The power of difference: managing ADHD at work

While ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) is, ultimately, a neuro-developmental condition, attributes such as creativity, innovation and hyper-focus have been scientifically linked with it. Here, Leanne Maskell outlines 10 strategies for leaders to work with ADHD rather than against it

ADHD can be an asset comprised of qualities you “can’t buy and can’t teach”, according to Dr Edward Hallowell, author of Driven to Distraction. Great leaders appreciate the limitless benefits of understanding, supporting and harnessing ADHD at work, as well as how to create an environment that empowers employees to work with the condition.

Here are 10 pointers to help promote ADHD strengths in the workplace:

1 Establish a disability-friendly foundation 

Ultimately, accommodating disabilities like ADHD at work is not a luxury ­– it’s the law. Leaders who recognise the value of going above and beyond meeting their legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 are those who will thrive in the modern world.

Establishing policies to ensure this happens smoothly is key to laying a foundation where ADHD strengths can be promoted at work, such as by implementing a reasonable adjustments policy setting out how people can disclose the condition and access support.

2 Support ADHD employees applying for State help

Access to Work is a UK government grant supporting employees with health conditions to stay in work, which is currently used by less than one per cent of eligible people. It can fund support of up to £65,000 per person, per annum, which will cover all reasonable adjustments such as ADHD coaching, training and virtual assistants.

Leaders can empower employees to confidently apply for this grant by centralising processes and supporting them with applications, empowering them to go beyond ‘levelling up’ the playing field for everybody by promoting support that will help anybody with a health condition to stay in work. For people with ADHD, tailored support such as coaching may be the difference between surviving and thriving at work.

3) Raise ADHD awareness for everybody

To harness ADHD, businesses can ‘name it to tame it’ by providing organisation-wide training on what it is and how it can show up at work. As the condition has only been diagnosable in UK adults since 2008, and the number of people seeking a diagnosis has risen by 400 per cent since 2020, our society’s understanding of neurodiversity in general is in flux.

Employers can learn about the tangible and practical value of ADHD in their workplace by engaging with lived experience and professional training to bring this to life and make it accessible to everyone.

4) Train managers in ADHD coaching skills

Providing managers with ADHD coaching skills ensures they understand the differences involved in managing a person with the condition and how to empower them to reach their full potential. The 30 per cent developmental delay in executive functioning skills such as motivation and planning linked to ADHD make us very different to manage, as we are primarily motivated by interest.

Given that ADHD is not so much a ‘deficit’ of attention as a challenge in regulating it, we may hyper-focus on some areas of work, such as those involving interest, novelty, or adrenaline, but struggle significantly with others. Properly trained managers can support ADHD employees to ‘do what they know’.

5) Use briefing documents for work 

To promote ADHD strengths at work, leaders should set out work projects in a briefing document, uniting everybody behind common objectives. This covers written information about what the work involves, which is collaboratively completed as a team at the outset of any new project.

This gives everybody the opportunity to ask questions and set clear expectations, timeframes and sign-off processes, literally ensuring that everybody is on the same page. As an ADHD coach, I often do this with my clients, supporting them to put reminders in their calendar and identify various people they may need to check in with at certain times in the future.

6) Turn marathons into sprints

People with ADHD may experience time as ‘now’ or ‘not now’ due to the impact on executive functioning skills such as planning ahead. By breaking long-term goals and plans into short-term chunks, they can stay motivated and energised, with clear end points in sight to avoid burnout.

7) Create ADHD action plans

As people with ADHD are often diagnosed with little understanding of what the condition is or how it uniquely impacts them at work, it can be very helpful to create action plans in the workplace to facilitate best working practices.

Such a plan helps individuals to identify the specific challenges they may experience, in addition to certain expectations of them at work, and any adjustments or strategies to help them. Having these recorded in one place is highly beneficial to ensure employees can utilise the support available, such as being able to work from home when needed without having to sign this off as sick leave.

8) Focus on communication & support

People with ADHD may experience rejection sensitive dysphoria, which is intense emotional pain associated with real or perceived rejection. As a result, we tend to thrive on positive feedback and reassurance that we’re meeting expectations.

Leaders can facilitate this by encouraging open and collaborative working cultures, as well as building in extra one-to-one support for employees with the condition to ensure they feel psychologically safe in asking for help where needed.

9) Utilise ADHD champions and mentors

People with ADHD may experience ‘success amnesia’ at work, meaning we may struggle with recognising when we have done a good job and celebrating our successes. Allocating employees with ADHD champions or mentors can be extremely helpful to help them record their successes at work and share their wins.

This boosts confidence and resilience, in addition to helping them progress throughout their careers and contribute to their full capacity within the workplace, promoting their strengths. It’s important to consider reasonable adjustments to career opportunities to ensure equality for people with ADHD, such as changing certain targets. 

10) Provide opportunities for ideas

People with ADHD tend to be ideas-machines in the sense that we are constantly innovating. This is a brilliant asset to any workplace, as problems can’t be solved with the same thinking that created them. To ensure these ideas are properly accommodated and taken seriously, leaders can provide a container for ideas with dedicated frameworks and opportunities.

For example, having a ‘blue sky thinking’ day per month, where people can present their ideas and take ownership for making them happen, can facilitate innovation and improvements in a sustainable and fair way for everybody. Such an approach can also help people with ADHD reach their full potential by utilising their extraordinary strengths.

Leanne Maskell is an ADHD coach, director of ADHD Works and author of the new book, ADHD Works at Work

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