Employee not fitting in? Think Neurodiversity.

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 Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 


Employee not fitting in? Think Neurodiversity.

Jen Blacow

28th April 2021


I am often asked by business networking contacts what they should keep in mind when talking to others about Aspiedent. This is so that they can identify a situation we can help with or a person we can help, and know to make an introduction.

There are several sectors, for example, construction and finance, and certain people, like HR Directors, HR Business Partners, or Diversity and Inclusion Managers, that are great introductions. However, sometimes it can be a simple comment that could open the door to more questions to see if Aspiedent can help somebody.

One example of this is when somebody complains that a colleague gets on their nerves, or struggles to fit in.

Why think about Aspiedent when hearing complaints of somebody not fitting into a team?

We define neurodiversity as ‘thinking and perceiving the world in a different way to what is considered to be the norm – or which goes beyond normal human variation’. Some, but not all employees with a form of ‘neurodiversity’, can create a bit of unease amongst ‘normal’ colleagues because of something (or a few things) about them which is not quite ‘right’. Colleagues may not be able to put their fingers on what this is, or it may be because of specific behaviours of the person.

For example, a person might pull strange facial expressions in meetings. Or they may not enjoy turning up to group events despite effort and organisation being put into them by others (or even themselves). They may have no interest in, or be downright avoidant of, socialising after work, Christmas parties, or participating in company away days. 

There may be no obvious reasons for this. Therefore, others assume they are just a bit weird. Or they may be more willing to come to some kinds of socialising than others. For example, a meal together may be ok, but not going to the pub, or vice versa.

Neurodiverse employees might display more outlandish behaviours than normal, such as having an extreme thirst for knowledge that annoys other colleagues, a need to know every single detail of a plan or a decision that has been made, or an over-the-top reaction to sudden changes of plan. This can be disruptive and cause concern for other members of staff.

Culture ‘blindness’?

Cultures of organisations vary, and the corporate culture of some neurodiverse employee’s organisation may go completely over their head. In fact, the person may be so different from everybody else in their way of thinking and feeling (common in autism), that they find many traditions bemusing, or just do not notice them at all!

They may seem to be actively going against company norms and breaking social rules, such as not contributing to leaving presents for individuals, or not walking on eggshells around the CEO when they visit the office, or turn up unexpectedly at a company team meeting.

A lot of the social norms which we see in workplaces are not written down anywhere, nor communicated openly at the induction stage of a new hire. Most people pick these things up via observation and have an instinctive drive to adapt, or to ‘fit in’. Because of the differences in thinking and perceiving the world, some people will not even get as far as understanding that they are expected to do these things, let alone understand why!

This can have a serious negative impact on their career progression and other’s ability to tolerate a neurodiverse colleague. Yet, this negative impact may well be reversed if the company more clearly communicates these expectations to all employees, especially those who may have disclosed they are neurodiverse or suspect they are neurodiverse. For example, the production of an ‘informal staff handbook’ may prove invaluable for said employees. 

Actually, being encouraged to produce such an ‘informal staff handbook’, may force business leaders to rethink some of the potentially unhelpful social norms within a company, such as an expectation to walk on eggshells around a boss! It could also help all employees be clear on what is and is not expected of them. We are all diverse. 

Apparent Ignorance 

What comes up sometimes in the workplace is the issue of apparent lack of respect on behalf of an employee. This is usually a result of the person’s inability to not be blunt (they say it as it is) and difficulty with ‘fluffing the truth’. 

This is often amplified when the person has an inherent disinterest or lack of ability to stroke anybody’s ego; another workplace practice that does not get written in formal staff handbooks!

We have come across employers who think that an employee is just not listening, because they constantly ask questions about a project that the manager thought was covered in detail in the project meeting.

However, this can often actually mean that the employee is struggling to take in information aurally (which was how project briefs are often mainly communicated) and just needed it writing down for them, perhaps with a few diagrams.

The point

The above examples are a few of many things I hear of time and time again regarding ‘difficult’ employees. Often the person who has thought to talk to me about a colleague or employee’s behaviour has some awareness of neurodiversity or autism and an inkling that the person may have some form of neurodiversity. 

However, I do not like to think how many other people are dealing with ‘difficult or ‘non-team playing’ staff, without knowing that the issue could be easily fixable through more understanding of neurodiversity.

Not just because a person might be losing a job as a result of their disability, but also because an employer may be experiencing preventable stress dealing with this person, or losing an otherwise valuable employee through lack of knowledge and understanding.

If you experience any of the above such as a team member struggling to fit in, or hear others describing similar issues with a member of staff they are dealing with, reach out to me. It may not be an issue that can be explained by neurodiversity and therefore fixed by Aspiedent, but there is no harm in simply considering whether it could be.

Contact us for a chat.