Managing ADHD in the workplace: strategies for success




Those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can face challenges when it comes to concentration, making deadlines and compulsive decision-making. They can also demonstrate amazing creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and great attention to detail. More and more companies are realising the benefits of hiring neurodiverse employees for both individuals and organisations as a whole. Managing ADHD in the workplace can bring its own challenges, but a more open approach to the needs of your employees is all it takes to bring success.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a condition with one or more symptoms relating to attention spans and hyperactivity. Some individuals may also experience impulsive behavioural traits, such as spending money on non-essential things. 

The spectrum also includes ADD, a condition where challenges arise relating to attention spans but not with hyperactivity. Many people with ADHD or ADD experience secondary symptoms such as anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disorders. These are often caused by the challenges faced through living with their condition.

ADHD and employment

A survey showed that 60% of adults with ADHD had experienced job loss due to their symptoms. Over 36% reported having four or more jobs over the past decade. 

Such statistics demonstrate the challenges many people with ADHD face relating to employment. Traditional workplace settings may be non-conducive to allowing individuals to focus on the job at hand. This in turn may lead to excessive stress levels, resulting in impulsive resignations or difficulties in building effective working relationships with employers and colleagues.

ADHD employment figures also illustrate the challenges individuals face. Research shows that 30% of adults with ADHD are likely to have chronic unemployment issues. As we’ll see below, workplace issues are rarely the result of a lack of talent, and everything to do with traditional workplace expectations.

Why you should hire someone with ADHD

Attitudes towards ADHD and other neurodiverse conditions are thankfully changing. Rather than looking upon these as mental illnesses that need to be treated, there’s a growing shift towards seeing them as merely different ways of thinking and processing thoughts. 

People with neurodiverse conditions such as ADHD often have skill-sets which exceed those found in neurotypical people. The challenge for employers is to create an environment which enables everyone to thrive.

Creative thinking

Those with ADHD often have high levels of creativity and original thought. A university study of undergraduates showed that those with an ADHD diagnosis scored higher than their neurotypical peers on a range of creative tests.

Focused

Managing ADHD in the workplace may be more challenging when people are assigned tasks that do not stimulate them. However, when those with ADHD are faced with a project that interests them, they’ll often show levels of focus that exceed their neurotypical counterparts. Struggles with attention are likely to come from subjects that people with ADHD do not find stimulating, such as routine or menial tasks. 

Attention to detail

High levels of focus on motivating tasks are complimented by great attention to detail. Many people with ADHD face a sensory overload which enables them to see all potential facets of an issue or project. Most neurotypical people do not experience such an overload, and thus have a more linear way of thinking. But for those with ADHD, this can lead to finding solutions that others overlook.

ADHD in the workplace: strategies

It’s essential to increase your own knowledge of ADHD before you begin to adapt your hiring program. The same goes for the knowledge of your staff. Successful hires are perfectly possible if you learn how to interview neurodiverse candidates, enabling those with ADHD to prosper. But real long-term success for your ADHD employees needs the support of your entire organisation.

Get to know the individual

However deep your own knowledge of ADHD, remember that no two people are ever the same. Symptoms will differ from one individual to the next, and different people will face different challenges as a result. 

Don’t be afraid to ask what individuals need, and look to alter your processes accordingly. Some people may work better when away from the noise and distractions of an open-office. Others may spend too long at a task because of an innate perfectionist’s attention to detail. Discussing workplace challenges in an open way will help you make the right adjustments.

For more information, see our article on neurodivergent communication: how to improve your interpersonal skills.

Be flexible

People with ADHD are more likely to be distracted by something external to work, or they may be unproductive in the morning due to a poor night’s sleep. It’s worth discussing this with an individual and finding the times in which they are at their most productive. You may then be able to adjust working times accordingly, or at least factor it in some of the time. 

Employers also need to be flexible when it comes to the working environment. Making people with ADHD fit into a busy, noisy office-space is unlikely to bring success. A mix of working-from-home combined with the office may be the solution, or simply providing a quieter space where there are less distractions.

Focus on skill-sets

As we’ve seen, people with ADHD may excel at certain areas of their work but struggle with tasks that don’t stimulate them. Don’t try to force the unforceable, and focus on your employee’s strengths when it comes to allocating work.

Remember also that many people with ADHD may not express the same interest that neurotypical employees have when it comes to sociability, team bonding or office-banter. They’ll likely be too immersed in a project to care. When it comes to appraisals and assessing the impact of a person with ADHD in the workplace, focus on results over presence.

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Thankfully, society is moving in the right direction when it comes to understanding ADHD and other neurodiverse issues. Moving away from a traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach can emphasise the immense potential so many individuals have. And in making adjustments to your own working methods, you’ll be opening your doors to the best available talent.

For an overview of other neurodiverse issues, read our article on managing neurodiverse employees: how to offer support in the workplace.

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