'Action needed' | 1 in 5 neurodivergent employees have experienced harassment or discrimination at work

1 in 5 neurodivergent employees have experienced harassment or discrimination at work

One in five neurodivergent employees have experienced harassment or discrimination at work because of their neurodivergence, according to new research from the CIPD.

The HR body worked with corporate neuro-inclusion training specialists Uptimize on a study which revealed the concerning experience of neurodiverse staff.

Neurodiversity refers to natural differences in human brain function and behavioural traits. It’s estimated that as many as 20% of people may be neurodivergent in some way*, an umbrella term that can include those with autism, dyslexia, or ADHD. However, despite this potential figure, support and awareness of neurodiversity is lacking in many UK workplaces.

The new report, Neuroinclusion at work, surveyed over 1000 employed adults about their working life, of which 790 identified as neurodivergent. 

It found that only half of neurodivergent employees feel that either their organisation (52%) or team (54%) has an open and supportive climate, where employees feel able to talk about neurodiversity.

In response, the CIPD and Uptimize are calling on employers to raise awareness of the value of neurodiversity and build open and supportive cultures at work.

The research shows three in 10 (31%) neurodivergent employees surveyed haven’t told their line manager or HR about their neurodivergence. 

While 44% of this group said it’s a private matter that they don’t want to share, over a third (37%) said they are concerned about people making assumptions based on stereotypes. 

A third (34%) said they feel there’s too much stigma, 29% said they are concerned about the possible impact on their career and almost a fifth (18%) said they don’t think their organisation would be understanding or offer support.

The survey also found:

  • Only 37% of neurodivergent employees surveyed feel their organisation provides meaningful support to neurodivergent individuals.

  • A third (33%) say their experience at work, in relation to their neurodivergence, has had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

  • Neurodivergent employees are more likely to always or often: feel exhausted (45% vs 30%), feel under excessive pressure (35% vs 29%) and be lonelier at work (23% vs 17%), than neurotypical employees.

Dr Jill Miller, senior equality, diversity and inclusion policy adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, commented: “Neurodiversity needs to be a key focus in an organisation's equality, diversity and inclusion work. The design of workplaces and people management approaches haven’t traditionally considered neurodiversity, meaning many employees may not be able to perform at their best. 

“Action is needed to create neuro-inclusive organisations and fairer workplaces, with equality of opportunity for neurodivergent employees, free from harassment and discrimination.

“This means good people management, getting to know people as individuals and understanding their needs. Organisations should ensure managers have the training to manage people effectively, offer flexible working and provide clear access to reasonable adjustments. 

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“These practices can make a significant difference to neurodivergent people’s working experience, as well as benefitting employees more widely.

“Focusing on neurodiversity can have important business benefits, including widening the talent pool to recruit from, supporting employee wellbeing and improving employee performance and retention.” 

Ed Thompson, CEO of Uptimize, said: “Today, HR priorities are CEO priorities. Indeed, many CEOs’ top priority for 2024 is retaining and engaging talent. This report makes clear that no people, talent or EDI-related ambition or commitment can be achieved without neuro-inclusion – the active effort to optimise workplaces and manage people and teams to be inclusive of different brains.

“When this occurs, as we see from our own clients, the results transform businesses and their workforces. At the same time, this will remove long-standing marginalisation and inequality relating to the talented but overlooked neurodivergent demographic at work.”

CIPD and Uptimize have set out guiding principles for employers in the new Neuro-inclusion at work report and guide, including:

  • Focus on creating an open and supportive culture where people feel comfortable talking about neurodiversity. Raising awareness among all staff of neurodiversity and the importance of a neuro-inclusive workplace can help to build understanding.

  • Be guided by an individual employee in terms of what they need to perform at their best at work and ensure clear access to reasonable adjustments. Workplace adjustments can include the use of headphones, quiet zones, and workspaces with more natural light or filing trays.

  • Embrace flexible working, for example flexibility in working hours and where employees work. Flexible working can enable everybody to thrive, and even minor changes can make a big difference.



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