How to Hire and Support Neurodiverse Retail Workers

Author Hope Weatherford Date Jun 03 2022

According to CNBC, the unemployment rate for neurodiverse adults is between 30% and 40%, and according to a recent study by Deloitte, as many as 85% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed. These staggering numbers illustrate a huge missed opportunity for talent acquisition professionals across nearly every vertical.

One industry making active efforts to build hiring and retention strategies to address this largely untapped talent pool is retail. With the likes of Walgreens, Amazon, and Wawa leading the way when it comes to attracting and retaining neurodiverse talent, it’s worth taking a closer look at best practices for recruiting and accommodating people with autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, and many other conditions.

Keep reading for three tips on how to hire and accommodate neurodiverse retail workers.

Comprehensive Training Programs

One of the most obvious ways retail organizations can support neurodiverse workers is by providing comprehensive training that accommodates different learning abilities. Walgreens offers a Retail Employees with Disabilities Program (REDI) to prospective employees. The training program consists of a three- to four-week training, teaching neurodiverse workers how to restock shelves, unload trucks, stock shelves, run a cash register, and many other core retail competencies. Those who complete the REDI program with a passing score are able to apply for Customer Service Associate (CSA) positions at Walgreens, will earn a “recommended for hire” designation, and can bypass certain qualifying assessments to become a CSA at Walgreens.

When trying to attract neurodiverse workers, it is imperative that retail organizations provide ample training and support to open doors for people with otherwise limited opportunities. Training programs like Walgreen’s REDI can help build workers’ skills and confidence, while also expanding retail companies’ talent pools—win-win!

Reduce Opportunities for Sensory Overload

While many retail companies seek to create multisensory experiences at their brick-and-mortar stores to attract patrons, loud music and strong scents can actually deter neurodiverse customers and workers alike.

People with autism experience sensory differences, meaning that their senses may be over- or under-sensitive. In situations where a person with autism finds it difficult to process all the sensory information around them, they may experience sensory overload, which can cause stress, anxiety, and possibly physical pain.

In order to accommodate and support neurodiverse workers, retail companies must do everything they can to reduce stimuli that may cause sensory overload for both their customers and employees. Companies like Abercrombie and Fitch have lowered the volume of their music by 50% to create a more inclusive environment for neurodiverse staff and customers. Changes like these can make a huge difference when trying to expand the retail talent pool.

Job Coaching

Another way retail organizations can attract and retain neurodiverse employees is by offering job coaching. Wawa offers their neurodiverse employees access to job coaches who can help identify the skills and breadth of work each specific worker should focus on. Once an employee is comfortable with their responsibilities and workload, Wawa phases out the job coach so employees can continue to flourish independently.

Offering neurodiverse employees access to job coaches will help them focus on the skills they are most suited for and allow retailers to leverage these specialized workers across various parts of their stores.

Retailers must find new ways to tap into more diverse talent pools in order to meet the needs of their businesses—building out programs designed to attract and support neurodiverse workers is a great place to start!


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About the Author

Global Head of People

Hope Weatherford

Hope Weatherford has more than 15 years of experience in the People space, and currently leads the People Team at Fountain. She has worked at different levels for all types of companies, from Fortune 100 to early-stage startups. She also serves as an advisor to multiple HR tech startups.