THE GOOD WORKPLACE BLOG

Elizabeth Fuss Arnott, SPHR  I have been working in Human Resources for 19 years. Since 2011, I have been certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).  I have a BA in English and a Master of Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law from Tulane Law School. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband Luke. I write about HR, non-profits, the art of managing people and Neurodiversity in the workplace. I'm available for consulting remotely and in the Portland, OR area. Please email me at elizabeth@efaconsult.com for more information. 

Head over to workingwithaspergers.com, where Luke and I write about Autism in the workplace.

  • Elizabeth Arnott, SPHR

Steps to a Thriving Neurodiverse Culture: Forget About "Normal"



My mom used to buy half and half to eat with our cereal. I don't know why. But that's how we ate cereal. Once, my sister had a friend stay overnight and when presented with the half and half to pour on her cereal in the morning, she grimaced and said, "That's weird! Most people just use milk." While that was probably a true statement, there was nothing inherently wrong with using half and half. Was it consequential? Nope. Did it affect this friend's life in a negative way? Nope. The bottom line is, we were all able to eat breakfast.


As you think about creating a culture where neurodiversity thrives, consider forgetting "normal". I once briefly worked with a woman who, instead of going through the swinging gate from the main area of the business to behind the counter, instead walked through the door leading to the hallway and then back in the door that lead to the area behind the counter. Many of the employees thought this was weird and commonly gossiped about how strange she was. This took extra time and let's face it, she was not normal!


So how much extra time were we talking about? Turns out, it was about two extra seconds to walk through the doors instead of the gate. Did it harm the customers? No. Did it harm her co-workers? No. Did it make her feel more comfortable? Yes. Was she still able to do her job? Yes. So was it important that she do the "normal" thing? Turns out it wasn't.


One man I know used to take a taxi to work because he didn't drive. It helped him to be able to decompress before and after work, without having the stress of driving and finding parking. He was frequently met with ridicule from his supervisor for not driving, not having a car and taking a taxi. Did it affect his job? No. Was he still able to do his work? Yes. So did it matter that he didn't do the "normal" thing? Not at all.


Start small. The next time you find yourself thinking an employee is doing something "weird" or "not normal", ask yourself if it really matters. Ask yourself if it's really affecting the person's job. If not, then let it go. Stop the ridicule, stop the judgment. Set an example of acceptance and respect. Your neurodiverse employees will appreciate it, and you can focus on what actually matters.

©2019 BY ELIZABETH FUSS ARNOTT, SPHR