Employees with attention deficit disorder: practical and legal tips

ADHD-at-work

It is common knowledge that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects children and teenagers, but the extent to which it affects adults, particularly in the workplace, is less well known. Pam Loch and Julie Edmonds look at how employers can help individuals with the condition and what their obligations are under disability discrimination law.

It is thought that up to two-thirds of children with symptoms of ADHD continue to show signs of the condition into their adult life. A study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) surveying 7,000 workers in 10 countries found that 245 had ADHD.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a group of behavioural symptoms that includes lack of concentration, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Adults with ADHD will often find that their memory, organisational skills, time management and overall performance at work is poor. This means hitting deadlines and retaining important information is often more problematic for an adult with the condition.

ADHD cannot be cured but it can be managed, often with a combination of medication and, in some cases, psychological therapy involving counsellors, psychiatrists and psychologists.

ADHD tends to improve with age but some people will continue to experience symptoms into their adult life. The difficulty then comes in the workplace with the associated problems that may affect their career.

ADHD in the workplace

How seriously ADHD affects a person’s ability to do their job will depend on the severity of their symptoms and the type of work that they do. In the most serious of cases, adults with ADHD will have a chequered employment history, moving from job to job as they experience performance issues. According to the WHO, adults with ADHD lose an average of three weeks of productivity a year and often take more sick days.

On a day-to-day basis, an employee with ADHD may find it more difficult to:

  • stay organised and focused in a meeting;
  • manage numerous projects at any one time; 
  • manage their time, both in terms of arriving at work and meeting deadlines; and/or 
  • control their emotions. 

What can an employer do?

Under the Equality Act 2010, an employee with ADHD may be considered to have a disability if their condition has a “substantial” and “long-term” negative effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

If this is the case, an employer is under a duty to consider making reasonable adjustments to the role in order for the employee to remain in the job. However, an employee may not be aware of their condition meaning an employer may also be unaware. Therefore, poor performance at work may be addressed without taking into account this potential disability. However, if an employer does have knowledge of a worker having ADHD, then there is an obligation to consider what reasonable adjustments need to be made.

There are certain roles that will be more “ADHD friendly” than others. For example, any jobs that involve moving around rather than sitting at a desk all day; however, any position could consider making the following adjustments:

  • working flexibly, possibly at home, to avoid distractions in the workplace;
  • using headphones to muffle sounds; 
  • facing a desk away from busy areas in the office; 
  • working on particular tasks or projects for a shorter period of time and then going back to them later when the employee feels less distracted; 
  • encouraging the use of notes in meetings so that there is a clear record of what is discussed and any comments they have can be submitted, rather than shouting them out in meetings;
  • promoting the use of team working so that all skills are utilised and those employees who may find organisation more difficult can be used in different areas for different tasks; 
  • structuring the working day so that there is a clear plan to follow;
  • providing appropriate supervision to support the employee and help them manage their time; and 
  • allowing employees to delegate work where appropriate, for example dictating documents that are then typed up by someone else.

Employees with ADHD, however, often have above-average creativity and intelligence levels and can be an invaluable resource to any business, especially in roles where creative flair and being able to “think outside the box” are key skills.

Employers should be aware that staff members may be suffering from ADHD and must identify how they can work together to develop coping strategies to help harness the skills of employees with the condition.

About Pam Loch and Julie Edmonds

Pam Loch is managing director of niche employment law practice Loch Associates and managing director of HR Advise Me, and Julie Edmonds is a senior associate at Loch Associates.
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