How to help employees with ADHD

Un groupe d'employés discutent autour d'une table de réunion

Does a member of your team suffer from attention deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity (ADHD1)? Consciously or not, colleagues or even you may have one or two misconceptions about the condition.

Discover some of the more common myths about people with ADHD at work. We’ll then look at how you can support them to improve their well-being at work and maximize their potential.

ADHD is a neurological development disorder that can manifest as early as childhood and affects 4% of adults in Canada.

For general information about ADHD symptoms, read this article by Beneva.

ADHD at work: separating fact from fiction

As managers, it’s important not to have any false beliefs about ADHD. Preconceived notions could have an impact on your relationships with those affected by the disorder.

Attention deficit disorder manifests itself differently with each individual. And how they experience it varies depending on several factors, including accessible treatment (with or without drugs) to reduce symptoms or their coping strategies to be able to deal with daily challenges.

Let’s take a closer look at 4 common misconceptions.

Myth 1: People suffering from ADHD can’t concentrate.

It’s true that they have trouble paying attention for extended periods, or are easily distracted by their environment or their own thoughts. However, many people with ADHD are still capable of concentrating, i.e. being hyperfocused, especially when the topic or activity interests them.

Myth 2: They’re less productive.

Quite the contrary. Employees with ADHD are usually high-performers. Their interest in a task or project gives them an energy boost. The challenge lies in channelling and making the most of their strengths.

Myth 3: Employees with ADHD are disorganized.

Symptoms and their severity vary from person to person, so the above statement is false.

There could be some challenges when it comes to being organized. So in order to cope, some people use personal strategies they may have developed or use proven tricks such as using an agenda, establishing a routine, chopping up larger projects into smaller and more manageable blocks, etc.

Myth 4: In the digital age, with screens everywhere, we all suffer from a little ADHD.

Losing your focus once in a while is one thing, but it’s not in the same ballpark as living with ADHD. Only qualified professionals, such as psychologists, physicians or neuropsychologists, can diagnose ADHD and have the specialized tools required to make such a determination.

Supporting employees with ADHD

First, check your group insurance coverage to see whether you have access to resources that could inform or assist you.

Avoid missteps

Since ADHD is a personal matter, don’t broach the subject with employees, especially if you’re not prepared. It’s up to them to open up first about their situation and diagnosis. They may not even be aware they have ADHD.

For example, if an employee talks to you about ADHD and asks for your help, you can support them in two ways:

  • General measures, which can be helpful for everyone
  • Personalized measures, which are based on their needs

In the latter case, try not to give the rest of the team the impression that you’re giving preferential treatment to the person impacted.

General measures

Plan their work days: Routine makes life easier for people with ADHD. For example, some meetings (virtual or not) can always occur at the same time of the week.

Provide headphones in open space offices: People with ADHD have trouble ignoring stimuli such as ambient sounds. Wearing headphones or ear plugs can limit distractions and help them stay focused on their tasks.

Allow flexible schedules: By letting employees start at a time that suits them better, those with ADHD may opt to start their day earlier, at 7:00 or 7:30 for example, to take advantage of the quiet before their colleagues arrive. This habit could help them stay focused.

Structure and optimize meetings: To ensure everyone listens and encourage participation, set clear objectives and a specific duration for meetings. To motivate your teams, including employees with ADHD, reserve time to discuss creative solutions proposed by team members.

Personalized measures

Each person copes with ADHD differently. To help team members who have confided in you, start by lending them your ear. Based on what they say, you can take measures such as:

  • For onsite work, ask them to find a quiet corner to work in, away from high-traffic areas, so they can have fewer distractions.
  • Help them divide their projects into smaller tasks with clear priorities and deadlines
  • If this person is also hyperactive, invite him or her to take breaks so they can move around a bit during the day
  • Redefine their roles based on their strengths to help them succeed and stay motivated

Highlight qualities and celebrate diversity

People with ADHD bring an element of diversity that is welcome in work teams. If these employees are able to make the most of their assets and potential, and if you know how to recognize their strengths and help them thrive, the whole group wins.