Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects around 5% of children and 3% of adults in the UK. It is a complex condition that affects a person’s ability to control attention, impulses and concentration.
People with ADHD often possess qualities and skills that will make them valuable assets to the creative industries. Unfortunately, there are still a number of challenges in the workplace that are impacting the opportunities available to them.
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.
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, there are a range of qualities that are typically associated with those who have ADHD. These include being creative, curious and strong problem-solvers, with an innate ability to think in an original way or “outside the box”; very perceptive, energetic and spontaneous; persistent and determined, with an ability to hyper-focus, especially on activities that are seen to be highly rewarding; aspirational and keenly motivated to achieve.
There are also a range of challenges often reported by people with ADHD in a workplace environment that can impact performance. These include maintaining attention and focus when reading, writing or listening; concerns about structuring or planning time and work tasks; procrastination; or difficulty holding back, leading to accidental interruptions during conversations.
Below are some recommendations to help support staff with ADHD in the workplace to ensure organisations are better equipped to make meaningful change and become more inclusive.
While not everyone experiences sensory differences, many neurodivergent people are acutely sensitive (hyper) or under sensitive (hypo) in one or multiple senses. People with ADHD are predominantly hypersensitive in that they can be easily distracted by aspects of their environment.
When employees can reduce the negative impact of their physical working environments, they become more productive and experience less work-related stress.
Be aware of sensory differences and adverse sensory environments – for example, open-plan offices that have lots of distracting noise and lights. Check the employee’s position in relation to entrances/exits, telephones, photocopiers, the kettle, lift lobbies, etc. Perhaps offer seating in a corner or quiet area to help or allow the use of noise-cancelling headphones.
Consider creating flexible working zones by having a quiet space/project zone to work in, which may even increase productivity across all staff. If this is not possible consider separating teams more sales-focused away from others who are project driven.
Always be clear, concise and 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. Be willing to repeat things if necessary, without impatience. Try to avoid setting multiple tasks when possible, but if you do, write down a clear order of task priorities.
Try not to be publicly critical if you are interrupted. People with ADHD may often interrupt others without intending to be rude. This is a result of having rapid thought processes, eagerness and impulsivity.
Rather than simply criticising, give constructive feedback that highlights issues and possible solutions, as many people with ADHD tend to hyper-focus on negativity.
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, promotes and supports 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.
These apps and devices can help anyone who has difficulty planning, staying focused, typing, and holding onto or remembering instructions and information. Useful apps 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
Inclusive working environments
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. Neurodiversity awareness training for managers will support these considerations.
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.
Read more about how the industry can embrace a neurodivergent talent pool.
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