Neurodiversity: Energize your employees with engagement

The state of employee engagement appears to be a common concern among businesses.  Covid certainly hasn’t helped and engagement is also down because of the pandemic, but let’s not kid ourselves, this concern existed prior to March 2020. If we go back as far back as 2015, which isn’t very long ago, Gallup stated that only 13% of employees are engaged worldwide.

Why there is a lack of Engagement?

When we talk about lack of engagement, we must first understand what it means: lack of engagement is when the team has a low morale and lacks motivation.  This causes productivity and innovation to suffer. They experience burnout, you witness an increase of sick days, higher employee turnover or an increase in on-the-job errors.

For the Neuro-minority, their lack of engagement begins when they are not recognized because of their ADHD or Dyspraxia or because they feel they cannot disclose their condition because of the workplace not being a safe environment. Their lack of engagement goes even further when they don’t receive accommodations, are disciplined for their challenges and the environment lacks a strength-based focus.

A major source of employee engagement stems from managers and that is a significant problem. Why you may ask? Well, one of the main things I discussed in a recent podcast is the process a business applies when selecting managers. For starters, while there may not be an issue with their experience and successful accomplishments in their career, or they might have been with that organization for several years, this does not automatically make them superb managers. Do they have the people skills to lead people of various personalities, challenges and strengths?

I have spoken to various human resource professionals, leadership coaches and change management consultants; they all agree that what is needed are managers who possess qualities such as strong soft skills (meaning they have listening skills, social skills, interpersonal skills, are team builders and have strong motivation). There is another element that may not be considered as a valid skill but which is vital: that is looking after their teams’ emotional welling-being to ensure they are seen as valued employees.  This skill is accomplished by being people-centric.

This is not the first time I have written about being People-centric and it is worth mentioning again, especially when talking about Neuro-diverse individuals. When managers focus on people and engage with them on a one-to-one basis, they learn about their strengths, which means they know how to utilize them. On the flip side, they also understand their challenges and, as a result, they learn how to support them.

How to improve employee engagement?

Recently, I attended an online event with a featured speaker and performance coach, Karl Grech. The focus of the presentation was on “Leading More Effectively”.  In his presentation, he described how managers can elevate team engagement.

Be seen and feel valued

This is where you, the manager, check in with employees: be aware of body language, moods, irrespective of if its happy or perturbed, observe expressions or feelings, move in and ask in-depth meaningful questions such as:

“You look like you’re feeling great. Anything interesting you want to share?”

This is not the first time I have spoken about the importance of good quality questions and how they can help you interact with your team and discover how they feel.  Questions are a skill set and with practice will generate both thought-provoking and problem-solving skills on both the person asking and the person being asked the question.


Most of all, employees will feel valued because you have taken an interest in their life or work and this is especially true with Neurodiverse employees. I often say that the Neuro-minority are the hardest people working because you can’t see what they are dealing with and how hard they are trying to prove their worth.  When you do notice, it does a lot for their self-esteem.

Be Authentic

When you check in with them, it is important to be both authentic and trustworthy.  I am sure that you are just as good at pointing out when someone is being phoney, so your team member will be no different.

Be sincere in your approach and with your questions. Let them know you are interested and really care about what is going in their lives or their work.  Recognize how they are contributing to their job and to the team.

Let them be heard

Following up with their contribution, ask for their thoughts, ideas or past experience for the task at hand. Hear them out, help them develop that idea or let them go with it and see what comes out of that inspiration.

Let them be part of decision making and don’t shoot down their idea, or they may withdraw and become less and less engaged.

Look out for those possibly shy, soft-spoken, Neurodiverse team members. They may not speak up and share their thoughts.  Alternatively, consider that perhaps they are not shy at all; rather they are processing the information.  Either encourage them to speak, pull them aside and have a one to one with them or, give them time to process that information and then give them time to respond with their input.

Celebrate

This is a point that I have mentioned myself and it’s great to see that Karl shares the same opinion, which is to recognize the hard work and a job well done whenever you see it, no matter how small.  It’s important to note that we don’t just mean when a task is completed; it should be pointed out anywhere along the journey of that assignment.

This all helps to ensure they feel valued for the effort and work they are putting in. Your recognition will increase their efforts and thus their engagement.

Be Understood

In a previous blog I mentioned how important it is not to make assumptions and to ensure that what you have communicated is understood, so that, when you are engaging with your team or team member, you make sure they have understood you.

Sit down with them – this is especially important with a Neurodiverse team member.  Be clear with what you are asking.  Give them time to process and respond.  Then follow up with, ‘did you understand?’ Ask them to repeat back what either was asked or a thought you had; on the flip side, you need to repeat back what you understood from them.

This will ensure there are no misunderstandings; it will also improve their engagement.

As you have seen, employee engagement is a vital ingredient to life in the workplace and the people you employ. At the centre of that engagement is having the right manager with the right skills to perform this engagement and to get the results that benefit all parties.

When employee engagement is high, so is company productivity, innovation, quality of work and employee retention. Your clients will notice and want to do more business with you and, as a result, your profits will increase.

Employee engagement is a full circle approach when implemented correctly with the right values, motivation and manager.

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