Empowering Neurodiverse Employees to Bring Their Authentic Selves to Work

By: The RethinkCare Team

Article Empowering Neurodiverse Employees to Bring Their Authentic Selves to Work

Given the increasing amount of time people spend at work and the blurring boundaries between work and family, employees demand more from their jobs than higher wages and perks. As a result, they look for authenticity from their leaders and other ways employers can support them in meeting their psychological needs. This article will focus primarily on authenticity and provide tips to senior leaders on being transparent, middle managers on building trust, and work teams on enhancing communication to create a healthy and neurodiverse workforce through authentic actions.

According to the book, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value by Bill George, authentic organizations operate democratically and collaboratively. They are inclusive, welcoming talented people from highly diverse backgrounds, and recognizing the strength and stability of differing opinions and diverse life experiences—a testament to neurodiversity. Unfortunately, neurodiverse employees often believe that organizations give little to no attention to their needs, leading to distrust of the organization and an inability to illicit one’s authentic self at work.

To further illustrate this point, none of us can express ourselves authentically in a vacuum. Our expression occurs in cultural and physical environments that influence our behavior and attitudes. For example, suppose an organization does not acknowledge and integrate employees from different groups or with different experiences. In this case, the workplace will prevent these employees from fully expressing their genuine selves. Likewise, a business can be authentic or faithful to itself and its mission but not understand its neurodiverse workforce. Signs of this can appear as early as in the interview process. Some examples include:

  • Asking informal and unstructured questions susceptible to bias (e.g., why should we hire you?).
  • Expecting immediate responses and not tolerating slower, more deliberative thinking.
  • Tuning out because a communication style does not conform to the type used by the majority

So, how can organizations become more authentic to meet the psychological needs of neurodiverse employees and empower them to bring out their authentic selves?

For Senior Leaders:

  • Foster an environment where, through town halls, open-door policies, suggestion boxes, or other quick feedback systems, employees feel safe to share universal design concerns before they turn into grievances.
  • Act on employee feedback to show that you take their opinions seriously, giving them confidence and motivation to form more innovative solutions to inclusion problems.
  • Provide reasonable accommodations to retain employees, which is less expensive than recruiting, training, and hiring new employees.
  • Be transparent about organizational problems to yield trust from employees.
  • Tap employees as strategic members to contribute to a shared purpose or common goal.
  • Embody organizational values while modeling desirable behaviors for employees.
  • Promote psychological safety (the condition under which employees are willing to share ideas and take risks) and provide steps for building their capacity to cope with daily work interactions in adaptive ways.
  • Offer emotional support to employees during challenging global times to strengthen a personal connection and build their loyalty to the organization.

For Middle Managers:

  • Coach employees on a career path suited for their talents and interests, and see what skills they can incorporate into their daily work activity.

  • Take an interest in understanding their long-term, personal goals to build upon their current skill set and help them develop new skills to bring to the organization.

  • Create a learning path for employees to follow as they grow within the organization.

  • Listen to employees’ lived experiences and valuable perspectives, and incorporate them into decision-making processes.

  • Work with employees to identify their learning and productivity styles, demonstrate a genuine desire to help them succeed and maintain positive work morale.

  • Remain connected with remote workers, make them feel included, appreciated, and “on equal footing” with office workers.

  • Create a climate that allows employees to feel safe and more willing to share ideas with the organization.

  • Display humility in recognizing shortcomings and willingness to improve so that employees feel safe to be transparent themselves.

For Work Teams:

  • Allow team members to brainstorm ideas without fear of judgment, choose the best one collectively, and avoid the risk of poor business outcomes due to myopic decision-making.
  • Encourage all members to contribute to a project, create valued roles for everyone, and reduce the project’s time.
  • Maintain team integrity (e.g., every member respects the project schedule) to improve team dynamics, support collaboration, and encourage authentic interaction.
  • Establish clear common group goals and leave room to learn about each other’s perspectives.
  • Acknowledge impactful contributions to build job satisfaction and a sense of making a difference.
  • Offer capacity for self-expression through work so that creative abilities flourish and employee engagement remains everlasting.
  • Use team-building activities to develop positive relationships and create equal status among employees at all levels.
  • Use reverse mentoring (where mentors and mentees reverse the roles based on situations) to help employees connect and understand each other’s reality, to promote diversity, and tackle barriers across different population segments.

Authenticity cascades down from senior leadership and middle management to work teams. When senior leaders and middle managers are authentic, they communicate better. As a result, they lead more effectively and can create a team culture where employees can act authentically and take risks. In turn, the authenticity employees bring to their work groups and organizations allows for better collaboration and ultimately a better bottom line for the company at large.

Contact us to learn more about how Rethink may help your organization promote neurodiversity and inclusion.

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