How companies can help neurodiverse employees thrive in the workplace

Tips, best practices, and programs to support neurodiverse staff and, ultimately, create more welcoming environments that benefit all employees.

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg — April 18, 2023

For some neurodiverse employees, a typical workplace can feel full of distractions, frustration, and unclear expectations. People who perceive the world differently are often overlooked or marginalized in workplaces designed for one way of thinking or interacting, leading to missed opportunities for employees and employers alike. 

Up to 20% of the world’s population is considered to be neurodiverse — a term that refers to differences in how people’s brains work and how they learn and understand the world. Neurodiverse people include those with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia, which traditional hiring, onboarding, and management practices rarely account for.

The hurdles often start with the interviewing process. While some candidates can create a favorable first impression by reading facial expressions or confidently answering abstract questions — those who can’t may be screened out, even if those abilities aren’t part of the job.

“Understanding social communication cues during the interview process can be challenging for neurodivergent job seekers,” says Joe Riddle, director of Neurodiversity in the Workplace, a nonprofit that helps companies create programs for neurodiverse job candidates and staff. “So can a pop quiz-style interview process where you have to perform to impress someone.”


RELATED: How the new hybrid office will adapt to you


Even the most well-intentioned diversity, equity, and inclusion programs can miss the nuance needed to support neurodiverse employees, and that can have a negative impact on business and quality of life for the neurodiverse population. Neurodiverse adults are unemployed at a rate as high as 40%, three times the rate of unemployment among people with living with a disability, and eight times that of those without disabilities. In the US, around 85% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed.

Companies that recognize neurodiverse people’s unique talents — enhanced pattern recognition or more creative out-of-the-box thinking, for example — can broaden their talent pool, tap into more ways to solve problems, and spur innovation. Research suggests teams that include neurodiverse employees can be 30% more productive than those with only neurotypical ones. That’s why more companies, including Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and HP, have implemented practices and programs to support neurodiverse staff and, ultimately, create more welcoming environments that benefit all employees.

“When you remove barriers for the disability community, it ensures access to talent and gives competitive advantage,” says Bryan Gill, head of JPMorgan Chase’s office of disability inclusion and head of neurodiversity. “This is good for business on so many levels.”

“The power of inclusion for us is embracing the unique differences, not asking someone to conform to us.”

—Bryan Gill, head ofJPMorgan Chase’s office of disability inclusion and head of neurodiversity

Starting with students

Some companies are proactively reaching out to and recruiting neurodiverse candidates before they even start their job search — when they’re students.

Now in its sixth year, HP’s Spectrum Success program is advertised through 50 universities’ student resource centers and designed for college sophomores and juniors on the autism spectrum who are majoring in computer science, information technology, supply chain, and finance.

“Our goal is that they leave better prepared for their next step, even if it’s not with HP,” says Darin Lindig, a materials scientist at HP and head of the Spectrum Success program.

Through workshops over a three-month period, students learn about the job search and interview process, work with mentors to create résumés, and learn what it’s like to work at HP. Each student in the program has a formal interview with a hiring manager trained in working with neurodiverse people, which could lead to an internship or job offer.

In an interview about the program, Ethan Idzior, a Spectrum Success participant and former HP intern said: “It was a big experience, unlike anything I’d done before. They prepared us through workshops to improve our skills as well as mock interviews, and because of that I felt I was much better prepared for the interviews I had later on.”

Claretta Strickland, a program manager in supply chain operations at HP, has mentored several Spectrum Success students, and says that supportive, one-on-one relationship is a crucial part of the program.

“As a mentor, it’s important to get to know the students as individuals,” she says. “You want to make sure they aren’t overwhelmed, but also understand that they want to be recognized and held accountable the same way as anyone else.”

More inclusive hiring

Companies can also make progress by tweaking the hiring processes. That starts with job descriptions and ads. For example, postings should be written in simple and direct language, says Gill at JPMorgan Chase. Think “software engineer” vs “coding ninja” or “byte wrangler.” It’s also helpful to avoid verbose language and jargon, and make sure to distinguish between what’s required for the job, what’s preferred, and what’s nice to have. 

Launched in 2015 as a pilot with the firm’s technology team, JPMorgan Chase’s Autism at Work program helps guide neurodiverse candidates through the application and interview process and gets employees the accommodations they need to be successful. The initiative includes employees working in more than 40 different roles across nine countries.

For many neurodiverse job candidates, he says, the initial job interview tends to be the single biggest barrier. A candidate might not feel comfortable shaking hands or making consistent eye contact, and a manager untrained in neurodiversity may not know how to navigate that. To improve the process, companies should ask candidates if they need accommodations before the interview. Then, offer an outline of what to expect during the interview.

Jiaqi Wang

For some neurodiverse job candidates, Gill says short interviews of 30 minutes in a quiet location often work best. So do conversations that focus on the specific skills required to perform the job rather than on social skills that may not be job-relevant.

Hiring managers should avoid rapid-fire questions and euphemisms, and ask pointed questions that reveal a candidate’s strengths rather than esoteric or hypothetical ones like “if you were a brand, what would your motto be?” And after the interview, clearly explain next steps. Gill notes that these types of changes can benefit all candidates.

“The power of inclusion for us is embracing the unique differences, not asking someone to conform to us,” he says.

Creating a supportive work environment

Once a neurodiverse candidate is hired, providing any necessary accommodations right away with little effort from the employee is key to creating a culture where neurodiverse employees don’t feel they need to “mask,” or suppress neurodivergent traits to try to fit in with neurotypical colleagues.

Riddle, from Neurodiversity in the Workplace, says companies can start by making their accommodations process less cumbersome. For example, some organizations require medical documentation, which can be time-consuming, stressful, and costly to track down. 

“You don’t have to know your colleague has ADHD,” says Gill, “you just need to know what their needs are to be their very best.”

Specific needs will vary by person and based on their condition. Some employees may be sensitive to light, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch. Too much stimulation can leave them feeling overwhelmed and anxious. So, having control over lighting or noise-canceling headphones can help. Companies can also have a designated quiet spot in the office for decompressing and communicate jarring events like fire drills well ahead of time.

For team meetings, neurodiverse employees can benefit from detailed agendas sent beforehand and bulleted meeting minutes provided afterwards with clear instructions on next steps. In virtual or hybrid work environments, managers can help by following up on video calls or virtual chats with an email that reviews what was discussed or send a transcript or recording of the call. These, too, are actions that can help all employees.

Managers could also ask all their employees to create a “how to work with me” explainer to help teammates understand what to expect and how best to collaborate with each other. For example, one might include: “I might not be looking directly at my Zoom screen during a meeting, but I am listening and paying attention.”

Riddle notes that more employees today are taking the step to reach out to their employer to ask for accommodations and even banding together to start neurodiverse employee resource groups. That’s often a first step toward a more established initiative. 

“People are more willing to talk about it and to be themselves,” Riddle says. “And employers are coming to understand that this is a huge need, and it can really boost their workforce.”


How hybrid work could be a game changer for people with disabilities