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Neurodiversity in the workplace

Are organizations overlooking their highly capable neurodivergent employees when creating the conditions for success?

Listen to the report

Research from Eagle Hill Consulting on neurodiversity in the workplace finds that only 22% of U.S. employees are aware of working with a neurodivergent individual. Moreover, 85% say they are unaware of a single neurodivergent employee who has been promoted in their organization. 

It seems like a good time to be job-hunting in the United States, with unemployment holding steady below 4%. The New York Times reported that U.S. employers added 353,000 jobs in January, far exceeding forecasts, and revised figures showed that the prior year was even stronger than previously reported.

Great news of course, unless you count yourself among the estimated 15-20% of the population who identify as neurodiverse. As a group, the neurodiverse experience extraordinarily high rates of un- or under-employment. According to a Harvard Business Review article, unemployment runs as high as 80% for this group. When they are working, highly capable neurodiverse people are often underemployed.

As a society, we are slowly becoming more highly attuned to the neurodiverse population’s unique challenges—and gifts. In mainstream culture, hugely popular shows such as Employable Me, Love on the Spectrum, and Down for Love are quickly raising the profile of those who identify as neurodiverse.  

What is neurodiversity?

The term neurodiversity gives a framework for recognizing that differences in brain function and behavioral traits are exactly that—differences, not deficiencies. Neurodiversity encompasses many differences: autism spectrum conditions, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia, among others.

Neurodiversity won’t always be recognizable and not all who identify as neurodiverse will choose to be public about this aspect, or will need or seek accommodations. However, we believe understanding neurodiversity in its many forms, and taking steps to adapt workspaces, processes, communications, and management styles—while respecting individuals’ preferences and privacy—can help every employee minimize their struggles and capitalize on their strengths.

In the workplace, technology companies have moved somewhat ahead of the curve in recognizing that neurodivergent people often bring unique and highly desirable skills. In fact, several technology giants have created programs to actively seek out the hyper-focus and math and data analytics skills that some neurodivergent individuals bring to the table. But neurodivergent employees have an abundance to offer any industry, such as (frequently) out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to question why things are done certain ways. In short, the neurodiverse represent a largely untapped pool of valuable marketplace skills.

Convergence of these factors—a persisting U.S. labor shortage; growing awareness of neurodiversity and the untapped potential it represents—led Eagle Hill Consulting to examine how organizations not only actively recruit among the neurodiverse, but how they equip them to succeed once hired. 

Here’s what our research of U.S. employees on the topic of neurodiversity in the workplace found.

Despite advances, awareness of neurodiversity still needs major improvement

When asked if they know what neurodiversity is, 68% of U.S. employees either said no (35%) or that while they had heard the term, they did not know what it meant (33%). Seventy-two percent say they would hire a neurodivergent employee, but only 22% know whether they currently work with someone who is neurodiverse.

Understanding and embracing neurodiversity is good for everyone. It allows people who identify as neurodiverse to live their lives most fully and offer their best to the workplace and the larger world. Here, our research showed clear areas for improving basic levels of understanding. For example, only 16% of employees say there have been formal conversations about neurodiversity in their organization, and only 19% can affirm that neurodiversity is part of their corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs.

Most workplaces have low-hanging fruit for accommodating sensory sensitivities

Our physical surroundings have a dramatic influence on how well we work. How we react to noise, light quality, distracting visuals, and room temperature can all manifest as an inability to concentrate. This can result in poor productivity. For many neurodivergent individuals, the effects of sensory stimuli are often even more profound, to the point of becoming overwhelming or even debilitating. 

Surprisingly, our research found that even the most basic adjustments to sensory stimuli are out of reach for most employees. We asked about the availability of several simple accommodations to improve the physical workplace and consistently found these accommodations were unavailable to more than half of employees.

Most employees value accommodations that support neurodiversity in the workplace

Consistently, our research found that most employees would value accommodations that make it easier for neurodivergent employees to participate more fully in the workplace. 

However, these accommodations were not offered at the level their value indicates they should be. For example, 60% of employees say they value the ability to work from home, but only 41% have that option to do so. Additionally, 64% say they value options for different ways of taking in and communicating information, and 63% value the ability to communicate via text vs. videoconference. Yet only 47% and 55% respectively have these options available.

Finally, most employees (64%) say they would find technology supports for managing time and schedules helpful (e.g., smartphone alarms, calendars, and other software). However, only 53% say these supports are available. 

This accommodation seems particularly crucial for neurodivergent employees, because when employees were asked what aspects of neurodiversity they believed would be the biggest impediments to success in the workplace, the most often cited was problems with executive functioning (e.g., difficulty prioritizing, meeting deadlines, staying on task). Eighty-one percent of employees said this impediment would make it difficult for an individual to succeed at work.

Skills for managing neurodivergent employees to help them achieve their full potential are in short supply

We asked U.S. employees if they have people who identify as neurodiverse on their team, and how able those individuals are to perform their job. Only 40% said these individuals were able, or more than able, to perform their job. Additionally, only 15% of employees said they were aware of a neurodivergent employee being promoted at their organization.

We believe this stems from two key management issues. The first is focused neurodiversity training. While a small majority (56%) of employees say their employer assigns activities based on an individual’s strengths and preferences, less than half say that they carve out jobs that make the most of an individual’s strengths without unduly challenging their weaknesses. 

At the same time, employees seem open to doing better by their neurodivergent colleagues. For example, 57% believe training in sensitivity to social differences would be valuable, and 56% say they would be interested in training on managing neurodivergent employees (although only 14% say that training is offered at their workplace).

The second management issue relates to improving the participation of individuals who identify as neurodiverse in important workplace discussions. A report in the British Medical Bulletin describes increasing calls to include the voices of those with lived neurodiversity experience, such as workplace adjustment interventions and inclusion best practice, as opposed to diagnosis and deficits. However, our research shows that too often neurodivergent employees are left out of important conversations. For example, 69% of employees report that their employer does not seek out advice and input from neurodivergent employees when designing office spaces, teams, and project management systems.

Final takeaway

While most organizations recognize and actively encourage workforce diversity, neurodiversity is only recently coming into the spotlight. Despite highly coveted employee attributes— from frequently high intelligence and academic achievement levels, to unique skills and perspectives—employees who identify as neurodiverse typically face an uphill battle at work against long-held definitions of acceptable social interaction and traditional methods of hiring, managing, and promoting. Greater awareness, understanding and acceptance, along with corresponding changes in work culture and practices, can only work to the advantage of every employee—and the bottom line.

Want to learn how you can improve your workplace environment for all employees while increasing productivity and overall satisfaction?

Read our guide, How to Embrace Neurodiversity in the Workplace: 7 Strategies for Unleashing the Potential of Neurodivergent Employees 


These findings are from the Eagle Hill Consulting Neurodiversity in the Workplace Survey conducted by Ipsos from January 11-18, 2024. The survey included 1,261 respondents from a random sample of full- and part-time adult employees across the United States. Respondents were polled on the topic of neurodiversity in the workplace.