One size does not fit all. This is true of all humans, and it is especially true of neurodivergent people. Our “spiky” ability profiles mean that while we may excel in some tasks, be it creative design or detailed quality control, other tasks might come with more challenges than they would to the average person.
One solution for maximizing the potential of neurodivergent employees that can propel organizational performance while also making work much more inclusive is job crafting. It is something I used for many years to survive and succeed in the workplace as an undiagnosed autistic professional. It is also something that can be used, with organizational support, to help all neurodivergent employees thrive.
What is job crafting?
Job crafting is the process of taking proactive action to redesign the tasks, relationships, and perceptions of one’s job, making it feel more personal and meaningful, while also ensuring alignment with organizational goals. This powerful tool allows employees to take control of their work and create a more fulfilling and satisfying experience. Research suggests that job crafting can lead to renewed energy for employees, helping them to uncover their motives, strengths, and potential.
Reshaping employee roles to better align with their strengths, passions, and goals is not just in employee interests – organizations are likely to benefit from the increased engagement, loyalty, and commitment. Helping align people’s jobs with their strengths can also increase employee self-efficacy and productivity.
Job crafting has three key elements:
One key aspect of job crafting is task crafting, which involves changing up responsibilities and the nature of certain tasks. For example, a human resources generalist interested in growing their training and development skills may negotiate more involvement with training design, while trading some of the data-related responsibilities with another employee who enjoys data analysis.
Another important aspect of job crafting is relationship crafting, which involves reshaping the interactions we have with others in the workplace. This could include brainstorming with other departments to ensure the best ideas for product development, or accountability partnership and motivational support when working on a long-term project.
Finally, cognitive crafting involves changing our mindset about the tasks we do, allowing us to find more meaning and purpose in our work. Instead of “filling out forms,” for example, we can think about “ensuring that the organization is in good standing with governmental agencies.”
Job crafting and neurodiversity.
For neurodivergent individuals, in particular, job crafting can make a difference between employment struggle and exceptional success. Tailoring work to “spiky” ability profiles to capitalize on areas of strength can help neurodivergent employees achieve outstanding productivity – for example, JP Morgan reports that autistic professionals can be up to 140% more productive than the typical employee when well-matched to jobs.
However, even without exceptional productivity, the benefits are many. Leveraging unique abilities and skills is intrinsically satisfying and supports building confidence of neurodivergent employees, which often suffers from the many years of society trying to force neurodivergent “square pegs” into round holes of standard educational and work systems. This increase in confidence and well-being is likely to translate into engagement, initiative, and organizational citizenship. Moreover, job crafting can also help to reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace, which is important for those neurodivergent individuals who may be particularly susceptible to stress – and benefits all employees and the overall organizational environment.
Managing the misgivings.
Despite the clear benefits of job crafting for neurodivergent individuals, however, many managers may be hesitant to support this approach. Some might be concerned that job crafting may be too difficult to implement. Others may be misled by the often-encountered confusion between equity and equality, and believe that fairness is the same as equality, rather than equity.
However, people are different, and providing equal opportunities for success calls for equity – supporting people in ways that align with their needs and providing the right tools each person can use most effectively. Left-handed individuals are more likely to succeed with left-handed tools. Very tall people and very short people may need different physical setups to perform their best – enforcing the same furniture height in the name of equality would be counterproductive. Likewise, equitably supporting the productivity of a sensory-sensitive autistic employee who enjoys deep work may involve a larger proportion of tasks that can be done from home or a private office space. On the other hand, equitably supporting a highly social dyslexic + ADHD employee who enjoys novel experiences and struggles with sitting still for a long time might be providing more field assignments that involve social interaction.
However, it is important not to assume individual interests and needs based on neurodivergent labels – there is much more to the individual than the label. Moreover, not everyone has access to diagnosis. Rather, tailoring job responsibilities should be a collaborative effort between individuals and their managers, available to all. Individuals should be encouraged to explore and share their interests and strengths, and managers should work with them to identify areas where they can better align their job responsibilities to fit these strengths – and support organizational success.
By tailoring job responsibilities, managers can not only help neurodivergent individuals feel more engaged and fulfilled in their work, but also improve overall team productivity. When everyone can work to their strengths, the team can operate more efficiently and effectively, leading to better outcomes for the organization.
Encouraging open communication is a crucial component of supporting job crafting for neurodivergent individuals. When employees feel comfortable sharing their interests, needs, and ideas with their manager, they are more likely to feel valued. This, in turn, can help them to craft their jobs in win-win ways.
Managers can facilitate open communication with their neurodivergent (and all) employees in several ways:
1. Schedule regular check-ins: These meetings can provide a dedicated time and space for employees to share their ideas, challenges, and suggestions, including job crafting opportunities, and in general, for employees and managers to develop a human connection. This might be particularly important for the more reserved employees who may not feel comfortable approaching their managers otherwise.
2. Focus on strengths: In conversations with employees, managers should focus on identifying their strengths and how they can leverage them in their work. This can help employees feel more confident and engaged in their jobs.
3. Create a climate of psychological safety: Managers should strive to create a safe and supportive environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas. They should be open to feedback and willing to listen to different perspectives. Make sure to invite feedback and employees’ voice in multiple formats – e.g., both verbally in meetings and in writing, such as via surveys or suggestion boxes.
4. Support employee-led initiatives: Employee initiatives, such as cross-functional collaborative projects, can encourage communication and idea-sharing across the organization. Managerial support for such initiatives can support job crafting and supporting employee participation in general is likely to help improve organizational culture.
Creating a supportive culture.
Creating a supportive culture is a critical component of facilitating job crafting for neurodivergent individuals and all employees. It is particularly important for those who might have experienced prejudice and are reluctant to “bring their whole selves to work” – which takes a significant amount of trust and a sense of safety. Without a degree of trust, job-crafting is unlikely to work.
Some ways to create a supportive culture that may encourage neurodivergent individuals to allow their talents and personalities to shine:
1. Celebrate differences: This can include recognizing different communication styles, unique contributions and accomplishments, and work styles. It is, however, important to ask for employee preferences for such celebrations – one of the most awkward experiences in my career was a surprise party to celebrate my work.
2. Prioritize employee well-being: Offering mental health resources, encouraging breaks, offering flexible work arrangements, and promoting work-life balance by ensuring appropriate staffing can do much more for developing trust than any statements and “special days.”
3. Model inclusive behavior: Managers should model inclusive behavior by being open to feedback, embracing different perspectives, and treating all team members with respect and dignity.
By nurturing a supportive culture, managers can help to create a workplace that encourages job crafting for all employees, including neurodivergent individuals. This can lead to higher levels of engagement, productivity, and overall well-being for all team members. It also can help to attract and retain talent with diverse and unique backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas, creating a more innovative and effective organization.