Mental Wellness and Neurodiversity in the Workplace

If your company employs people, your talent pool is probably neurodiverse. We take a look into how you can support mental wellness in neurodiverse members of your team.

A neurodiverse group of people in the workplace

The Calm Team

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If your company employs people, your talent pool is probably neurodiverse.

Neurodiversity recognizes that there’s not just one way of being human—that the entire spectrum of human experience is equally valid.

As a society, we’re moving away from language that characterizes atypical personalities/behaviors solely as “abnormal” deviations from a “functional” norm. We want our language to evolve alongside our understanding—especially as we learn to recognize and celebrate the differences in our individual makeups.

The neurodiversity spectrum encompasses a range of different cognitive styles, behavioral traits, strengths, difficulties, and preferences. It can include everything from introversion to ADHD to the Autism spectrum and much, much more.

For HR professionals, recognizing that your people span the neurodiversity spectrum is crucial. After all, you want to support mental wellness in all of your people—not just some of them.

But making sure your support program (and your entire workplace) accommodates those on the peripheral areas of the neurodiversity spectrum takes a little doing. It doesn’t happen by accident—but it can be immensely, life-changingly valuable to those that often remain unseen.

Here are a few ways you can ensure that your workplace supports mental wellness for everybody.

Shout your support and recognition from the rooftops

Neurodiversity is often invisible. What’s more—it often stays invisible.

It can be uncomfortable for someone to identify as neurodiverse to colleagues or managers. This can lead to a certain sense of isolation that can quietly grow.

When organizations make a loud, proud, and honest commitment to supporting their neurodiverse people, it can help narrow the gap between a workplace that feels fit for neurotypicals and a workplace that feels fit for everybody.

Declaring a stance of acceptance is a great start—but it has to be backed up with action. Making sure that empathy and acknowledgement are woven through all levels of internal communication can go a long way. It can also help to be openly supportive of neurodiversity during your company’s hiring, interviewing, and onboarding stages.

Aim for a workspace that accommodates all types of people

This can mean simple, reasonable tweaks to the work environment that don’t cost much, such as:

  • Ensuring quiet corners in the office for those who require moments of solitude.
  • Encouraging collaboration over platforms like Slack where people can contribute at their own pace. Asynchronous collaboration is often less performative/stressful for many.
  • Having webcam-optional meetings.

Some impactful changes can also require a more thorough re-evaluation of company policies and programs:

  • Getting flexible with meeting formats to include those with different communication styles. Everyone can have good ideas—but not everyone can express them easily.
  • Encouraging leaders to recognize efforts and contributions from those who are more introverted (and can be more easily passed over.)
  • Offering broader choices with how and when people are able to work.

Celebrate the superpowers of a neurodiverse workforce

It’s not rare to see those with uncommon cognitive styles display uncommon types of intelligence. All across the neurodiversity spectrum, there’s an amazing tendency to manifest unique strengths. That can mean a capacity for increased or exceptional pattern recognition, memory, spatial skills, problem-solving, and much more.

Those that are neurodiverse tend to interpret information in ways that most people don’t—allowing them to catch things that most people won’t.

Companies that empower their neurodiverse employees to grow and utilize these strengths may end up outpacing or outperforming companies that don’t.

Mind the linguistic minefield of entrenched stigma

Words are important. 

One way to help weed out ingrained stigma is by helping your team become mindful of using words like “crazy,” “weirdo,” or “insane.” Even gently teasing someone for being introverted or shy could be perceived as hurtful.

Even if used casually and with no particular ill will, language like this can perpetuate a subtle stigma against mental health. It can send out mixed signals when you want your organization to be fostering an overarching message of support.

Talking about this kind of thing doesn’t have to stray into policing—it can just be a kind, willing, inclusive step towards a stigma-free workplace.

Offer mental wellness support that meets people where and when they’re ready

Mental wellness can be a difficult subject to broach at work for just about anyone. That’s why making specific efforts to open avenues of communication for neurodiverse members of your team is such an important thing to do. Ease of conversation can make the difference between someone reaching out or someone suffering in silence.

Make sure that all members of your team know there are (ideally, several) people they can reach out to—in ways that are discreet and conducive to different communication styles.  Encourage your support contacts to address challenges through a lens of cooperative strategy, rather than trying to force any solution.

In every case, it’s important to offer programs and resources that allow individuals to use them wholly at their own pace, on their own terms. 

Learn more

Here’s some resources that offer insight on how you can better support neurodiversity in your workplace.

Stress affects us all, but not all equally. Accessible mental wellness platforms like Calm are designed for all kinds of people. As always, it’s important to offer a multi-faceted take on mental wellness support, not just a single solution. For those that will be quietly feeling more at home in their workplace, these efforts can make a world of difference.

Reach out to us if you’d like to learn more about implementing a mental wellness platform that works for a diverse workforce.

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