Please understand what it means to be Neurodivergent

Claire Vane
November 1, 2023

Guest blog: Emily Thompson offers her thoughts.

As a neurodivergent employee, working a nine-to-five schedule comes with its pros and cons. On the one hand, you’ve got the intense period of hyperfocus and creativity that comes with the passion in doing what you love, which maximises productivity and can create a top performer. On the other hand, however, the less interesting intricacies of the job can result in boredom and loss of focus, not to mention the overstimulation that typical office environments can cause. Unfortunately, these drawbacks can never be eradicated completely and so it is the job of the employer to work with the employee to capitalise on the pros while minimising the cons.

It is worth mentioning that, obviously, everyone’s experiences will be different, and I can only comment on what I’ve experienced as a 22 year-old woman living with ADHD and Autism while working a corporate job. While I'm only one of thousands of experiences across the country, conversations with my neurodivergent friends (we seem to flock together), has shown that some experiences appear almost universal.

One of the biggest challenges I faced when stepping into the corporate world was the sheer length of time I spent sitting at my desk focused on a single (boring) task. Unless hyperfocus has me in its claws, staying concentrated on a single, often trivial task, does not come easily. So, what can I do - or better yet, what can my manager do - when I have a pile of data entry that needs doing? Or a list of items to cross-reference?

This is when a supportive manager can make all the difference. Telling me that it needs to get done, isn’t going to make the task any easier. Here are a few things that my manager does that actually help:

1. He lets me have my headphones in. At my first job out of Uni, we weren’t allowed to listen to our own music (goodness knows why) and it made focusing on my tasks a hundred times more difficult. Being able to occupy half my brain with song lyrics or the latest episode of My Favourite Murder makes a mundane task more tolerable.

2. He gives me deadlines. Instead of saying ‘Have the list done by the end of the day’, he’ll say, ‘Have 20 leads sorted in the next half an hour’. Focusing for short sprints of time is far easier than staying on one task for eight hours. This leads me onto point 3.

3. He allows me breaks. This doesn’t need to be anything lavish. But, after half an hour of intense productivity, I’ll take a short walk - maybe take a breath of fresh air - and return ready for another thirty minutes of focus. This allows me time to re-set, rather than trying (always in vain) to chug along with the next part of the task.

4. I’m permitted ‘quiet time’. Being in an office environment is exhausting to your ‘typical’ neurodivergent. There’s constant noise from colleagues and an unending need to ‘mask’ (essentially forcing your demeanour into a pleasant one, even when there’s nothing to be especially happy about). If I’ve ever had a particularly stressful day or am feeling unusually worn down, a twenty-minute walk to get a coffee can make all the difference. This is also where hybrid working can feel like a Godsend.

I’ve had some appalling managers in my time as well as some fantastic ones (like where I am now). Guess where I was most productive? Having a manager that works with your neurodiversity creates not only a happier work environment but a more fruitful one. Every neurodivergent employee deserves a manager to help them fulfil their true potential.

If you would like to discuss measures that can be taken to accommodate those who are neurodivergent and how to train your managers then please do get in touch.

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