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Masking in the Workplace: How Being Neurodivergent Impacts Office Life

April 5, 2024

Masking in the Workplace: How Being Neurodivergent Impacts Office Life

In today’s diverse workplace, understanding the unique challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals is crucial. One common aspect among many neurodivergent individuals is the need to “mask” or camouflage their neurodivergent traits to fit into neurotypical norms, especially in professional settings. This article explores the concept of masking, its implications in the workplace, and strategies for support.

What is a Neurodivergent?

The term “neurodivergent” refers to individuals whose neurological development and functioning are different from what is considered typical or neurotypical. This divergence can include a variety of conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette syndrome, and others.

The concept of neurodiversity acknowledges that these differences should not be seen as deficits but as variations in the human brain with their own strengths and weaknesses. Neurodivergent individuals often experience, interact with, and interpret the world in unique ways that can differ significantly from neurotypical individuals. This perspective encourages the appreciation of these differences as part of the diversity of the human condition rather than conditions to be treated or cured.

For more detailed information on neurodiversity and neurodivergence, you can visit reputable resources such as the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or educational pages like Understood.org.

What is Masking?

Masking involves neurodivergent individuals concealing or managing their natural behaviours to conform to societal expectations. This can include suppressing stimming (self-stimulatory behaviours like hand-flapping), forcing eye contact during conversations, mimicking social interactions, or hiding difficulties with certain tasks. While masking can help neurodivergent individuals avoid stigma and integrate more smoothly into social and professional environments, it often comes at a significant personal cost.

Impacts of Masking in the Workplace

1. Increased Stress and Anxiety: Consistently suppressing one’s natural inclinations can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. This is because masking demands constant vigilance and effort, diverting mental resources away from other tasks.

2. Risk of Burnout: Prolonged masking can lead to burnout. Neurodivergent employees might work harder to perform the same tasks as their neurotypical peers, often without the same resources or accommodations, leading to physical and mental exhaustion.

3. Impact on Authenticity and Relationships: Masking can prevent individuals from forming genuine connections with colleagues. When people spend their energy on appearing neurotypical, they may struggle to engage in meaningful interactions, impacting teamwork and collaboration.

4. Barriers to Professional Growth: Masking important aspects of one’s identity can hinder professional development. Neurodivergent individuals may not seek help or accommodations for fear of disclosure, and thus may not take on or be offered opportunities that could lead to advancement.

Strategies for Supporting Neurodivergent Employees

1. Foster an Inclusive Culture: Encourage a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion. Education and awareness training can help reduce stigmas associated with neurodiversity.

2. Implement Reasonable Accommodations: Adapt workplace policies to include accommodations for neurodivergent employees. This can include providing noise-canceling headphones for those sensitive to noise, flexible work hours, or the option to work remotely.

3. Encourage Open Dialogue: Create safe spaces for employees to discuss their needs without fear of discrimination. This can be facilitated through mentorship programs, employee resource groups, or regular check-ins with management.

4. Personalise Performance Metrics: Recognise that traditional metrics of assessment may not fairly evaluate the performance of neurodivergent individuals. Customising performance reviews to accommodate different working styles can lead to more accurate assessments and recognition.

5. Promote Mental Health Resources: Provide access to mental health resources that specifically include support for neurodivergent individuals. Ensuring that mental health professionals understand neurodiversity can make a significant difference.

Conclusion

Understanding and supporting neurodivergence in the workplace is not just about fostering fairness or compliance with legal requirements; it’s about unlocking the full potential of every employee. By reducing the need for masking, organisations can benefit from the unique perspectives and skills that neurodivergent individuals bring to the table, leading to a more innovative, inclusive, and productive workplace.

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