Neurodistinct Talent in the Gig Economy
Pioneers of the neurodiversity at work movement have begun making employment systems more neuroinclusive. At the same time, the contingent workforce is booming, with 39% of the US workforce engaging in freelance work in 2022. While many neurodiversity-affirming employment models have created lanes for full-time employment, the current catalog of available positions with corresponding support systems still needs to satisfy the breadth of vocational interests and support needs expressed by neurodistinct communities. Because of these barriers surrounding full-time employment, many neurodistinct people strongly prefer gig work.
This post looks at the emerging relationship between neurodivergent talent and the gig economy contingent workforce. And we welcome the perspective and insights of our neurodivergent contributor, Leslie Taylor, an ADHD business performance consultant.
Finding Viability in Gig Work
Many neurodivergents find their place in full-time employment, but not everyone is the same. For neurodivergents with low or no-support needs, full-time employment with access to employer-sponsored support systems might be viable. But what about candidates with moderate, high, or fluctuating support needs who don’t find sufficient empathy and flexibility in the context of full-time employment? Many members of this portion of the neurodistinct talent pool aren’t asking themselves how they can best fit in with existing full-time employment systems – they are questioning whether they want to partake in that system whatsoever. Rather than depending on employers to facilitate a neuroinclusive full-time employment experience, many neurodistincts have turned to gig work to take their support needs into their own hands and are thriving like never before.
A Case In Point
Leslie Taylor, a solopreneur and an ADHD business performance optimization consultant, provides a perfect example. Anyone who meets Leslie notices the level of intellect and passion she brings to her work. In the same breath, Leslie had to navigate a labyrinth of obstacles during her career as a full-time employee before finding her niche in contract work. But it puts her in a position to provide some first-hand experience and insight into this discussion. When we spoke with Leslie about neurodivergent talent and non-standard work arrangements, she noted that “remote work and contracting can provide neurodistinct people the opportunity to work in an environment that is more flexible and accommodating to their specific needs. Working remotely,” she continued, “allows for a more flexible work schedule and a better work-life balance, which may be particularly important for individuals with certain conditions that require more frequent breaks, time off, or specialized accommodations.” Moreover, Leslie stated that “contracting can offer a greater degree of variety, autonomy and control over the work being done. This level of empowerment helps neurodivergents create a work environment and schedule that suits them best. This flexibility can help deliver strength-based outcomes, which improves self-esteem and overall job satisfaction, leading to better job performance, and often higher levels of productivity."
Addressing Unmet Support Needs
Leslie – like many neurodistinct full-time employees – endured years of unmet or hidden support needs as a full-time employee. However, after pivoting to a contract assignment, she was able to move to a career in technology while designing a more sustainable and fruitful work life, where she felt truly valued for her unique strengths. According to Leslie, “contracting work often has fewer outside pressures, such as conforming to certain social or cultural norms. Unlike my experience as a full-time employee, I can focus primarily on delivering value for clients. There’s fewer office politics and little distractions or interruptions, which is particularly important for individuals who may have difficulty processing social or auditory stimuli.”
Parlaying Special Interests Into Gig Careers
Many neurodistinct people speak of the utility of their unique capabilities and interests. Leslie notes her ability to recognize revenue opportunities, hyperfocus and exhibit deep subject matter expertise in complex topics as highly appreciated skills with her current client. By parlaying special interests into gig careers, neurodivergents contribute exceptional skill sets and expertise to the contingent workforce. Neurodistinct workers can also achieve high productivity rates – and lower burnout rates – by spending as much of their work life as possible within the scope of their strengths and special interests. Leslie beautifully summarized this point based on her own experience as a gig worker: “Another key advantage of contracting work,” Leslie said, “is that it allows neurodivergents to be more selective about the work they take on and who they work with. I get to be my best, unique self, with a client that has demonstrated their commitment to diversity in their hiring and management practices. And since contracting work often involves taking on project-based or shorter-term assignments, individuals can choose projects that align with their interests, strengths, and passions while gaining new, valuable experiences, and avoid taking on projects that might cause them stress or anxiety.”
The Neuroinclusive Future of Work
Neuroinclusive best practices should be a cornerstone of your company’s contingent workforce management strategy. The win-win potential for businesses and neurodivergents in the gig economy is immense. However, organizations need to act and move beyond their own status quo of inaccessibility, if they want to avoid watching premier neurodivergent talent flock to more inclusive competitors. If your enterprise is not already on the path toward intentional neuroinclusion we can help you increase diversity by bringing neurodivergent contingent workers into your workforce management strategy.