15% of the UK workforce is estimated to be neurodiverse. It’s a benign-sounding term, but when you consider it accounts for a range of conditions including dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, autism, dyspraxia, and mental health there is reason for pause. That 45 of our colleagues may, knowingly or unknowingly, have at least some degree of predetermination in the things they are good at and those they struggle with poses an interesting question for managers and human resources professionals.

Could we be (much) smarter in the way we manage our people and their skills?

Just last year, a colleague’s 10 year-old son was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia during lockdown. It had shown up during his remote learning for school. He is intelligent, good at English, kind, engaging, and sociable but he struggled with maths and reading on-screen and, soon enough, his schoolwork began to suffer. His mother worked with the school to offer him the learning support he needed, but she also went a little further. She started to consider, in a professional world so closely tethered to screens of various descriptions, how his working life might be impacted. Of course, this young man is lucky. There is no HR like a mother and doubtless, with the problem identified so early, he will prosper.

Today, a minuscule 1 in 10 HR professionals consider neurodiversity in their people management practices. Typically, assignments are handed out in the belief that, by and large, colleagues can draw on the same basic skill-set, unencumbered by any fundamental neural hindrances. Training formats are generally designed with a one-size-fits-all approach and it is assumed that, on balance, everyone has the same opportunity to assimilate learning. Neither of these assumptions hold water.

We all have strengths and weaknesses but seldom do we ask why they exist. Many simply shrug, accept the weaknesses and lean to their strengths, concluding this to be the product of genetic predisposition. Others are more proactive and commit themselves to addressing a skills shortcoming with varying degrees of success. Some, however, are likely to suffer in frustrated silence, fearful of the stigma. Of course, recognition and acceptance account for half the journey to a solution.

Could we design training in optional formats to more precisely meet the needs of neurodivergent colleagues? Moreover, are we deploying our people on the assignments that most suit their abilities? Undoubtedly, in more carefully considering these issues we will become a smarter employer.

We are working hard to address all of the above at H+K. The first challenge comes in identifying neurodiversity and that requires a safe space to do so. A place where those who know can share their own personal experiences, the triggers they’ve identified, and the tips and tricks to mitigate them.

We started with dyslexia.  We wanted to understand what it really was, how it affects different people, and how they deal with it on a practical and professional level.  We held a lunch and learn session to explain what dyslexia means and some people in our office willingly shared their own personal experiences. We explained how to use Microsoft’s accessibility tools, which offer great help to those with disabilities including hearing loss and neurodiversity. We held a dyslexia focus group that allowed us to adapt how we deliver certain learning modules, specifically those with timed exercises or reading aloud. We also created a ‘How To’ document to help those working with our dyslexic colleagues, which includes email etiquette and feedback mechanisms. We are currently working with British Dyslexia Association on our accreditation.

Our experiences with dyslexia and the realisation there is much we can do motivated us to go further. Today, we are working with Adjust, a neurodiverse organisation, on some learning modules that will be delivered in the next few weeks, which cover ADHD, dyscalculia, autism, and a few others.

Happily, in recent months we’ve seen quite a few colleagues come forward about their neurodiversity, including those with ADHD and dyscalculia in addition to those previously mentioned. Their positive response and contributions lend credibility to our belief that we can always do more and be smarter in our approach to people and the environment we provide them.

At H+K, we say we provide a safe space to speak, to work, to be who we are. The proof is in the above pudding; when a colleague took the initiative to speak out, that galvanised our agency to learn, explore and acknowledge.

The one cliched but immutable truth is that people, above all else, make businesses. In a market where employer branding is central to attracting and retaining the very best talent, we’re proud of our commitment to supporting and encouraging our employees to write their own stories and follow their passions. We nurture our talent and provide them with the right learning opportunities to succeed and adapt to the speed of change.