Author Archives: Isobel

Inclusivity at an Organisational level

This blog is a lay summary of Doyle, N. (2022). Chapter 11: Adapting Other Internal Organizational Resources to a Neurodiverse Workforce in Bruyère, S. & Colella, A. (Eds) Neurodiversity in the Workplace Interests, Issues, and Opportunities. New York, Routledge.

Researchers and practitioners who work in the field of neurodiversity consider neurological differences to be more than just a disability. This view lets us see neurodiversity as a power- a power that comes with challenges but ones that can be overcome with systemic inclusion.

So, who are we referring to when we use the terms neurodiversity, neurodivergent or neurominorities?

The range is broad, but it includes neurodivergent identities such as: ADHD, autism, dyscalculia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and tic disorders etc. Those that do not identify with these are known as neurotypical people. Some neurological differences might be caused by brain injury, chronic neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and mild to moderate mental health needs such as anxiety and depression.

This blog outlines changes employers could implement in their workplace so neurominorities feel more inherently included. This can lead to improved productivity and success.

Disability legislation is shifting towards a social model, where disability is seen as an effect of our environment, such as one’s workspace. Traditionally, organisations have been managing this by helping employees on an individual basis. Very little is done to change organisational policies and procedures on a broader level. For example, action is taken when someone discloses their disability or if there is a drop in an employees’ performance. This usually takes place in the form of reasonable adjustments or conducting workplace needs assessments. Nevertheless, this carries the risk of someone with a disability not receiving the support they need in the workplace if they choose not to disclose their disability. Also, there is a risk of discrimination and stigma for those who choose to disclose a disability. Injecting inclusive thinking at an organisational level means everyone is potentially covered to an extent rather than just the few. This aims to reduce discrimination and stigma and enable everyone to thrive in their roles.

What can employers do to be more inclusive?

Universal Design

Universal design is an approach that enables organisations to build an infrastructure so some of the accommodations that are broadly helpful can be put in place before a problem arises. These are likely to benefit both neurodivergent and neurotypical workers. In order to get the best results, universal design tells us to consider the following factors:

  • Equitable use: An employer could consider offering accommodations to every employee rather than an individual and make this best practice. For example, if flexible working hours for some led to increased productivity, could flexible working hours be offered to anyone?
  • Flexibility in use: Understanding that individuals may approach tasks in a different way and offering alternatives.
  • Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of clear and concrete language to avoid misinterpretations or confusion.
  • Perceptible Information: Presenting information in different ways, such as dividing long texts into paragraphs, using visual aids, use of audios etc.
  • Tolerance of Error: Not every accommodation can be in place, therefore there has to be a system for individuals to review their work, go back and change.
  • Low Physical Effort: To minimise physical effort on employees, for example, offering flex time for an employee to get to work to avoid rush hour traffic. This is useful for employees who might experience noise sensitivity or time management issues.
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use: Consider how to adjust a work environment since neurominorities could find some environments more overwhelming than others. Examples include noise, temperature, lack of personal space and privacy, visual stimuli, movements and smells.

Employee Welfare

  • Counselling, Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy via Employee Assistance Programme: If an employer offers traditional psychological therapies to support neurominorities, they should consider making sure that a referral is made to a specialist in neurodiversity. These traditional therapies focus on reducing the level of stress. However, the cause of the stress could be the result of the environmental demands in the workplace.
  • Assessment from Occupational Health: These assessments are carried out by occupational therapists (OT) and focus on physical health problems. Employers passing on referrals for an OT assessment should ensure their chosen provider has an understanding and specialism in neurodiversity.
  • Health benefits: When we look at medical interventions such as anti-depressants for anxiety and depression or medication for ADHD, employers should consider if the employment context itself is providing the unhealthy stimulus for the difficulty. If so, can the employer offer accommodations in the workplace first, before going down the treatment route?

Employee Resource and Business Groups

Many large companies have put together employee resource groups. Employees report that being part of such groups helps ensure they are heard. It is important for organisations to get feedback from individuals within their organisations. Hearing from a wider range of your employees is an essential and an important step towards introducing inclusivity in the organisations. Furthermore, business leaders have a crucial role to play in shaping and role modelling these policies and practices within their businesses.

Assessing the Effectiveness of Neurodiversity Programmes

This can be achieved through:

  • Assessing the longitudinal outcome after the implementations are made within the business
  • Reductions in individual-level compliance-based adjustments
  • Friendly and inclusive language around inclusion.

In conclusion, universal design should become the norm for organisations to create and promote a welcoming climate for neurominorities. The active steps outlined in this blog can greatly benefit organisations, leaders, and employees to create a meaningful and truly inclusive organisation.

Further Information


Understanding Internet Addiction

This blog by Marianne Cole, Centre for Neurodiversity at Work, is a lay summary of Pontes, H.M., Satel, J., McDowall, A. (2022). Internet Addiction. In: Pontes, H.M. (eds) Behavioral Addictions. Studies in Neuroscience, Psychology and Behavioral Economics. Springer, Cham.

This chapter summarises existing research into Internet Addiction (IA) and the wide range of definitions in the literature. It considers a number of different models that researchers have used to understand more about IA and its related disorders. The authors summarise how IA is diagnosed, treated and make recommendations for future, more reliable, research.

What is Internet Addiction?

There has been much debate around the term ‘internet addiction’ and what it means.  This is important when comparing studies because each study may be working to a different definition and looking at the condition through a different interpretive lens.  Some researchers think this term is too general and that we should focus more on specific online behaviours instead as people tend to become addicted to specific online activities.  IA is currently not recognised as a mental health disorder and there is no agreement on terminology. However, all definitions link behavioural addiction with serious health-related changes common across addictive disorders.

The positives and negatives of internet use

There are positive and negative implications of internet use, including but not limited to:


  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduction in social isolation
  • Potential platform for positive lifestyle choices
  • Increased access to information
  • Improved educational, social and psychological outcomes for students
  • Mood-enhancing


  • Increase in aggression and hostility (gaming)
  • Acts as a medium for addition, for example gambling, gaming, pornography
  • Increases depression and anxiety
  • Causes relationship difficulties
  • Disrupts sleep hygiene behaviours

Models to aid understanding of Internet Addiction

This chapter compares three interpretive models (others are mentioned) which help our understanding of IA: Cognitive Behavioural, Interaction of Person- Effect-Cognition-Execution (I-PACE) and a biological model.

  1. Seen through a Cognitive Behavioural lens, some people may be addicted to a particular online activity (e.g., games, social media, etc.), while others (over)use the internet without specific purpose. General internet addicts may feel that the internet is the only place where they feel good about themselves, and they may seek it out because of underlying conditions such as depression and/or social anxiety. Researchers have found a strong link between procrastination and general internet addiction.
  2. The I-PACE model looks more widely at behaviours and ways of thinking that might influence a specific internet addiction and short-term gratification. Some people may be more likely to react too strongly, for example, personality, mood regulation, impulse control and other mental processes may all play a part.
  3. IA has been linked to biological changes in the brain picked up during scanning, such as reduced grey matter and dopamine. We need to be cautious about interpreting these biological links to IA because there are too many variables to firmly state the cause.

Internet Addiction and related disorders

IA is linked to a range of disorders, including Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), mood/sleep disorders, and autism.  Research suggests that people diagnosed with these conditions are more likely to use the internet as a coping mechanism.  Again, conclusions need to be cautious because study methods differ, and it can be difficult to untangle the two-way relationship between IA and underlying conditions.

Some research has compared IA across different countries, which is useful in understanding how widely it affects different populations. But more research needs to be conducted with larger participant groups and improved study design.  It is difficult to make reliable comparisons when different definitions of IA are used alongside different ways of assessing it.


The chapter mentions a number of methods for assessing IA:

  • Questionnaires
  • Internet Addiction Test (the most popular)
  • Internet Disorder Scale-Short Form
  • Psychometric tests

These have been widely adopted across many countries but have been criticised for being unreliable as an assessment tool while there is no agreed standard for diagnosing IA.


There are medical (e.g. anti-depressants) and psychological (e.g. cognitive behaviour therapy) treatments for IA with the aim of regulating rather than stopping use. More and better-designed research is needed into the effectiveness of both these treatments.


Researchers seem to favour clear descriptions of specific forms of IA to make clear that it has different levels of severity – as opposed to a broader and unspecific category.  As long as there is ongoing disagreement over definitions, IA cannot officially be recognised as an addictive disorder. The authors are concerned that if researchers abandon this field, those with IA will suffer harmful effects both psychologically and socially, feeling that their distress is being played down. Researchers need to work with clinicians, psychologists and therapists to find evidence-based treatment for what is a vulnerable group of people.

Further Information


Physical workplace adjustments to support neurodivergent workers

This blog is a layperson summary of the paper Weber, C., Häne, E., Yarker, J., Krieger, B., & McDowall, A. (2022). Physical Workplace Adjustments to Support Neurodivergent Workers: A Systematic Review. Applied Psychology – An International Review.

Who are we?

We are a group of five researchers:

  • Clara is an environmental psychologist at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, where she researches how physical workplaces make people feel, think, and behave and reasons why.
  • Eunji is part of Clara’s team and is a workplace management researcher, who figures out how offices can be better managed.
  • Almuth and Jo are occupational psychologists at Birkbeck, University of London who research workplace health and diversity.
  • Beate is an occupational therapy researcher at Zurich University of Applied Science looking at making the work environment better for young people with autism.

What is neurodiversity and neurodivergence?

  • Neurodiversity means that humans are all different from each other with particular strengths and weaknesses. The different ways that humans feel, think and behave are associated with certain conditions;
  • Neurodivergence describes when someone’s brain learns or behaves differently from what is considered ‘typical’. Not everyone likes this word, but we use it because we looked at research carried out on people with certain conditions. We use the two words interchangeably here for this reason.

What did we do?

  • We looked at ‘physical workplace adjustments’ for neurodivergent workers. These adjustments are mostly ‘physical helpers’ that aim to make it more comfortable to work in an office.
    • For example, if bright light in the office is hard to tolerate, you might prefer a different artificial light that you can also control or choose to use sunglasses.
  • We wanted to know what research has been done, what physical helpers are used, and if they make a difference to people’s wellbeing;
  • We confirmed if studies were trustworthy and of good quality;
  • Finally, we confirmed where there are gaps in research.

We need this information to make recommendations and to guide future research.

Why did we do it?

  • Research shows that neurodivergent people are excluded from work. Many experience difficulties finding or remaining in work because workplaces do not easily accommodate different needs;
  • People who are neurodiverse often have unmet sensory needs in the workplace. This means that sounds, lights, the touch/feeling of things, or other people’s closeness can be too much. This can affect their health and work ability, with people commonly reporting headaches, feeling dizzy or sick;
  • We need to know how to make workplaces healthy and productive environments for neurodiverse workers and what types of physical helpers are best;
  • There is guidance from charities and advisory groups listing different physical helpers;
  • Workplace design companies also offer various creative physical helpers, but they don’t say if these actually work. Little is known about how these helpers are tried and tested.

What did we do specifically?

We did a systematic review of the research evidence. A systematic review follows very specific rules and steps in order to find studies and make sense of their findings. By using this method, we developed a picture of all the available research in a specific area;

We looked for any studies that considered at least one physical helper used in an office. We included studies if this helper had anything to do with:

  • how well people felt at work (health/well-being)
  • how well people were able to work (performance)
  • the extent to which people found it easier to stay in work (occupational longevity).

We searched academic literature and guidance documents from charities or advisory groups and:

  • found 319 studies connected with our research topic/question. Of these, only 20 studies mentioned our particular focus;
  • confirmed how trustworthy the results of the studies are. We rated the quality of their research design and reporting of information;
  • grouped all the physical helpers and their positive effects to see at a glance what types have what kind of effect.

What have we found out?

  • Few studies say anything concrete about links between these physical helpers and improved well-being, work ability or staying in a job;
  • Many studies are based on interviews asking people about experience, rather than testing over time to see if physical helpers make a difference;
  • No studies focused specifically on physical helpers. This means that studies only mentioned physical helpers if participants did so;
  • Some studies report general helpful office adjustments such as altering light or desk placement (if available);
  • No studies used strong, reliable research methods, meaning other researchers cannot test their findings by recreating them. Without robust studies, we cannot say anything about cause and effect;
  • So far, we can mostly say that study participants believed that some helpers contributed to a good experience but we have no evidence that they actually work.

Why is this important?

  • We urgently need more and better research;
  • Neurodivergent workers are likely to be better able to access helpers if there is evidence that shows they make a difference;
  • Organisations might be spending money on helpers which don’t help;
  • Charity and other guidelines should acknowledge the evidence base for the accommodations they recommend so that people are aware of the basis for this advice;
  • Developing a specification for return of investment would help researchers and organisations gather more data to inform our understanding of what works, for whom and when.

Further Information


Crisis communications: What to say to stakeholders when it’s all going wrong

Portrait image of Benedetta CrisafulliDr Benedetta Crisafulli is Senior Lecturer in Birkbeck’s Department of Management with expertise in crisis communication. She shares insights from her research on how to plan for and handle a crisis.

No organisation is immune from crises. While in an ideal world crises would be avoided altogether, in practise that’s not always possible. Invariably this means that it’s essential to have a plan for situations when things go wrong.

In the literature, we tend to distinguish between three main types of crisis:

  1. Corporate Social Irresponsibility – when an organisation is affected by a scandal due to disregard for the environment, employees and/or community at large.
  2. Service Failures – when an organisation fails to deliver on its brand promise.
  3. Product Harm – when products are suspected to be dangerous to customers and have to be withdrawn from the market.

The way companies handle a crisis determines their reputation, sales and ability to recruit top talent. Much of my research in collaboration with top scholars including Paolo Antonetti, Jaywant Singh and Stan Maklan examines the response of various stakeholders when crises occur, and what happens when organisations and their brand representatives do something in an attempt to overcome such events.

What are the most important PR actions for an organisation facing  a crisis?

If you find yourself failing to deliver upon your brand promise in a way that causes customer dissatisfaction and anger, a very important step to revert the situation is to fix the problem. A very recent case in point in the UK concerns Heathrow baggage crisis last summer. In such circumstances, an offer of compensation is somehow futile unless the problem is fixed and any compensation is provided in a timely manner, by an empathetic and polite brand representative. The empathy, concern and politeness of the company, or its representatives, does matter regardless of the channel of communication – it matters even in technology-mediated interactions, as our research shows.

Crucially, we should remember that customers are not always complaining with the aim to gain some form of compensation. Customers often seek reconciliation to be able to re-use the company services, and are not always ready to take revenge. In our research on anger, we could identify not only a vindictive form of anger, but also a supportive form of anger following service failures. Supportive anger can be beneficial to companies as signalling consumers’ willingness to find a resolution to the problem and show continued patronage. If anger is not always negative, as we find, then companies should be ready to listen to customers’ complaints.

Do some organisations weather crises better than others?

It is important to note that not all crises are the same: if there is no attribution of responsibility to the company, customers tend to be more tolerant. For example, if a flight is cancelled due to extreme weather conditions, customers are unlikely to blame the company. That’s quite intuitive.

When it comes to crises exposing companies’ social irresponsible practices, however, market leading companies tend to be somehow less affected. Such companies still suffer, but less so when compared with smaller companies. With Prof Paolo Antonetti at NEOMA Business School, and Aybars Tuncdogan from King’s College London, we addressed this specific question in our published research in the Journal of Business Ethics. In particular, we were interested in job seekers’ reactions to corporate social irresponsibility events concerning dominant companies, which are leaders in an industry. Our research shows that dominant companies are comparatively less negatively impacted than non-dominant companies, especially so when job seekers feel very certain about their attitudes towards the organization.

While market dominance does not give companies a license to do what they want, investments in building a dominant brand can have a return in being able to navigate crises more easily.

What mistakes have organisations made in the face of crises?

The case of BP managing a crisis is exemplary. In 2010, the Gulf Coast was hit by a huge oil rig explosion – the biggest oil spill in US history. BP failed to report the facts with transparency and good intentions, stating that the oil rig was leaking 1,000 barrels of oil a day. That number was in fact closer to 5,000. Being perceived as dishonest in responding to the crisis would have most likely further damaged BP’s reputation.

Another example of a questionable crisis response is the case of United Airlines, when a guitar owned by the band Sons of Maxwell was broken during baggage handling. After being frustrated by repeated failed attempts to get compensation or reach a resolution, singer Dave Carroll took to YouTube to publicly shame United Airlines through a series of songs, which went viral.

Is there any way to turn a crisis into a positive story?

In service failure literature, there is some evidence to support what is called the Service Recovery Paradox, wherein customer satisfaction after a failure and subsequent recovery is even higher than satisfaction prior to the failure. In practice, the evidence assumes that crisis response of companies is exceptional (not simply good enough), yet that’s costly. It also assumes that the failure is low in severity and unlikely to happen again in the future.

Pepsi successfully bolstered their reputation following a consumer backlash when a needle was allegedly found in a drink in Washington. Pepsi produced a number of videos demonstrating the way the drinks canning process is carefully managed, thereby reminding consumers of the brand’s excellent production standards and goodwill.

What kind of preparation can organisations do to support the handling of future crises?

There is no one size fits all approach for crisis communications, but there are some guiding principles:

  • Companies should try their best to behave ethically and responsibly to avoid crises to start with.
  • Make sure there is a plan in place for crises that commonly occur in your industry. For example, customer service industries can measure consumer sentiment via historical data or social media listening to identify the kinds of crises they should plan for.
  • Have a crisis communication plan detailing what steps you will take if a crisis occurs. The plan should include fixing the problem and communicating empathetically with customers in a way that conveys genuine, not manipulative, motives.
  • If a customer asks for compensation, it is usually because they deserve it, so don’t be parsimonious!
  • Work on building, maintaining and reinforcing market dominance as that can somehow attenuate the negative effects of crises, and still make you attractive to job seekers.

Further Information