What Can Employers Do About Neurodistinct Burnout & Masking?

Masking and burnout are bad for neurodivergents and businesses. Neurodistinct employees are their employer’s canary in the coal mine; where workplace toxicity exists, neurodivergents are often the most swiftly and severely impacted group. Unfortunately, minimal research on neurodistinct burnout exists. Most studies center neurodivergents by attributing burnout to their unique traits and susceptibility.

Moving forward, employers should understand neurodivergent burnout as a byproduct of cultures that do not embrace neurodiversity. Masking, ostracization, and unmet support needs, known contributors to neurodistinct burnout, emanate from the employer rather than neurodivergents. Unaddressed, masking and burnout severely limit the productivity, innovativeness, and well-being of neurodistinct employees.

Employers should take several steps to alleviate neurodivergent masking and burnout:

  • Create safe spaces for disclosure and support-need requests
  • Be proactive, transparent, and generous with support
  • Default to offering remote or hybrid positions and flexible schedules
  • Offer generous leave and employee assistance program policies
  • Adapt workplaces to support sensory needs
  • Embrace neurodivergent communication styles and behaviors
  • Train managers to be allies and expert communicators

What is Neurodivergent Masking?

Masking, also called camouflaging, is the concealment of one’s neurodivergence by imitating neurotypicals to avoid discrimination. Acting neurotypical limits access to the communication, sensory, and self-care needs of many neurodivergents. Disparaging mainstream characterizations of neurodivergence and experience with ostracization often prompt neurodivergents to mask. Disturbingly, a generation of autistic children has been deliberately encouraged to mask through practices like ABA therapy. Throughout their lifespan, neurodivergents internalize the sinister insinuation that their ultimate evolution is to be indistinguishable from neurotypicals. In the context of employment, masking is an attempt to mitigate the discrimination neurodistinct employees experience related to hiring, retention, promotions, and inclusion. This incongruence between the neurodistinct employee’s authentic self and contrived persona often leads to anxiety, depression, burnout, and other indicators of psychological distress.

What is Neurodivergent Burnout?

Burnout experienced by neurodistinct communities fundamentally differs from how occupational burnout is usually framed in terms of its causes and remedies. Neurodivergent self-advocates identify burnout as a primary barrier to maintaining employment. Employers contribute to neurodivergent burnout through miscommunication, intolerance of neurodistinct behaviors, unmet support needs, and overlooking cries for help. For months at a time, neurodivergent employees experiencing burnout lose the bandwidth necessary to engage in self-care and activities of daily living, let alone to be productive and innovative employees. Employers need to support and remain flexible, rather than gaslight, in these crucial moments.

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