So your colleague has just told you they’ve got ADHD and you’re wondering how you can best support them at work. ADHD is extremely common but also extremely misunderstood. Here we’ll break down some myths and offer some suggestions so you can help your colleague feel safe and supported in their workplace.
First things first… totally forget everything you think you know about ADHD
Most depictions of ADHD in the media are based on unhelpful stereotypes and we don’t tend to talk about the way ADHD affects adults in the workplace. Here are a bunch of myths we’d like to debunk.
MYTH: ADHD is something you grow out of with age.
FACT: ADHD stays with you for life, but your main symptoms might change or even seem to disappear over time. Many people with ADHD simply get better at masking* their symptoms with age, often due to stigma, bullying, or discrimination.
MYTH: ADHD is more common in boys.
FACT: While more boys are diagnosed with ADHD as children, we have come to understand that this is most likely because ADHD goes under-diagnosed in girls and non-binary people until later in life – mostly due to stereotypical ideas about what ADHD symptoms look like.
MYTH: ADHD stops you from concentrating.
FACT: People with ADHD are excellent at concentrating on things they find interesting but can find it difficult to concentrate on things they find boring or tasks where they’re unsure how to begin.
*see the glossary at the bottom for more info.
So what is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition* with symptoms that include inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, executive dysfunction, and emotional dysregulation.
In the workplace this could look like a colleague who is consistently late for work. Or a colleague who fidgets and fiddles a lot in meetings. Or a colleague who gets really frustrated with unexpected challenges or struggles to begin a new task.
But it could equally look like a colleague who concentrates on a task so intensely that they forget to take a lunch break. Or a colleague who is incredible at solving problems because they look at things from a different perspective. Or a colleague who is the life and soul of the office with their positive vibes and excellent banter.
So how can you support your colleague with ADHD?
Each person will experience ADHD differently so it’s always best to ask them how you can help, rather than make assumptions. Focus on what you can do differently to make them feel supported rather than how they can change.
Whether or not a person with ADHD identifies as disabled, neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD are included as a protected characteristic under the disability section of the Equality Act 2010. This means you should make accommodations for your colleague with ADHD just as you would make reasonable adjustments to support any disabled colleague in your workplace.
Remember: getting a formal diagnosis for ADHD can take years so you should always support a colleague who believes they have ADHD even if they’ve not been officially diagnosed yet. Don’t make your colleague wait for a piece of paper to begin offering them support.
Our best advice if you want to support a colleague with ADHD is to be flexible, encouraging, and appreciative…
You might find that your colleague works at an inconsistent pace – sometimes being relatively unproductive, other times being extremely productive. Try not to force them to be more consistent if this is how they produce their best work. Allowing for fluctuations in concentration wherever possible will help them feel far less anxious about work and far more likely to be consistent. Ask your colleague if they need help managing their time and how they like to plan their work – then do what you can to help make it happen for them.
Many people with ADHD will find starting new or unfamiliar tasks difficult so, if you are assigning work, bear this in mind. They will find it much easier to begin a task where steps are broken down for them. Similarly, many will find it difficult to switch between tasks, especially if they’re hyperfocused* – so try to allow your colleague to finish what they’re working on if possible.
Make accommodations wherever you can to offer flexible working arrangements. Systems like flexitime, hybrid working, and a 4-day work week have all been shown to improve mental wellbeing for all workers, and this flexibility will particularly help people with ADHD.
Some people with ADHD will experience sensory processing sensitivity – this means that they find certain noises, smells, and other environmental stimuli particularly distressing. For example, they might be more affected by loud noises than your other colleagues. If they tell you that certain things are making them uncomfortable or unable to concentrate, try to help minimise the issue wherever you can. Offering them a quiet space to go whenever they feel overstimulated – whether to work or take a break – can really help.
A lot of people with ADHD will have poor self-esteem. Depending on how their ADHD symptoms present, they may be very self-conscious about many things – this could include how long it takes them to complete tasks, how chatty they are in the office, how difficult they find it to sit still in meetings, or how easily they get frustrated with new challenges.
Remind them that you value them as a colleague. You see their strengths and you’re eager to make the workplace a space where they can be themselves (without masking). Many people with ADHD respond incredibly well to continual positive feedback – so continue to praise their achievements, set clear and manageable goals, and reward their hard work.
If your colleague is exploring ADHD medication, consider how this will affect them while they are working. They might feel anxious or unwell as their body adjusts to the new medication, so be compassionate and patient during this time. Finding the right medication can take months, so reassure your colleague that you understand and support them throughout this period.
By being flexible and encouraging, you’ll help foster a more inclusive workplace that is better for everyone. And by focusing on the benefits that come from having a neurodiverse* workforce, you’ll come to appreciate your ADHD colleague in a different light.
A few of us on the team at Splitpixel are blessed with ADHD and we think our neurodiversity as a company is one of our biggest strengths. Having that diversity helps us write, design, build, and create more inclusive and accessible websites and digital content for everyone to enjoy.
On a personal level, I’ve found that the support and encouragement from my colleagues regarding my ADHD has had an enormous, positive impact on my mental health and my attitude towards work. I’m so lucky to have a manager who constantly reassures me that she understands how ADHD affects my work – never putting pressure on me to conform to a neurotypical standard, and always valuing me as an individual (in all my spicy glory).
So here are our 10 top tips for supporting a colleague with ADHD:
- Ask your colleague how they’d like to be supported – it’s about what you can do for them.
- Offer positive workplace systems to support their time management and workload if they need it.
- Set clear and achievable goals – from single tasks to long term projects.
- Give regular praise, feedback, and rewards to help maintain their mental wellbeing.
- Offer flexible working arrangements like flexitime, hybrid working, part-time working, etc.
- Encourage them to be open about their ADHD, if they’d like to.
- Create a space where you openly accept, embrace, and celebrate neurodiversity.
- Make your office an accessible, ADHD-friendly place – with spaces to be chatty and spaces to be quiet.
- Offer your employees workplace benefits that include mental healthcare.
- Learn more about the social model of disability to eliminate workplace accessibility barriers.
Building an inclusive and accessible brand starts with an inclusive and accessible workplace!
We really think that the most inclusive brands practice what they preach. If you create an inclusive workplace where everyone can be themselves, you’ll be able to more authentically practice inclusivity in whatever it is you offer your clients or customers.
If you’d like to learn more about inclusivity, you can take a look at our blog… we love making digital spaces more inclusive for people of marginalised identities.
We also love building websites and creating content that’s as inclusive as possible. If you’re in need of web design and digital marketing services, you can take a look at our portfolio of projects or get in touch for more info.
These are brain conditions that affect emotion, learning, self-control, and memory. Well-known examples include ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and Tourette’s. People with a neurodevelopmental condition are neurodivergent, people without a neurodevelopmental condition are neurotypical.
A coping strategy that neurodivergent people develop to try and hide their symptoms and conform to social norms. Masking can have long term effects on an individual’s mental health as they constantly try to cover up their real self. Masking can be done consciously or unconsciously.
Similar to hyperactivity, hyperfocus is when someone with ADHD becomes intensely engrossed in an activity – often without regard for time, work priorities, or needing to eat, drink, or use the bathroom. They might also be highly irritable if they have to interrupt the task for any reason. Hyperfocus can be impressive and productive, but it can equally be inconvenient and exhausting.
Diversity of people with brain types that aren’t exclusively neurotypical. A workforce that includes people who have ADHD, autism, dyslexia, etc. is a neurodiverse workforce.
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Written by Lily Houston
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