Navigating the day-to-day challenges of life and work can be difficult enough for everyone; the fast pace of work and multiple – sometimes conflicting – demands, not to mention a cost-of-living crisis thrown in for good measure. But for neurodiverse individuals, such challenges are amplified.1 While many employers have made positive moves toward ensuring that diversity and inclusion (D&I) is an important business issue, the role employee benefits can play in contributing to this important agenda is not always clear.2 That said, there is a growing realisation that the ‘how’ has a lot to do with matching benefits to need; employee need, not just organisational need.
When it comes to designing and implementing an employee benefits programme – one that is valued by employees and valuable to the business – understanding the unique needs of employees is key. In other words, more employee listening. That and the fact that mental health represents the foundation for all other aspects of wellbeing; this interrelatedness long indicated in the biopsychosocial (whole person) model that is a core philosophy at Legal & General Group Protection. It’s about looking at the whole person and how their wellbeing impacts their ability to function in the workplace. It’s fundamentally about people-centred healthcare and referred to by the World Health Organisation.3
On that note, research shows that almost three quarters of neurodiverse employees are suffering with mental health issues. Neurodiversity is a term that simply refers to the natural differences between people, in terms of experiencing and interacting with the world around them. Likely as a result of trying to navigate a neurotypical world, neurodiverse individuals report significantly greater incidences of stress, anxiety or depression and are more likely to struggle financially than their neurotypical peers.2
Yet just two in five (38%) UK organisations have incorporated diversity and inclusion (D&I) priorities in their employee benefits strategy.2 And only one in five employers (20%) have already implemented benefits and policies to help support neurodiversity, but a quarter (24%) plan to do so.2
Of course, a D&I workplace includes – but extends far beyond – neurodiversity. Employers should therefore be careful not to get hung up on labelling or categorising people as this can be counterproductive; potentially leading to silos as opposed to eliminating them. D&I is about making everyone, regardless of who they are, where they’ve come from, how they experience and interact with the world around them, or what they do for the business, feel equally involved and supported in all areas of the workplace.4
Often, being diverse and inclusive in benefits policy and provision can be translated as ‘fairness’ and, hence, one-size-fits-all support. Fairness arguably isn’t the same as inclusive; one-size-fits-all cannot possibly do as the name suggests.
This might help to explain why disparities exist between employer and employee views on how well the organisation is doing on D&I as part of benefits strategy. Employers seem a lot more confident than employees on that score; perhaps indicating that programmes are being designed without employee input. Research finds a 20-percentage point disparity between employer and employee views on how well their organisation’s benefits and services supported D&I goals. A net rating of ‘good’ was given by 77% of employers in comparison to only 57% of employees.5
So, what can organisations do to ensure benefits support D&I (and neurodiversity as part of that)?
- Speak to all employees, not only through the once-a-year engagement survey, but on an ongoing basis as part of both formal one-to-ones and informal conversations. Understand their unique challenges and what they need to bring their unique skills to the fore. Then tailor support to need.
- Ensure alignment between organisational D&I policy and employee benefit programmes, especially in terms of ensuring a joined-up view on how work and the work environment impacts health and wellbeing, as well as how benefits and services can help. For example, modifications to help neurodiverse employees can be as simple as providing quiet spaces to help minimise noise levels and distractions as one example of creating inclusive environments.
- Speak to existing health and risk providers. Increasingly, providers are including specialist support, including for neurodiverse employees; support that caters for the unique mental health needs of everyone. This includes reactive, early intervention to help reduce absence, but also proactive, preventative support, helping organisations look at the impact of work and the work environment on mental health and to design reasonable adjustments.