CIPD - Using technology to support neurodivergent employees
How to make your people management approach neurodiversity smart
This article sets out five potential ways that people management practices can be adapted to be more inclusive for neurodivergent individuals through the use of technology.
Walkowiak, E. (2023) Digitalization and inclusiveness of HRM practices: The example of neurodiversity initiatives. Human Resource Management Journal. Vol 1-21. Online. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1748-8583.12499)
How can technology support the implementation of inclusive HR practices, particularly for neurodivergent individuals? In this paper, the researcher explored ways to do this and suggested evaluating the risks through an equity lens.
Through her interview with 16 neurodiversity experts, the researcher identified five ways in which organisations can use technology to support neurodivergent individuals.
1. Use technology to gather more objective data about an individual’s performance
Job interview and performance review conversations alone may not be enough to fully appreciate a neurodivergent individual’s achievements. Because a neurodivergent individual who is for example, autistic, may struggle to express themselves verbally with appropriate body language and tone of voice.
To make assessments more inclusive, and ways to evaluate performance without directly interacting with individuals. When recruiting a software engineer, an online coding test can be useful for assessing the depth and breadth of a candidate’s programming skills. Similarly, showing an automated dashboard with the individual’s key performance indicators may be a better way than starting a performance review conversation with: “I’m happy with you, but there’s a few things you might want to change.”
2. Use technology to match neurodivergent individuals to jobs efficiently
“It’s very hard to and inclusive employers looking to hire candidates on the autism spectrum,” an expert from the finance industry said.
Professional social networking and recruitment platforms like LinkedIn can ease the search by recommending job vacancies that closely match an individual’s skills and experience, and vice versa.
When shortlisting candidates in the first round, do consider using filtering methods other than matching keywords in CVs. For example, the first round might involve a test to identify individuals with 10 or more desirable cognitive traits for the job.
3. Use technology to promote neurodiversity at work
Social media platforms can be powerful storytelling channels for sharing your organisation’s efforts to promote neurodiversity at work. Posts that resonate with readers tend to get reshared and might even go viral. It’s cheaper than advertising on TV or radio.
4. Use technology to support health and wellbeing at work
While everyone can experience stress or anxiety, autistic individuals may be more prone to experiencing these feelings intensely, and more regularly, in difficult social and sensory environments.
Having a supportive mental health and wellbeing policy is therefore crucial for the success and sustainability of neurodiversity initiatives. Behavioural analytics can be used to monitor signs of stress and anxiety, so that individuals can get the support they need quickly. Another way technology can help is to use virtual reality (VR) to provide a safe and immersive environment where individuals can learn to cope with difficult situations.
5. Use technology to enable dfferent modes of communication
Allowing individuals to choose their preferred mode of communication for different situations can substantially improve interactions with job applicants and people at work. It’s also more inclusive. Collaboration platforms enable individuals to communicate synchronously or asynchronously through video, voice, image or text. Project management tools help make planning and progress tracking more visible for everyone involved and can support remote supervision of work. These technologies can reduce the cost of communication and management.
Technology may cut both ways
Technology enables more inclusive ways of recruiting and working with neurodivergent individuals, but it might also be used in ways that exclude them. If the tasks we choose to automate have discriminatory behaviours baked in, then those behaviours risk getting replicated at scale with technology.
The researcher points out three ways in ways in which technology and society are evolving:
- Changing narrative of performance. Using technology to monitor performance metrics reduces the need for individuals to explain themselves. But it also raises questions on the legitimacy of those metrics and who approves them. Either way, we must acknowledge that measuring performance with narrative or other metrics have their biases, but the nature of bias may differ by metric.
- New forms of dominance. Technology facilitates new ways for organisations to manage people and promote themselves. The data collected on individuals and how they’re used may raise concerns around privacy and bias. What organisations post on social media can empower or disempower different individuals. It’s therefore important to understand who is designing the change, and for what purpose and benefits.
- Digital ecosystem for mental health and wellbeing. The market for mental health and wellbeing apps is growing. The potential benefits and risks should be evaluated, and ethical considerations for data collection addressed if your organisation decides to use these apps.
Hayfa Mohdzaini, Senior Research Adviser
Hayfa joined in 2020 as the CIPD's Senior Research Adviser in Data, Technology and AI. She started her career in the private sector working in IT and then HR, and has been writing for the HR community since 2012. Previously she worked for another membership organisation (UCEA) where she expanded the range of pay and workforce benchmarking data available to the higher education HR community. Hayfa has degrees in computer science and human resources from University of York and University of Warwick respectively. She is interested in how the people profession can contribute to good work through technology