The neurodiverse workforce

There’s an untapped element to the candidate pool that may deserve a closer look

Trying to recruit and retain talented workers who can assist in producing and delivering high-quality products and services, leading to business growth and enhanced profits, has always been a formidable challenge.

Typically, hiring teams seek individuals who not only most closely match the letter of the job description, but who also are predicted to be a good fit for the organization. In other words, companies want employees who can execute at what has been determined over time to be an optimal level consistent with the firm’s performance culture.

Let’s set aside for the purpose of this piece an admittedly huge hiring consideration — talent and ability — and ask, might there be an inherent and unforeseen flaw in settling for only those candidates who appear during the hiring process to be congruent with traditional workforce practices and operational structures?

By limiting a hiring search to simply those foreshadowed to be team players, could organizations be potentially restricting their chances of introducing and benefiting from innovative thinkers and value-added achievers? An increasing number of talent managers and human resource departments say this conventional thinking may indeed be a liability.

There is a largely untapped element to the general candidate pool that may deserve a closer look. This cohort is becoming known as the neurodiverse. Neurodiversity refers to those workers possessing conditions frequently labeled as disorders, including autism, dyslexia, attention deficit and social anxiety. You might be inclined to think that these types of job candidates should be weeded out of the search process due to their disruptive potential, but others are taking a chance at reframing the common perceptions of the neurodiverse and noticing positive traits where others see possible burdens.

So what might be favorable attributes of co-workers who may be seen by many as idiosyncratic, standoffish, ambiguous or just plain different?

Consider for a moment an organization composed of workers who think largely in terms of doing things the way they have always been done. Change is minimal because it is seen as disorderly and therefore unnecessary. Risk aversion and homogeneity are commonplace. Company culture and individual behaviors are driven by such values and will perform accordingly. Sounds like a possible recipe for competitive disaster given current market requirements for innovation and agility. Neurodiverse employees could bring fresh perspectives and abilities not typically present to the work site.

Neurodiverse skill sets can include high levels of intelligence, pattern recognition, systemic approaches to problem-solving, exacting attention, comfort with repetition, deep-dive analysis and even customer-facing. Numerous industries can use resources with these skills, particularly technical and data-oriented ones.

Another advantage can come from workers who aren’t motivated by office politics and the phrasing of opinions and conclusions in a group-think manner. As hard as it may be to hear, sometimes the straightforward truth is the best information to be communicated to colleagues and management. Neurodiverse employees may be best at delivering such news.

Of course, recruiting and positioning neurodiverse talent can present difficulties, perhaps novel ones, for human resource and other department managers. Rather than using traditional interviewing it may be useful to set up team work simulations, case studies or actual problem-solving sessions to see how productively all candidates function.

Strategically integrating personnel who may provide unique services, but also potential breaches of protocol, could require careful planning, diplomacy and tact. Flexibility and nimbleness, characteristics in short supply in many established organizations, may need to be adopted by company culture.

We’ve reached a historic point where differences among people are more accepted than in the past. In fact, this seems to be a desirable attribute of the millennial generation. Developing such an ethic could aid businesses while also fostering more humane treatment of all people.

Bill Ryan, who writes about career, employment and economic topics from his home in North Sutton, can be reached at

Categories: Business Advice