Approximately 15% to 20% of people are neurodivergent, a collection of conditions that includes autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.
Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, says: “Heightened awareness of neurodiversity is leading to a range of more inclusive policies and procedures in the office space the world over.
“Organisations are increasingly making physical and cultural adaptations to create physical work environments that support the full range of employees from neurotypical to neurodivergent.
“Employers are beginning to recognise that, in addition to simply being the right thing to do, accommodating neurodiverse people can provide a significant competitive advantage. Neurodivergent employees often tend to have exceptional capacity for creative problem solving and greater attention to detail.
Creating work spaces that accommodate everyone’s needs can seem overwhelming.
“We recommended several design interventions, from improving acoustics and lighting to introducing access to nature. But one simple, often neglected element employers might want to think about when considering the environment they provide to employees is the colour of the walls.”
Instead of using paint as a decorative or branding element, Trim suggested thinking about its emotional and psychological effect on neurodivergent staff. She cautions against using bright colours and bold artwork in rooms meant for focused work.
“Loud colours can actually be oppressive for workers who tend to get overwhelmed easily.”
A 2016 study in Frontiers in Psychology indicated that yellow is the most fatiguing and most sensory-loaded colour. Researchers said a yellow room can be punishing for people with autism spectrum disorder whose sensitivity to sensory stimulation is already enhanced.
Trim also notes the common corporate decorator instinct of painting surfaces to match a company’s brand colours.
“Colours that work on logos don’t necessarily work in environments. For example, painting walls electric orange, once a very popular branding colour, can make someone agitated or even hungry.”
Trim notes that overstimulated environments are typical of tech headquarters in places like Silicon Valley. “They want you to be there for long hours but they’ve been proven to stress people out. If you’re absolutely compelled to use company colours in interiors, introduce it in small doses, like desk accessories or pillows.”
This doesn’t mean offices have to paint everything in white.
As a general guideline, light greens and blues are the most welcoming colours for workers with sensory issues. Some neurodivergent workers actually need more stimulus too.
“People who are neurodivergent often need areas where they can get their energy out; game rooms aren’t not just fun social spaces. Those are absolutely critical for people who have excess energy. These are areas where companies can safely introduce brightly coloured walls.”