People with ADHD often possess qualities and skills that make them valuable assets to any organisation, but sometimes face significant challenges at work. Katherine Kindersey outlines how employers should be supporting them.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects around 5% of children and 3% of adults in the UK.
ADHD is a complex condition that is characterised by a persistent and pervasive pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity, present from childhood, that interferes with or reduces the quality of functioning in daily life.
People with ADHD often speak of having an overactive mind, being unable to stop, control, or filter out their thoughts so they are constantly distracted by their mind wandering. It is as if they are unable to switch off the background brain activity to focus or concentrate on a particular task or activity.
The challenges most often reported in a workplace environment include:
- Remaining focused when reading, writing, or listening
- Unable to stop the activity of the mind, often leading to poor sleep
- High levels of energy – both mental and physical
- Difficulty structuring or planning daily life, time, work tasks
- Being inconsistent in daily performance
- Procrastinating over challenging tasks
- Being tired/exhausted with the effort of trying to maintain concentration
As with all neurodevelopmental conditions, ADHD falls on a spectrum, so there is a danger of becoming rigid and expectant with any challenges and strengths associated with it.
However, people with ADHD often possess qualities and skills that make them valuable assets to any organisation, including being:
- Typically, creative and curious, with an innate ability to think in an original way or ‘outside the box’
- Strong problem-solving skills
- Very perceptive, able to see connections others do not
- High levels of energy
- Spontaneous and willing to take risks
- Persistent and determined, with an ability to hyper focus – especially on activity seen to be highly rewarding
- Aspirational and keenly motivated to achieve
ADHD is not a passing diagnostic fad, a myth, social construction, or reaction to hectic lifestyles or a multimedia environment. It does not just ‘go away’ with age, although it is common for the hyperactivity presentation to lessen in adulthood. Each and every person is different in some capacity, so we need to embrace our uniqueness in the culture of an organisation, so that all employees are able to work to the best of their abilities.
We have listed some recommendations below to help support and manage staff in the workplace to ensure line managers, HR professionals and senior management teams are better equipped to make meaningful change and become more inclusive.
It is understandable that not everyone can be an ‘expert,’ but try to:
- Become informed about ADHD and its effects, both practical and emotional
- Remember that employees may find long periods of concentration more challenging than others; where possible allow for variety in activity
- Recognise that it may be difficult to maintain attention during presentations, training courses and long meetings; allow these to be recorded where possible. Build in breaks so people can move about at regular intervals
- Appreciate that some individuals find sitting still for long periods of time challenging
- Encourage employees to talk to you and others about workplace difficulties.
Each and every person is different in some capacity, so we need to embrace our uniqueness in the culture of an organisation, so that all employees are able to work to the best of their abilities.”
It would be beneficial to consider:
- Using shared timetables, calendars, and lists as visual reminders; Encourage the use of shared planners that visually highlight appointments and deadlines
- Offering support on planning and prioritising workloads, and scheduling daily work tasks
- Breaking down large tasks into small, manageable tasks with clear deadlines
- Having robust reminder systems in place
- Offering guidance and support with new or difficult tasks
- Trying to limit approaching staff with surprising questions and email them in advance.
Feedback and appraisal
Give direct, constructive, and regular feedback. If a problem occurs, it is important that it is addressed at the time, not in an appraisal three months later. Ensure that ongoing, proactive support from HR or occupational health is booked in regularly and not used as a last resort.
When giving any criticism try to provide constructive feedback that highlights issues and possible solutions, as many people with ADHD will hyper focus on negativity.
Always be clear, concise, specific, and include information, such as how long a task should take, and the quality expected (with a concrete example of what this quality looks like) in the outcome of a task.
Try not to be publicly critical if you are interrupted. People with ADHD often interrupt others without meaning to be rude. This is a result of having rapid thought processes, eagerness, and impulsivity.
- Give full, clear instructions and take time to explain things properly – check back to clarify accuracy of understanding
- Repeat things, as necessary
- Give written, taped or oral instructions, as necessary to provide back up
- Avoid setting multiple tasks when possible, but if you do, write down a clear order of task priorities.
Be aware that reluctance to ask or apply for training courses may be linked to fears of stigma, and the possible exposure of weaknesses during training. Ensure that in-house courses have a policy in relation to ADHD trainees, consider:
- Active listening training – that helps with visual prompts for turn taking during conversation
- Public speaking guidance – to help those who speak quickly or circuitously
- Time management training – this should help with prioritising and multitasking.
Allow training sessions to be recorded with access to the information for a sustained time period.
People with ADHD often express concerns that a confirmed diagnosis could hold them back for promotion, or a fear of being underestimated when being considered for taking on increased responsibilities. It is essential to ensure that there is career progression and equal development opportunities for all staff. It can simply be a case of putting together a plan that identifies and targets an individual’s strengths.
For example, some management personnel with ADHD express concerns about keeping a well-balanced overview of projects and time management, especially when required to keep track of others. Their curiosity and enthusiasm may mean that they become distracted by non-essential topics or become over-absorbed in one activity.
It is important to have balance across any organisation to account for strengths and weaknesses – look across team members and assign responsibilities according to strengths and consider delegating to others – even outside the team where it would be helpful.
People with ADHD often express concerns that a confirmed diagnosis could hold them back for promotion, or a fear of being underestimated when being considered for taking on increased responsibilities.”
Assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, software, or system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of an individual. These devices can help people who have difficulty planning, staying focused, typing, and holding onto or remembering instructions and information.
Assistive technology can include digital recorders to record discussions and meetings, voice recognition software, spell checking apps, software to read text aloud, as well as programmes to help organise and prioritise ideas and activities. These include:
- Mindnode is a mind-mapping and brain-storming tool useful for those who like to visualise multiple ideas at once
- Time Timer is designed for those that easily lose track of time or get distracted in what they are doing
- Basecamp helps individuals and teams to work more efficiently. Key features include project management mapping, a built-in calendar to manage, schedule and plan for upcoming work, setting reminders and sending messages in one space
- Grammarly is a tool for spellchecking and proofreading. It is a web-based interface meaning that it can be used from most computers without installing software
- Google Keep is an app to capture notes, lists, photos, and audio.
When an employee is not performing to expectations, it is important to consider whether the person may have an unidentified neurodevelopmental condition or ‘hidden’ disability before moving forwards with a performance management process.
Inclusive workplaces are those where there is a whole organisational understanding that adjustments may be needed to support people who have difficulties or who work differently. We need to embed the understanding of difference in the culture of an organisation, so that adjustments are accepted as the norm and all employees are able to work to the best of their abilities.
DMA Talent has an ADHD Employer Guide with more information.