ADHD can present a significant challenge to workplace functioning, leading to problems with poor performance, productivity, relations with employers and colleagues along with misunderstandings about the issues that sufferers face.
It has been said that self management deficits may play a larger role in ADHD in adults, specifically in relation to interpersonal and occupational function.
Because of this, people with ADHD often find they struggle with areas such as gaining employment, keeping to schedules and targets once in employment and with getting the best out of their job roles.
Due to greater challenges in areas such as Executive Functioning and impulse control, studies have shown that employees with ADHD are more likely to quit a job impulsively or be dismissed and face significantly more workplace problems.
It’s important for people who have ADHD to recognize which areas they struggle with, and how their condition manifests and impacts their work, and communicate these issues to their employers if needed. Although this may seem daunting, this can lead to great job satisfaction as well as giving employers the chance to utilize the skills and talents of the person with ADHD successfully.
Managing Common Workplace Challenges
Some of the most common problems employees with ADHD face are:
- Difficulty with time management
- Impulse control
- Difficulty maintaining focus and concentration
By understanding each of these issues, and how it impacts different ways of working, coping strategies can be put into place to help ease each challenge.
Below is a more detailed look at some of the common workplace challenges that often negatively impact people with ADHD and some tips and advice on ways to self-manage these issues.
Many people struggle with distraction, both internally and externally. Internal distraction is daydreaming or allowing attention to be diverted for current tasks. External distraction relates to outside stimulus such as movement or noises in the work environment.
CHADD.org advises these solutions for workplace distraction:
- Request a private office or quiet cubicle, or take work home or work when others are not in the office.
- Use “white noise” earphones, classical music or other sounds to drown out office noises.
- Work in unused space, such as a conference room, where distractions are few.
- Route phone calls directly to voicemail, and respond to them at a set time every day.
- Jot down ideas in a notebook to avoid interruption of the current task.
Difficulty with Time Management
Time-management can be an issue in the workplace for those with ADHD, especially because often they tend to ‘feel’ time rather than see it. This means that time is often not perceived sequentially, but as a collection of events. Managing time when it is experienced this way can be a challenge.
- Use time-line charts to break large projects into smaller pieces, with step-by-step due dates.
- Reward yourself for achieving each due date.
- Use watch devices with alarms, buzzers, planners or computer planning software.
- Program your computer to beep 5 minutes before every meeting on the calendar.
- Avoid over-scheduling the day by overestimating how long each task or meeting will take.
Struggling with outburst, emotional sensitivity, and feeling generally impulsive can all lead to issues in the workplace.
- Using techniques such as Mindfulness can help to give you a chance to respond rather than react if you feel yourself beginning to act impulsively.
- Take time to reflect on which situations often tend to cause a reaction and discuss with colleagues or a supervisor how to minimize them. This can include taking a time-out or having a space to go to which can be quieter.
- Use self-talk and calming actions as much as possible to mitigate stressful situations.
Procrastination and ADHD is often far more serious than simply putting off a task. For many sufferers of ADHD procrastination is chronic and severely impacts their ability to complete tasks at home and in the workplace.
- Identifying the areas where procrastination is the strongest is the first step.
- Breaking the task down into smaller steps and then giving breaks and rewards for each step can be useful. Often procrastination happens because the task seems overwhelming or thankless. Ensuring it is broken down into more manageable chunks can help significantly.
- Asking to work as part of a team on tasks can give support and accountability.
Understanding which issues impact you the most and taking steps to manage them can often significantly ease the impact of ADHD-related challenges.
However there may also be times when self-management isn’t enough and disclosing that you have ADHD to your colleagues and Managers can be a positive step towards giving you the assistance you need to succeed at work.
Communicating with Managers and Colleagues
To disclose or not to disclose?
Some people are unsure whether they want to disclose to managers or colleagues that they have ADHD. This is primarily because there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about ADHD as a condition – especially as a condition that affects adults. It can be nerve-wracking to speak about it.
Some people even believe it’s a mistake to disclose, because they fear they will be faced with dismissive attitudes, disbelief or discrimination. Some colleagues or managers may react badly or feel that ADHD isn’t a ‘real’ condition, or that it makes an employee less competent at their job.
Before deciding whether to disclose, it’s advised to reflect on the reasons for wanting to disclose.
Before disclosing to your boss, ask yourself questions such as:
- What are my objectives in disclosing?
- Will I be able to achieve what I want by disclosing?
- What might the consequences be in disclosing?
- Are there alternatives to disclosing?
Can all be helpful when making the decision? Some managers can be sympathetic and able to offer support, however others may not be able to.
The choice can be difficult, however being open and explaining what is happening for you increases the chances that any challenges and issues you have can be tackled if you have a workplace culture and manager who are open to support.
How to talk to colleagues / managers
If you have decided to disclose you have ADHD to your manager/colleagues it can be helpful to know beforehand what you want to achieve. It is also good to know if if there are any specific requests which you can ask for which might help you.
For example, if you find you are struggling with external stimulus while trying to do paperwork, disclosing at the same time as asking if you can use noise-cancelling headphones at your desk or spend time in a quiet office where possible can help the conversation to feel proactive.
Taking time to reflect on what your challenges are as well as being educated yourself about ADHD and how it often manifests can help make the conversation go more smoothly.
Being open to answering questions, as well as to working on knowing your strengths and how to describe these, rather than focusing exclusively on challenges and weaknesses can help when you discuss ADHD.
Being aware that you might face some challenging reactions such as disbelief or even hostility to the issues you face can help to manage expectations. Ideally all colleagues and managers will be understanding and open to supporting you. However it’s also worth preparing for any possible negative reactions that might happen.
Gaining support in your personal life via a therapist, your family, friends and ADHD support networks can also be a great way to help you with the process of disclosing and asking for help at work.
Legal Protection for those with ADHD
Knowing your rights in the workplace as someone who has ADHD can be useful when deciding whether to disclose and to ask for support or accommodations to be made for you at work.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – “forbids companies with more than 15 employees from discriminating against disabled workers and requires these companies to make accommodations for these workers. These provisions may apply to some people with ADHD.”
For workplaces with fewer than 15 employees there may be less protection, and this will depend on which state you live in.
Gaining support under the ADA will depend on how severely ADHD impacts each individual, and the accommodations that an employer can be expected to make have to be reasonable. This means that they don’t significantly impact the finances or running of the company. Reading and educating on legislation and the ADA can be a useful step before deciding whether to disclose you have ADHD.
Self-employment and Self-Supporting
One way that people with ADHD can often find freedom to manage their condition and work-life is by seeking self-employment. Being able to choose your own hours and have a greater freedom over how those hours are managed can bring profound relief to those who struggle with scheduling.
Being able to work from home can be liberating, however it can also pose it’s own challenges. Staying motivated organized and focused when there is a high degree of self-motivation needed in areas like self-employment can be an issue.
One way to offset these challenges would be to choose self-employment where there are still ‘outside’ deadlines and tasks which can be broken into smaller pieces. An ADHD coach may also be useful to help keep self-employment on track.
People with ADHD can have fulfilling and inspiring careers, and be valuable members of any workplace team. Much depends on the ability to recognize where ADHD is a challenge and be willing to work on these challenges, putting self-management techniques into place.