Hiring, Onboarding, and Training Neurodiverse Employees

As mentioned in our previous blog post [linked here] on the subject of hiring neurodiverse individuals for a more diverse workplace, many companies are recognizing the benefits of adding more neurodiversity into their organizations. But, it’s important to recognize that in order for a company to fully realize the benefits of having more neurodiverse individuals contribute to their workplace, they must have a well-informed hiring process in place and a solid framework in place for manager training and ongoing professional development.

Revamp Out-Dated Hiring Processes

The first step is to use recruitment processes that will encourage inclusive hiring as well as make space for a variety of thinking and communication styles during the interview. Utilizing a tool that places emphasis on assessing an individual’s skills, over sheer resume content, is a good start. Tools such as The PAIRIN Readiness Management System™ level the playing field for all individuals by removing hiring biases and prioritizing candidates based on soft skills, which serve as a solid forecast of a candidate’s overall ability to perform a job. This is advised over criteria that are less predictive of work performance, such as resumes and cover letters. Cognitive assessments and workshops, such as those hosted by SAP and Microsoft that use week-long robotics projects to observe how candidates think and work, can serve as a solid complement to a soft skills assessment while recruiting diverse candidates.

Interviews are another key element in the process that should be considered. Since traditional interviews tend to be a test of social and communication skills, the interviewer must be knowledgeable on how neurodiverse individuals function beyond the interview setting, because they often have a lesser understanding of social norms. And their strengths are often more directly related to their field as opposed to broad business skills, such as communication. Thus, interviewers should keep the questions focused on the job and task, and expect an interview that might not always “flow” perfectly.

Help Them Prepare for the Interview

Dr. Ron Young, a psychologist, worked with his son, Sean, who is neurodiverse, in advance of his first professional interview to develop a strategy that would set the stage for an honest interview experience. It was a telephone interview for a computer programming job. Sean started the interview by saying, “Before we start, I’d like to share something with you. I have something called Asperger’s. And, that means that I may be one of the most awkward interviews you have ever had…but, for that same reason, I may also be one of the best junior programmers that you’ve met.”

Sean got the job. And not just because he was a great programmer, but because the interviewer was open to an interview that might not be perfect based on traditional standards, but that was an honest assessment of his skills and work ethic.

Introduce Them to the Workplace

Once hired, starting the employee-employer relationship off on the right foot is critical in all instances, but potentially more important for neurodiverse individuals. And for many neurodiverse people, giving them all of the right resources and information from day one is extremely important in making them feel comfortable and valued.

George Selvanera, director of strategy and external affairs for Business Disability Forum says, “For Asperger’s, the importance of routine and clarity in terms of instruction shouldn’t be under-estimated. Employers can also produce welcome packs so it can give these prospective employees familiarization with the workplace” (Forbes, 2016).

Ernst & Young has developed a neurodiversity program where the neurodiverse employees have four weeks of tailored training before even starting their employment to ensure they are well-prepared for the professional world. The first three weeks of training is framed as an “introduction to corporate life.” Lori Golden, an abilities strategy leader within the firm’s Americas talent team says that during this time, “They learned all about soft skills, work ethic and expectations, and how you communicate.” The last week of training is specific to the company and their job function. Programs like this help set neurodiverse individuals up for success.

Train Managers and Teams

Another important aspect of integrating neurodiverse individuals into companies is proper training and information for the teams and managers with whom they will be working. George Selvanera says, “It’s about building the skills and confidence of the line manager in working with these individuals. For example, if you’re going to call someone at an appointed time then do so. It can create an anxiety if a person doesn’t call when they say they will. It can be hard for a line manager who has a variety of different pressures to make sure they prioritize needs but it’s important that punctuality is observed if you have employees with Asperger’s.”

Dr. Ron Young expands upon this by explaining that just like with any other employee, managers have to learn the styles of neurodiverse employees. Their styles may be a bit different than their neurotypical peers. Dr. Young explains, “They often can’t read verbal cues, so in the workplace, managers have to know what works best for the employees’ style. With more neurodiverse individuals, they may have to be more direct by telling the individual exactly what you need or are thinking since they are less likely to pick up on signs you are sending through posture, eye contact and tone of voice.” This type of interaction may be very natural for some managers, but take time to learn for others. But as long as the manager has visibility into the results of how all individuals are contributing to the team, they are more likely to put the necessary effort into adjusting their approach for a variety of team members.

It’s equally important to ensure other employees and team members are armed with the knowledge and understanding of how their neurodiverse colleagues may act in the workplace. This ensures the team is informed of potential nuances in styles to avoid any misunderstandings that could occur if they were to be left to their own assumptions. According to Dr. Young, “They can sometimes be misperceived as rude or disrespectful due to their direct communication approach. Managers have to make sure other employees know and respect these differences in actions and expectations without dismissing the validity of their neurodiversity.” Dr. Young adds, “The organization won’t glean full benefit from the neurodiversity unless they make some adaptations and understand the individual’s struggle.”

Continue with Ongoing Professional Development

Along those lines, it’s important for organizations to give special attention to the ongoing professional development training for neurodiverse employees. Many workplace norms do not come naturally to them, and concepts must be taught and reinforced for them to grow professionally. Opportunities for them to practice these learned skills should also be provided as hands-on learning tends to be the best approach for their learning styles.

Overall, while there are a few processes and trainings that should be added when hiring neurodiverse individuals, the benefits to an organization far outweigh the hard costs in these slight adjustments. Bringing in diverse thinkers who are also striking experts in their field not only results in a more well-rounded company but also directly impacts the bottom line.