Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
11:00 PM 23rd May 2024

Heston Blumenthal Reveals Bi-Polar Diagnosis And Vows To Challenge Attitudes To Neuro-Divergence In The Workplace

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Restauranteur and chef Heston Blumenthal OBE is opening up about his mental health as he sets out to campaign for a change in attitudes to neurodiversity in the workplace.

He has been recently diagnosed as bi-polar following a positive assessment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 2017 and believes his neurodiversity has been a superpower for him, and can be for more employees and employers.

The celebrity chef and entrepreneur whose restaurants include the world-famous Three Michelin Star Fat Duck, the Michelin starred Hind’s Head, the Two Michelin star Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and the Perfectionists’ Café, wants to raise awareness of the importance in including neurodivergent people in the workplace.

Heston has commissioned two pieces of research, the first is a survey of British adults who have a diagnosis of a neurodiverse condition or believe they are neurodivergent, and the second survey was with Board Directors and HR Directors of FTSE 350 companies.

Key findings from the survey of British adults who are neurodiverse:
More than one in ten (11%) people surveyed say they have been officially diagnosed as neurodivergent of which 21% are neither in full nor part-time paid employment
Forty-seven percent of UK adults who have a diagnosis of a neurodiverse condition or believe they are neurodivergent, believe this has made it harder to find a job
Of those people who have struggled to find work as a result of being neurodiverse, 53% say traditional recruitment processes made it harder for them
One-third of people surveyed who have been officially diagnosed as neurodivergent say they have been bullied at work after colleagues or managers find out about their condition.
Fifty-six percent of British employees with neurodiversity surveyed see their condition as a superpower enabling them to be more creative or better at spotting trends and patterns, yet 33% say their skills or strengths are underused and overlooked

These findings are supported by a second piece of research*** commissioned by Heston covering 100 FTSE 350 Board Directors and HR Professionals, which found 37% of respondents describe their company’s understanding of the number of neurodivergent employees as average or poor.

Other key findings include:
Almost one-third (31%) of Board Directors and HR Professionals at the UK’s largest 350 companies describe their firm’s recruitment policy for neurodivergent applicants as poor or average
Nearly three-quarters (71%) agree that neurodiversity can be a superpower
Fifty-nine percent are overlooking the skills and strengths of neurodivergent employees
Sixty-nine percent of FTSE 350 Board Directors and HR Professionals say they will increasingly need to recruit neurodivergent people to help manage the skills gaps their business face

It is estimated that around one in seven people in the UK have some kind of neuro divergence and, as they often think about and see the world differently, can be a huge asset for employers.

Heston Blumenthal said:
“People with diagnoses like mine - and with numerous other kinds of neurodiversity in our society – are woefully underrepresented in the workplace.

“These are individuals who may have exceptional skills and unparalleled abilities yet because of traditional ways of working, we are missing out on the brilliance they can bring to UK business.

“I hope that being open about my own mental health will raise awareness of the issue and I want to campaign to highlight the contribution neurodiversity can make to the workplace.”

Heston acknowledges that having conditions such as bi-polar and ADHD cause atypical behaviours but argues that suppressing or ignoring neurodivergence leads to lost opportunities for individuals and businesses to be creative and productive.

Heston said:
“My most artistic, innovative and exciting work is because I am neurodivergent, which I describe as my superpower. The world needs to move on from outdated and archaic misinterpretations of perceived difference, and embrace the opportunities neurodiversity presents.”

Heston is urging employers to adapt their workplaces and organisational cultures to be more inclusive of those who are neurodivergent and create environments that nurture and foster individuals who offer a range of outlooks and approaches to life.

Heston said:
“I am looking at my own workplace. I have talked to the management team, made sure that they are totally on board with this and are committed, like me, to making The Fat Duck Group somewhere that welcomes neurodiversity. Eventually I want our own workplace – and indeed everyone’s – to be tolerant, sympathetic, understanding and above all enabling of all kinds of people, not just the neurotypical.”

Dr Sinéad Devine-French, Chief Science Officer, The Positive Group, said:
“Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace isn’t just a nice-to-have; it can be a strategic gamechanger.

"Recognising that every individual brings a unique blend of strengths, cognitive experiences, and perspectives enriches our thinking and propels our creativity.

"As we step into a new era dominated by AI, creativity isn't just valuable; it's essential. Studies reveal that organisations championing neurodiversity enjoy a surge in creativity and innovation — boosting their output by over 20%. Neurodiverse talents often tackle challenges from angles unheard of in more uniform groups, sparking breakthroughs that can leapfrog competition.

“Leaders at the forefront know all too well the perils of the echo chamber. Increasing neurodiversity is their secret weapon to shatter this, enhancing the collective intelligence that thrives within diverse teams.

“By cultivating an inclusive environment that celebrates every form of cognitive diversity, companies not only skyrocket the job satisfaction and retention rates of neurodivergent employees (with a staggering 90% boost in retention rates) but they are also well placed to unlock the full spectrum of human potential.

"This strategy benefits everyone — fuelling a workplace where people are not only seen and heard but are also empowered to shine. This isn't just about improving performance; it's about fostering a psychologically safe and vibrant workplace culture where every team member can thrive and contribute their very best.”