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

The Benefits of a Neurodiverse Culture

Updated: Mar 17, 2019



One of the things I love about working in human resources is seeing how different people operate, think and solve problems. It's pretty awe-inspiring that a single workforce can offer such a variety of problem solving, perspective and ideas. Sometimes, though, company leadership focuses more on what they can expect and predict - and often familiar expectations and predicted behavior comes from people who think the same way they do. They know how to deal with that kind of thinking. There are no surprises. It's easy to control the outcomes when you know what is going to happen. But taking a chance on people who think differently than you is not only a move that shows you have confidence in your leadership, it also opens you up to a whole new world of possibilities. Here are just a few benefits that come from having a neurodiverse culture:


1. Solving problems you didn't know you have. You don't know what you don't know. Neurodiverse people solve problems differently - their brains are wired differently. They are going to come up with different solutions - maybe even better solutions, than people who think the same as you. When I was a Director of HR, I hired an HR assistant that was organized, precise, detail oriented and exacting. I hired her because I wanted to solve the technical issues we had systemically in an efficient manner and I knew that my freestyle thinking and organized chaos could not get us where we needed to be as fast as we needed to get there. I was right! She found problems I didn't know we had, almost immediately, because she had the intense focus and skills to see what was going wrong at each precise level of operation. Had I hired someone like me, it would have taken much, much longer.


2. Differing social boundaries result in honest feedback that you wouldn't otherwise get. People are often reluctant to give truly honest feedback to their managers. "How did you like our meeting this morning?" "Oh it was great!" It's a social ritual we engage in that is largely useless. But if we are open to it, truly honest feedback can be helpful in problem solving.


I love to cook - almost anything I made for my family growing up was greeted with "You are the best cook ever!" And while I wasn't under the illusion that I actually WAS the best cook ever, I didn't usually get any specific feedback. One of the first times I made dinner for my husband, who, as you know, has Asperger's Syndrome, I asked him, "How did you like dinner?" Without missing a beat, he said "The potatoes were great but the chicken was dry and subpar." I was shocked. I responded "What? You didn't like it?" He looked at me puzzled. "You asked me how dinner was - didn't you want me to be honest?" Yes! I actually did! I just wasn't used to it. If you ask Luke for feedback, he's going to give it to you, and he'll be honest - something that a lot of employees won't do, because of the social awkwardness they experience when giving feedback to a manager. When that social awkwardness isn't an inhibitor (often a characteristic of Autistic employees) you will often get the feedback that you need


3. As your neurotypical employees interact with a person whose brain operates differently, they will be challenged and in turn will strengthen their own skills. When I'm working to resolve a conflict between two employees who are thinking about a problem differently, it is helpful to get them to understand how the other person is approaching it. And once they see how the other person operates, they are able to challenge themselves to revise their communication to match the other person's thinking and understanding, improving their communication skills and increasing their understanding of their co-worker. These skills cannot be overvalued - an employee who can navigate adapting to various styles of thinking and communicating has less drama and more productivity.


4. As employees' neurodiverse characteristics are valued by their manager instead of dismissed, they are able to settle in to being themselves at work. When you are comfortable being yourself at work, that's when you thrive - it's when you speak up with new ideas, when you provide that honest feedback, and when you are confident in the role you play in the workplace. Additionally, employees who feel they are valued for who they are, are more likely to have loyalty towards their company and manager, meaning less turnover and more productivity.



©2019 BY ELIZABETH FUSS ARNOTT, SPHR