5 ways to achieve Neuro-Inclusion
July 2, 2019 - Daniel Aherne
The recent case involving Npower and their autistic employee can teach us all valuable lessons about neuro-inclusion.
For those who haven’t read about the Npower case in the news, here’s a quick summary. When Tom Sherbourne joined the company as a senior analyst in October 2017, he soon began struggling to cope with the noises and smells of the open plan workplace, while his line manager found his behaviour ‘loud and disruptive’. Stressed and anxious, he asked to work from home but had his request turned down. A breakdown followed, and his GP referred him for an autism assessment.
“he soon began struggling to cope with the noises and smells of the open plan workplace”
Npower suggested a number of workplace adjustments, and offered him a role at a lower grade. That offer was then withdrawn and in September Mr Sherbourne was dismissed. No adjustments had been implemented, and his capability assessment was incomplete. The tribunal found in his favour, ruling that Npower had failed to make reasonable adjustments and had indirectly discriminated against their employee.
“Npower had failed to make reasonable adjustments and had indirectly discriminated against their employee”
It’s a story of misconceptions, a lack of understanding of autism and poor decisions – and it’s one with no positive outcome. An individual has lost their job and the employer faces the cost – and hassle – of recruiting a replacement, not to mention an avalanche of negative publicity just at a time when organisations are waking up to benefits of embracing Neurodiversity. So what could have been done differently?
We’ve got a few ideas:
- Organisations can provide Neurodiversity training for all managers to help them understand neurodiverse conditions and the implications for the workplace. Read Mr Sherbourne’s case, and the clues are all there – the struggle to cope with a noisy work environment, and the failure to understand the unwritten rules and behavioural codes of the workplace – but no one picked up on them. Greater awareness and understanding could have led to earlier screening and quicker, more effective action.
“Organisations can provide Neurodiversity training for all managers to help them understand neurodiverse conditions”
- Organisations need to recognise the signs of Neurodiversity and take action if a professional refers an employee for a diagnosis of autism. If Npower had acted on the GP’s advice that the assessment was likely to result in a diagnosis of autism for Mr Sherbourne, this would have kept them on the right side of the law as set out in the Equality Act 2010. In addition, any adjustments they made – like creating quiet work-spaces, or providing clear, specific briefs for every task – would have benefited neurotypical employees too.
“any adjustments made – like creating quiet work-spaces – would have benefited neurotypical employees too”
- Organisations should implement reasonable adjustments to an agreed timescale, including dates for assessment and review. Making a few, most likely simple, changes could have saved Npower the trouble and cost of losing an employee who may well have had the perfect skill set for an analyst role.
“Organisations should implement reasonable adjustments to an agreed timescale, including dates for assessment and review”
- To achieve Neuro-inclusion, HR professionals need to be neurodiversity confident. The HR representatives at Npower needed to provide Mr Sherbourne’s line manager with information and support – and then follow up to make sure his manager was following the correct process.
- Finally, organisations should grab the opportunity position themselves at the forefront of the move to embrace Neurodiversity and enjoy the competitive advantage neuro-inclusion can bring. Just look at Npower’s response to the tribunal’s verdict: ‘Npower prides itself on the equal opportunities we provide and our diversity policies specifically include how employees with a disability are treated at work, including employees with autism.’ It’s a cliche, but actions really do speak louder than words.