Guidance for Managers

A member of my team has a neurodivergent condition – how should I manage them?

Managing a colleague with a neurodivergent (ND) condition such as autism or dyslexia is about recognising and accepting the individual’s unique profile of strengths and weaknesses, supporting them to help them achieve their best, and treating them fairly.

Everyday guidelines for working with ND staff:

  • Have an awareness of neurodiversity and the different forms of neurodivergence (click on the link to view our neurodiversity glossary)
  • Communicate and set expectations clearly
  • Be approachable, available and encourage staff to come to you if they have questions or are having difficulties
  • Build good working relationships by getting to know each team member
  • Treat each team member as an individual and identify what they need from a manager
  • Monitor staff workloads to ensure they are not overloaded or placed under excessive time pressures
  • Regularly hold one-to-one meetings to check on how work is going, identifying upcoming challenges and agree how best to support them
  • Foster an environment of openness and tolerance where staff feel safe and empowered to disclose and discuss their neurodivergence

Workplace adjustments

A ND staff member may need one or more workplace adjustments (also known as reasonable adjustments) in order to perform at their best and avoid unnecessary stress – these are changes to their work or working environment in order to accommodate their condition. Adjustments may be as simple as providing a quiet place to work, or may involve provision of special equipment such as a coloured overlay for a computer screen.

Ask the staff member if they need any adjustments to help them at work. If these cannot be accommodated through an informal local agreement (e.g. change of role), speak to an HR advisor. A referral to Occupational Health may be needed in order to assess the employee’s needs and recommend adjustments.

Workplace adjustments are tailored to the individual, based on their needs and the nature of their role – here are some examples of adjustments that have been granted for neurodivergent officers and staff:

  • Noise-cancelling headphones
  • Using the same police vehicle from a pool
  • OpenDyslexic font installed on computer profile
  • Flexible/adjusted shift start/finish times
  • Alternative fitness test (due to difficulty with the audible signal on the ‘bleep test’)
  • Promotion board questions provided in writing 20 minutes in advance, and for the candidate to refer to during the interview

By law, employers must consider adjustments for disabled employees. (A ND condition may meet the criteria for a disability, assessed on an individual basis.) The College of Policing has acknowledged the importance of workplace adjustments in its 2021 Discovery Report.

Career development

ND staff should be encouraged to develop their careers and make the most of their individual strengths – they can, and do, go on to achieve great success. As a manager, you can help your staff to reach their potential – a few tips and ideas:

  • Meet with team members regularly to discuss career development and aspirations
  • Role, working environment and culture can have a big impact on ND staff – they may do much better working in a different role, location or rank/grade
  • Be aware of affinity bias – ND staff may have a different working and communication style to you, but still make effective leaders
  • Ability and potential can sometimes be overlooked in those for whom self-promotion does not come naturally – guide your staff towards opportunities to develop, such as attachments, acting/temporary promotion and mentoring

Supporting staff through diagnosis

If you are managing a staff member who is going through the diagnosis process for a ND condition, there are a few things you should be aware of:

  • Diagnosis with a ND condition as an adult can be a confusing experience: some people may feel a sense of relief, understanding and ‘epiphany’, others may find it disorientating and upsetting – and of course these feelings can coexist
  • The staff member may benefit from counselling: this is provided by some police forces as an employee benefit, and may also be available for Police Federation or police staff union members
  • For diagnostic purposes, dyslexia is classed as an educational need – a diagnosis can be made by a private educational psychologist or trained workplace assessor. Autism, dyspraxia and ADHD are treated as medical conditions and are diagnosed by a suitably qualified healthcare professional via a GP consultation. (Some police forces have staff trained to diagnose dyslexia and may offer financial support for private ND diagnoses.)
  • If not already arranged, offer the staff member a referral to Occupational Health to discuss options and support available

Common pitfalls to avoid:

  • If the member of staff is under-performing, don’t implement performance management measures without first discussing the underlying cause with the employee – consider whether workplace adjustments may help
  • Don’t assume the staff member has a ND condition, or if they have already disclosed one, don’t make assumptions as to what work they can or cannot do – discuss with the staff member and refer to HR or Occupational Health if necessary
  • Don’t disclose a staff member’s ND condition to other members of the team or colleagues without their consent
  • Workplace adjustments are provided to help disabled/ND staff achieve their best and to provide a ‘level playing field’ – they should not be thought of as an unfair advantage
  • A difficulty or inability to carry out certain roles due to a disability or ND condition does not preclude staff from promotion or career development

Further reading & resources:

More resources for employers and employees can be found on our links page