I'm managing a colleague who is on the Autism spectrum. I find it quite challenging.

For example, he's really inflexible. We have some regular tasks we perform, which aren't very important in the short run, and some urgencies we need to solve immediately. (I mean urgencies that are quite planned - we know we have several every week and which should be solved during work hours; I don't mean urgencies where you need to stay till midnight - that's absolutely not expected).

He's totally unable to prioritize and chooses to work on the unimportant regular tasks, which he could easily deal with later when everybody only thinks about solving a huge emergency that has just occurred.

He protests when I ask him directly to focus on the emergency and to leave the regular, repetitive task for later. He then does the regular task first and then caters for the emergency.

He needs to help with solving the "urgencies". Unfortunately, it's not possible for me to leave it for the rest of the team.

Also, he has huge difficulties communicating, taking everything totally literally. I've tried adjusting my communication to always be as accurate as possible and try to predict what can be misunderstood to clarify it before a misunderstanding happens. But there's always this tiny thing I didn't predict anyone can misunderstand and this is the point the colleague will misunderstand.

I've tried talking to him, encouraging him to ask questions if he's not sure whether he understood it correctly. I always ask him if he understands what the task is about and he always confirms. I repeat everything several times, also in writing. And then he does something that has nothing to do with what was expected or needed.

He's smart and a really friendly person but working with him is difficult. What can I do to communicate effectively with him and teach him to prioritize?

  • 4
    "I'm managing a colleague who is quite obviously on the Autism spectrum" - Well, so are you assuming this or is it a fact? Assuming this can be dangerous – DarkCygnus Apr 9 '19 at 16:39
  • 2
    @user4126 because you are assuming such thing. I rephrased the sentence to remove that assumption (as you seem reluctant to remove it), I feel it reads better. Feel free to adjust your post any further – DarkCygnus Apr 9 '19 at 16:46
  • 4
    @user4126 so it is a fact (medically stated) that this person is on the AS? Please clarify that as that would be an important detail, at first it read as it was not a fact and just an assumption, thats why I asked for clarification (just trying to help you here) – DarkCygnus Apr 9 '19 at 16:48
  • 3
    You do not know this to be true for sure unless you asked or had a peek at their medical records. – Neo Apr 9 '19 at 17:56
  • 2
    Also, I once had a colleague whose favorite saying was “Your failure to plan does not constitute my emergency”. I wonder if that is a factor here? – Joe Stevens Apr 10 '19 at 20:36

If he has a medical condition, you and your company should work with him to give him the best chance to do his work successfully. If in the end he can't or isn't willing to perform his duties, you should treat this as a performance issue, like for any other employee. This could mean letting him go. It could be that the job or the company is just not a good fit for him.

But first, make sure you've tried everything first. The best way to do that is to ask the employee what they need to be successful at their job. From your post, it doesn't seem like you've had real conversations with the employee (more you telling him what to do, guessing on how to handle him, without asking for his input).

Prioritizing tasks

Have you asked him why he works on less important tasks first ? If you know why he decides to prioritize his work another way, this knowledge should help you convince why the way he prioritizes his tasks is wrong. Or maybe you'll be surprised by his answer and decide he's not that wrong.

Also, are the top priority tasks handled in time ? It's not clear in your question. I can understand the frustration of him tending to non-urgent tasks first, but if the urgent tasks are done in time, it's in the end up to the employee to organize his work day and work week. If there's a deadline for a task and it is done by that deadline, it shouldn't matter that he did other less important tasks first.

If it's really important that he does the job your way and he still refuses after all this, treat this as a serious performance issue. I suggest reading the advice Alison Green gives at Ask A Manager on how to give a fair chance to your employee to do better, and when you know you need to let them go.


Again, ask him what's the best way to communicate with him. What mechanisms were put in place at school and/or past jobs for him to have the right information and do good work. You didn't give examples of those issues, so it's harder to give advice. But the best thing you can do is work with your employee on this, ask for their input, they (should) know best what they need to succeed.

|improve this answer|||||

What can I do to solve these issues?

If an employee decides to go and do their own thing instead of what you asked them to do, there needs to be consequences. Start with a verbal warning then escalate as allowed by your company. The fact that you believe that this specific employee may have a medical condition is no excuse for them not performing their assigned tasks to your expectations.

|improve this answer|||||
  • This is just going to lead to firing the employee. Maybe not the best idea since the employee sounds like a 10xer – user53651 Apr 10 '19 at 19:51

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.