How can I manage an employee with an ADHD diagnosis?

Our Spill therapists share some tips on how to manage an employee with an ADHD diagnosis, and help them feel supported at work

Do you have any tips on managing an employee with an ADHD diagnosis?

First therapist's response

The most important thing to do when managing someone with ADHD is to have a conversation with them and ask them what they would find most helpful in terms of support.

ADHD symptoms can vary wildly from person to person so understanding the challenges that each person faces specifically will always be the best approach.

Generally, it’s a good idea to try and give them fewer rather than more tasks to focus on so that they can more easily maintain their attention, and it tends to be helpful to be very clear about instructions and expectations which includes making deadlines explicit and, where possible, putting things in writing. Giving them more time to complete work is also helpful if it is a viable option.

They may need help with planning and structuring their work, and flexibility in scheduling might also be helpful but will probably need supervising to ensure it works to everyones benefit

People with ADHD find a constant feedback loop helpful in which there can be discussions about what’s working and what might need adjustment.

Be prepared for some communication challenges that might affect other colleagues.

People with ADHD can tend to talk a lot and might sometimes isolate themsleves or switch topics without warning. Whilst this can be frustrating for others its important to understand that they are not being rude or disrespectful but it’s simply how their brains work.

People with ADHD can also sometimes be very direct so they may on occassion need some coaching in how best to collaborate within the organisation.

Some or all of these strategies might be required to get the best from someone with ADHD but it’s always best to discuss it with them and create a personalised plan.

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Second therapist's response

We live in a neurotypical world and unconsciously can expect all brains to conform to this way of working. We are slowly changing this culture to make adjustments for how different brains work but areas like school and work are still rooted in neurotypical systems. All our brains are unique and work in an individualised way; despite wider groupings, such as neurotypical or neurodiverse, there are many differences and nuances within all of us.

In order to support any employee, we need to understand what they need, so, rather than make any assumptions, the first step is to ask. Book a time to meet and explore what barriers they come up against and what helps them do things more successfully. Before you meet, it may be worth exploring ‘Do I really need this employee to conform with a particular working environment/process?’ or  ‘Do I need to get informed about what they need and make adjustments?’ It may well be a mixture of both.

An ADHD brain is brilliant at problem solving from a different angle; it can see elements that other brains miss. An ADHD brain can be spontaneous and impulsive which means it can be fun and do things that a more conservative brain wouldn’t attempt. It can be a brilliant verbal communicator and be able to engage with many different people.

Ideally this employee will be building an understanding of their needs through their own research. It is up to them to be the expert on their brain (not you!) and for you to support a system that helps them work effectively. For example, they may prefer instructions written down as when given verbally they forget them so they may need to take pen and paper into all discussions and allow them time to write. Or they may not be able to offer a written document explaining a part of the business but they could easily present verbally about it.

In terms of approaches and techniques, there are a tonne of books, podcasts and websites out there. They could set some time aside each week to explore the research and systems and you could both meet to discuss them? There's also some other interesting information here. Just by showing interest and getting informed, you are being supportive.

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Third therapist's response

The following are tips that should help you to manage an employee with an ADHD diagnosis:

- Learn about ADHD. You do not have to be an expert by any means but having a general awareness will be helpful. Check out the NHS information on ADHD.

- Ask your employee about how ADHD impacts them and what adaptations they would find helpful in the workplace. Aim to meet these adaptations where possible. The employee may not know exactly what they need which is why it is helpful to already have a basic awareness about ADHD. If someone is just starting a new job it will be harder for them to say what they need but a longer-standing employee should have some sense of what they find difficult in the workplace.

- Common complaints that I hear about in the workplace from people with ADHD are things like struggling to deal with noise and an over-stimulating environment (this is distracting), finding it challenging to stay on task (this will be more an issue where a task is not enjoyable, people with ADHD can concentrate extremely well on tasks they like) and problems around creating structure. There may also be issues around communication and boundaries. Avoid making assumptions though that something is a problem without any evidence. People with ADHD are unique like everyone else.

- If it is evident an employee is struggling with low mood or anxiety, and you have made the necessary workplace changes you may wish to mention accessing therapy to them, either through a service provided by the company (if you have one), or if not then through the NHS or local services where possible.

I hope this helps.

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