's intentions is definitely a challenge. I'm clueless when it comes to office politics and need coaching to navigate this domain of work.

Top accommodations

The report also surveyed employees and organisations on what accommodations were most impactful.

The top six (in terms of helpfulness) were:

  1. Having a flexible schedule (start/finish time + taking frequent breaks)
  2. Controlling the environment (working from home/private office/being able to regulate noise and lighting levels)
  3. Having a dual screen/reading stand
  4. Being able to adapt work rules, policies or procedures
  5. Coaching to support organisational issues
  6. Software to support organisation and time management

Out of this list, the last two (specialist coaching and software) were the least available. The majority of people surveyed were able to access the first four accommodations but less than 10% had access to specialised coaching or software.

This list is pretty close to what works best for me. I really struggle with a standard 9 to 5 day - being able to stretch out my work over a longer timespan (6am to 5.30pm) with lots of breaks in between is the key to productivity for me. I have energy dips in the afternoon and like to fit in a nap. I also find that doing bouts of exercise throughout the day helps me focus. Dropping down in the office and doing a set of pushups or lying on the floor to take a nap might confuse people but working from home has none of those constraints for me. Dual screen is a no brainer.

Adapting work rules and policies is an interesting one. In my opinion, it's better if you don't have to get an exception. Most of these accommodations are helpful for everyone. I accept that I'm different but I don't necessarily want to stand out or feel like I'm being a troublemaker.

Coaching to support organisational issues - I found this confusing in the report. I believe it refers to productivity coaching rather than coaching on how to navigate the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of an organisation? If so, I'm definitely a believer. I work with an ADHD coach on a weekly basis to help me with executive functioning challenges (e.g. packing for a work trip without going mental/staying up late the night before).

And of course software to support organisation and time management is right up my alley (that's why I built Focus Bear and Late No More).

Retention of staff

Another interesting aspect of the study was the intention to leave data. The highlight here for me was that career satisfaction was crucial. Accommodations were helpful but without career progression, it wasn't enough to keep people wanting to stay. This shows the importance of accessing a ND person's strengths. If they're allowed to play to their strengths, they're likely to enjoy work and progress up the ladder. If they're in a job that doesn't fit for them and barely kept in place through accommodations, they're not going to love it. I think back to the entry level jobs I had - if I was able to somehow be a checkout clerk from home and take more frequent breaks, I probably would've not hated it as much but I still wouldn't have wanted to stay there long term.

Speaking of accommodations, the people who felt that accommodations were tailored to them were less likely to leave compared to if they had off the shelf accommodations or no accommodations at all.


The survey also asked people about their wellbeing based on questions like "I woke up feeling fresh and rested" and "I have felt cheerful and in good spirits". The wellbeing results were disturbing low (though there wasn't a neurotypical control sample so it might've been similar for NTs). When the researchers analysed why wellbeing scores were low, they found that career satisfaction and psychological safety were the biggest contributors to wellbeing - much more so than accommodations. I am slightly sus about this result as the question "my daily life has been filled with things that interest me" may have biased the data towards career progression and it also seems like they didn't ask about other factors which would affect wellbeing (sleep, relationships, fitness, health, nutrition). Still it doesn't seem implausible that low career satisfaction would negatively impact one's general life satisfaction and enthusiasm for life.

Measuring prevalance

One of the biggest issues the authors point out is that the organisations surveyed didn't have an accurate way to determine how many of their staff were ND. This makes it hard to plan for accommodations and create policies. Especially given that many of the neurotypes studied are "invisible disabilities", I imagine some organisations are thinking "this isn't really a problem for us - we don't have any ND people here". Measuring prevalence is hard - there's understandable reluctance for NDers to make themselves known (stigma is still a problem). Anonymous staff surveys seem like a potential option.

Limitations of the study

Their definition of neurodiverse included ADHD, Autism, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Mental Health conditions and Tic disorders. ADHD and Autism were overrepresented in the survey results compared to the general population and as is normal with surveys, more women (67.2%) took the survey than men. The industry sectors were also not entirely representative - banking and professional services dominated perhaps because these roles are office based which makes a survey easier to fill out.

Have a read yourself

Neurodiversity in Business report

Jun 14, 2023

More Reading

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