What Neurodivergent Employees Wish Our Employers

Welcome to the 3rd installment of my irregular series, what ND employees wish our employers knew about ND Fatigue.

Since fatigue is ubiquitous in the workplace, you may be tempted to offer some words of wisdom when your neurodivergent employee says they are tired or can’t sleep. One thing me and my fellow neurodivergents often hear is, “better grab some coffee!” Here’s the problem: For many of us, caffeine doesn’t wake us up – it makes us tired. The stimulant medication used to treat ADHD doesn’t hype people up– in the brains of someone with ADHD, it can cause calm and allow focus. Caffeine is a perfect example of how neurodivergent brains can differ from neurotypical brains. In other words: what works for you likely does not work for us.

As neurodivergents, we have received hundreds of suggestions from managers and well-meaning colleagues on how to fix our fatigue:

  • Exercise
  • Good sleep hygiene
  • Dark room
  • Beds for sleep and sex
  • Cool temperature
  • No TV, phone, or computer before bed.

We have tried the supplements, the sounds, and sleepytime teas, and our whole homes smell like lavender. We have had bedsheets made out of so many different trees and plants that my bedroom feels like a greenhouse. Not only do these things NOT WORK, but having to stay polite and nonviolent while we hear about them, again and again, is mentally exhausting. When it’s coming from your boss, there’s extra pressure to listen with a grateful smile plastered on your face,  even though you know better.

I firmly believe any advice you can give that has the world “just” in front of it – like just exercise, just try decaff, or just play some white noise – is inherently useless. If whatever your proposing is simple, I promise we’ve thought of it already. Besides, those conversations are better for the employee and their medical provider. Stop helping. You can impact your employee’s long-term or short-term fatigue in many ways as a manager, just not by recommending your favorite brand of sleep gummy. Talk to them about it – let them know you care and want to help if you can. Regardless of who broached the subject, thank them for being so open and honest. Find out if this happens often, or is it a one-off? How will you know when it’s happening? Would a flexible schedule help? Work from home? How about the reprioritization of projects or scheduled breaks?

Extreme fatigue and severe sleep problems are a fact of life for many neurodivergents. As a manager, you can help by working with them to determine what’s best for them and the business. That is good for everyone. 

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