Company Policies That Keep Neurodivergent Employees Out of the Workplace

Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences (Autism,  Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, and others) are natural variations in the evolution of the human genome.

Neurodiversity seems like the new HR buzzword, and for a good reason. Neurodivergent employees are eagerly entering the workplace, bringing along fresh perspectives and valuable skills.

Employers claim they want to be more inclusive but often fall short when policies and company culture are set up in a way that is can be off-putting for neurodivergent employees.


Are your company policies unintentionally discriminating against autistic and neurodivergent employees?


Open Offices – Collaborative and fun, open offices are a popular option for creative agencies and tech spaces, but these work pits can be overwhelming for those employees who may prefer a calm quiet workspace.

If your workspace utilizes an open office design, try to create spaces for employees to work away from typical office noise and commotion. Provide or allow employees to use noise-canceling headphones while working in open office areas.

Hot-desking – Forcing your employees to stay flexible by keeping them off-guard and always wondering where they are going to sit next. This tactic may not work well, and can even be stressful for, employees who prefer (and often depend on) rituals and routine to stay organized.

If hot-desking is the norm in your office, consider an area with assigned desks for employees in need of more structure.

Bad Lighting (fluorescent bulbs / bright lighting/window glares) – for people with sensory sensitivities bad lightning can be a real problem, leading to symptoms ranging from general discomfort to migraines, anxiety, and even seizures in some individuals.

Allow light sensitive employees seating options that allow them to have better control of their environment. Help your light sensitive employee by replacing, removing, covering, or turning off offending lights.  Employees may be helped by substituting overhead lightning for lamps.

Mandatory Fun – Neurodivergent employees may not find the types of activities that neurotypical employees enjoy fun. Happy hours in crowded bars and restaurants can be overwhelming and uncomfortable for people with auditory processing differences.

Don’t make “fun activities” mandatory and avoid statements that might single out introverted employees like, “It’s not mandatory but who wouldn’t want to go to ___________.”

Always give employees the option to easily skip out on office social functions.

Surprise Activities / Last Minute Meetings – Not everyone loves surprises. Respect the needs of your employees who are less spontaneous by announcing activities and sharing details related to team events in advance. The same can be said for last minute meetings.

Overly Formal Dress Codes –  I never feel myself when my hair is not a bright and vibrant color, in fact, when my hair is dull I feel very dull myself. Looking around at the faces in the autistic community, many of them have bright, beautiful, eccentric, hair or dressing styles.


Are overly stringent dress codes or any of the above policies keeping (or chasing)neurodivergent workers away from your workforce? Does your company have any of the policies above?

Do you feel your workplace is inclusive? How do you ensure you are supporting and fostering a healthy workplace for all of your employees neurodivergent and neurotypical?

25 thoughts on “Company Policies That Keep Neurodivergent Employees Out of the Workplace

  1. A very useful article for all employers to consider if they want a more user friendly workplace. Those who prefer to implement the latest workplace-formatting fad with a one-size fits all approach, may in fact be ignoring the special needs of their potentially most productive employees. Unfortunately, I’ve seen such realities more often than not. Thank you.

  2. Reblogged this on The Resolver and commented:

    Some Neurodivergent employees will demonstrate enhanced abilities if just given the opportunity. But those employers who prefer to implement the latest workplace-formatting fad with a one-size fits all approach may in fact be ignoring the special needs of their potentially most productive employees. Unfortunately, I’ve seen such realities more often than not.

  3. I don’t meet the definition of neodivergent, but I am old enough to have a strong preference for the type of work environment most common when I started my career some 45 years ago. My own space, in an office shared with at most two others and preferably with no one, a door to close enabling me to concentrate.
    I get headaches from florescent lights, work best seated by a window, without music or other “background” noise. All the so called creative innovations you list would destroy my productivity, which is undoubtedly why I am so happy now to work from home.

  4. Thank you for this article – These are all relevant. I would like to add that it’s important for many people on the spectrum (and certainly in Husband’s case) to give clear, unambiguous feedback and instructions to avoid confusion and so they understand what is expected of them and what they need to do. Some people who have ASD\Asperger’s Syndrome struggle with inferred meanings and reading between the lines, and so giving clear instructions about a task and what’s expected will really help someone with ASD|Asperger’s Syndrome in the workplace.

  5. I had never heard of hot desking until now, and I find the idea absolutely mortifying! Not only is change stressful on its own, but my memory is relative: move one item and I won’t be able to find the another item associated with it either. I can’t function like that.

  6. Even as a non-neurodivergent person, I dread all of these policies myself. My previous company participated in all of these silly, trendy ways of forcing us to socialize and supposedly be creative, and it created SO much anxiety for me! I’m more of an introvert and don’t like surprises or lack of routine either.

  7. Thank you for this post! I work in the environment you describe as being unfriendly to neurodiversity and I have noticed some people struggling with glass windows, noise, open work environment. I just never really thought of it this way.

  8. I have SAD. Several work places have refused to make accommodations, for instance by letting me have a cubicle near the windows. Hotdesking, where I have to guess on a given day where I’m likely to sit? Ick.

    Also, my SPD has an olfactory component. I DETEST the smell of coffee. I wouldn’t want to have to reinforce this every day to a new set of coworkers.

    I’m a teacher now, so neither of these are issues for me (my room has a wall of windows and I ban coffee), but if I ever return to a corporate environment, I would hate these conditions.

  9. Thanks for sharing. I am both a HR Professional and have severe Dyslexia and moderate Dyscalculia. I like to think that I am a champion of fellow Neuro Divergents and the benefits we bring, but I agree there’s a long way to go in terms of cultural change in the workplace. You are right that Neuro Diversity is a hot topic in HR. This is because HR are the drivers and enablers of change. I am happy that HR are leading this charge and that I have a part to play in this.

  10. These things you mentioned are exactly why I can’t hold down a “normal” full time job. I can only do half-day at an office (and even that is overwhelming some days) and then do my own freelancing work (website and graphic design) in the comfort of my own “controlled” room.

  11. Hi there! So I speak about Neurodiversity at Design and User Experience conferences. I specifically talk about workplace inclusivity with environment, hiring, and creative collaboration from an late-diagnosed-female perspective. If I wanted to quote some things you’ve said in articles similar to this one, how would you want me to go about doing that? I am open to any and all collaboration you’d want to be involved in the content. Or would you rather me not? I can send you some videos of my talk in the past, however I try to evolve my talk each time I give it because my community continues to grow. My next talk is in Scotland in June.

  12. Ironically stumbled across this today after a stressful day at work that gave me a migraine, where the fluorescent lights do bother me to the point I have to wear sunglasses. We’re also in the middle of a building referendum at my library system, adding more locations and remodeling the rest. I saw the open office at the first new location for staff, where not even all full timers had desks, and cringed. When I saw a proposed plan for remodels for the bunch of buildings built like mine (four of us opened at the same time in the 90s, with the same floor plan), and saw an open office, and told my manager I would ask for a doctor’s note if need be for why it would be a problem.

    One not on your list, but close to one: in-service training. Imagine having all employees of an entire company in a giant room. During breaks, the noise is insane. Before I was diagnosed, I never knew why I always got a migraine during Staff Day. This year, at least I was prepared for that – although I wasn’t for the extra onslaught of the chosen venue’s really bright lights and the PowerPoints with our official font that always gives me a headache from eye strain. 😓 My manager actually got me permission to leave a mandatory event in the middle when she spotted how much pain I was in, although with meds and sunglasses I toughed it out (glad I did only because a friend was honored with a special award, which I didn’t expect).

  13. I think another thing employers should add are work from home options for folks who have anxieties with public transit/driving. Some may prefer to work from home since they can control their setting

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