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Neurodiversity and “Masking” in the Workplace: The Hidden Challenge to Inclusion and Mental Health

As the conversation around neurodiversity in the workplace evolves, one subtle yet pervasive practice demands closer examination: “masking”.

A Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) statement of intent is a key step in ensuring your DEI strategy is anchored within the overall business strategy. Organisations that have worked through the processes below are ready to write their DEI statement of intent.

What is masking?

Masking, or camouflaging, is the act of concealing one’s natural personality, emotions, or mental health states to fit into societal or professional norms. For example, in neurodivergent individuals, it often translates to hiding traits associated with their neurodivergent condition to appear “neurotypical”. While it may, on the surface, appear a necessary adaptation to “fit in” with a majority population, the implications for mental health and well-being are significant.

It’s something we should talk about more.

Examples of masking at work

Masking is particularly prevalent in neurodivergent individuals due to societal pressures and misunderstandings about neurodivergent conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others. The fear of being misunderstood, stigmatised, or even penalised professionally often leads individuals to hide their neurodivergent traits, maintaining a façade of neurotypicality.


For example, an obvious source of masking is covering up or avoiding “stimming”. Stimming is repetitive and sometimes unusual movements or noises, which can help some neurodivergent people manage emotions and cope with overwhelming situations). It is typically associated with autistic people.

ADHD and checking work

A neurodivergent employee with ADHD might mask their difficulties with concentration and impulsivity by working longer hours or constantly checking and rechecking their work to ensure it meets expectations.

Masking anxiety

A neurodivergent employee with social anxiety may mask their discomfort in social situations by avoiding team lunches or after-work gatherings, limiting their networking opportunities and potentially affecting career advancement.

Strategies for dyslexic employees

A neurodivergent employee with dyslexia could mask their reading difficulties by using various strategies, such as relying heavily on spell-checkers or asking colleagues to proofread their written communication, to maintain a professional image.

Masking sensory issues

A neurodivergent employee with sensory sensitivities might use masking to hide their discomfort with certain sounds or lights by using noise-cancelling headphones or adjusting their workspace environment, striving to appear unaffected and focused on their work.

Plenty of “neurotypical” people demonstrate similar self-soothing or unconscious physical responses, running a vast gambit from doodling to clicking pens or biting nails to self-hugging to more destructive behaviours such as violent responses or alcohol and drug use (if it’s any help, I’ve noticed that I waggle my toes when I’m excited or in a very relaxed, cosy, happy state).

How exhausting the world would be to exist in if we couldn’t regulate ourselves in these little, (usually) non-consequential ways – even for a short while.

It is, then, perhaps easy to see why masking, this constant perceived (or actual) need to perform and follow “neurotypical” behaviour, can be mentally exhausting, exacerbating mental health ill health struggles and leading to meltdowns and burnout.

Why we should avoid masking

Masking also perpetuates feelings of isolation. The disparity between an individual’s internal experiences and their external portrayal can intensify feelings of loneliness and contribute to a sense of alienation. This disconnect can decrease job satisfaction, heighten stress levels, and overall mental distress.

Moreover, when neurodivergent individuals mask their traits, organisations face challenges in identifying and addressing their unique needs and strengths. Hidden behind masks, the diverse perspectives and innovative potential inherent in neurodivergent individuals remain untapped, primarily because if you’re too exhausted from masking, how can you perform at your best?

How can we reduce employees’ need to mask at work

However, by acknowledging the detrimental impacts of masking, workplaces can begin to foster a more inclusive environment that supports the mental health of neurodivergent employees. Employers can cultivate cultures that encourage authenticity and open conversations about neurodivergence and mental health.

Speaking openly and positively about neurodiversity

Promoting open dialogues about neurodivergence and mental health can lessen the need for masking. Implementing regular mental well-being check-ins, encouraging managers to be receptive to discussions about neurodivergence and mental health, and actively publicising available support services can create an environment where neurodivergent individuals feel safe to be their authentic selves.

Develop your workplace policies surrounding neurodiversity

Additionally, developing inclusive workplace policies can significantly contribute to reducing masking. For example, policies that address neurodivergence stigma, provide accommodations, and support flexible working arrangements can create a more empathetic workplace, easing the pressure on  neurodivergent employees to mask their true selves.

Offering peer support

Peer support initiatives also offer a powerful tool to combat the isolation often associated with masking. Safe spaces where employees can share their experiences and strategies can foster a sense of belonging and mutual understanding, normalising the experiences of neurodivergent individuals and reducing the need for masking.

Unmasking neurodiversity from “neurotypical” to “neurodivergent” (and everything in between) can lead to more inclusive and compassionate workplaces where everyone is valued for their unique contribution, thereby enriching the tapestry of our work environments. At Clear Company, we can support you in creating a culture of acceptance and openness by implementing supportive policies and nurturing a community of peer support, together.

And, together, we can create workplaces that genuinely celebrate diversity rather than suppress it. 

Ready to embrace neurodiversity and create an inclusive workplace? Take the next step towards Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by partnering with The Clear Company for a comprehensive DEI audit. Empower your organisation with actionable insights today! Contact us for more information.

About the Author:

Beci Kijko – Senior Consultant, Digital Design & Development at the Clear Company 

Beci is an experienced professional with 12 years of expertise in Learning and Leadership. She worked as a Learning Experience Designer for Co-op Group for four years, where she managed and designed digital content for the company and was responsible for a significant portion of its DEI learning. Prior to this, she worked in Aviva’s HR team, focusing on Leadership and DEI initiatives. Beci’s achievements include being nominated for Co-op’s Inclusion Awards and attending the finals of Aviva’s Customer Cup competition for her work on Mental Health and Wellbeing in the workplace. In addition to her professional accomplishments, Beci is a piece of art, having participated in Anthony Gormley’s One and Other in 2009, and an enthusiastic amateur genealogist, crafter, and gamer. 

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