ADHD in the workplace – where do we stand?
ADHD has long been associated with poor job performance. Not only impacting someone’s ability to focus on long, repetitive tasks – their impulsiveness can also lead to increased risk-taking, which in the working environment can cause problems. There are many stereotypes capturing these problems, such as the person who forgets important deadlines, switches off in meetings or blurts things out without really thinking of the consequences but, in truth, people with ADHD can be an asset to the workforce as well.
Many people with ADHD are noted for strengths such as*:
- Ability to ‘hyperfocus’ on things they are interested in
- Willingness to take risks
- Spontaneous and flexible
- Good in a crisis
- Creative ideas – thinking outside the box
- Relentless energy
- Often optimistic
- Being motivated by short term deadlines – working in sprints rather than marathons
- Often an eye for detail
Despite this diverse range of skills, there will be employees with ADHD who require extra support and employers play a crucial role in providing an efficient work environment. The Scottish ADHD coalition has highlighted that this can be done with small changes, and their employer’s guide to ADHD in the workplace. Another great initiative supporting employees experiencing a mental health problem in general is the “Thriving at Work”, an independent review of mental health commissioned by Government and led by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive of Mind.
With the right support in place, people with ADHD can thrive at work and there are numerous examples of people with ADHD who are excelling in their careers. Peter Shankman is one such individual. He is a serial entrepreneur from New York as well as best-selling author of Faster Than Normal – also the title of his podcast – which aims to help people understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Shankman writes from his own personal experience and knows how hard one must work to be successful with ADHD.
Neurodiversity and recruitment
Definition: Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of neurological differences. It is used to describe people with one or more of the following conditions: Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, ADHD, Autism, Tourette’s Syndrome, Dyspraxia, and Dysgraphia.
In recent years, “neurodiversity” has become a recruitment buzzword. This represents a positive and exciting shift for the neurodivergent community as more and more employers are finally acknowledging the value of thinking differently.
In their 2019 Wired article, Berenice Magistretti explains that “companies are now recognizing that hiring people with neurological differences could give them a competitive edge”. This is especially apparent in the bioengineering, tech, and finance industries, where neurodivergent conditions like ADHD and Autism are commonly regarded as assets. This is unsurprising when you consider that many of the world’s great tech entrepreneurs have ADHD, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
As a result of this shift, some of the largest corporate names in the world have implemented neurodiversity initiatives – Microsoft, J.P Morgan, EY, SAP, Ford Motor Company, DXC Technology, and IBM to name a few. SAP, for example, provides soft skills training for those with cognitive disabilities as well as company-wide autism awareness training. Meanwhile, J.P Morgan has shifted their hiring practices towards a more neuro-inclusive model in an effort to accommodate those with ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, and other neurological conditions at the interview stage. Candidates can now undertake a series of pymetrics games to better match them to the right job, as opposed to a formal face-to-face interview.
While this is all worth celebrating, stigma and misunderstanding in the workplace about neurodivergence and ADHD are far from eradicated. In our recent interview, Tony Lloyd, CEO of the UK ADHD Foundation, highlighted this point, noting that “research says that 30% of entrepreneurs have ADHD or dyslexia or both and that university graduates with ADHD are twice as likely to start their own business. However, in the context of your employer, unfortunately, you may still encounter cultural prejudices when disclosing an ADHD diagnosis.”
There are examples, however, of organizations that are setting the bar for high standards when it comes to approaching neurodiversity in the workplace. For example, in January 2020, Universal Music UK – the UK’s leading music company and home to artists including Florence + The Machine and The Rolling Stones – published its first handbook on embracing neurodiversity in the creative industries. The handbook highlights the value of neurodiverse creatives in the workplace and suggests a wide range of neurodiverse-friendly practical solutions companies can adopt to make their workforces more accessible. Examples include neurodiversity awareness education for all employees, providing flexibility around the job application process and a buddy system to help recruits better understand unwritten social rules.
Companies are increasingly recognizing that such accommodations are in their interest – as a neurodivergent workforce brings many benefits, benefits that are optimized when the said workforce is best supported. In the words of the ADHD Foundation CEO Tony Lloyd:
“Some of the world’s most successful companies have been purposefully recruiting a neurodiverse workforce. Such companies are pioneers in their sectors – they are not just organizations that anticipate trends but are actually the agents of those trends – for example, Apple. We are slowly getting to a point where industry increasingly recognizes and celebrates what neurodiversity brings, is mindful of the accommodations necessary to optimize employee performance and implements targeted recruitment. Employers are realizing that they will get the best out of their neurodivergent employees by creating an environment that plays to their strengths.”
An ADHD diagnosis can be life-changing, especially in adulthood, as it highlights the impact of your previously unrecognized condition on many facets of your life – from executive functioning to emotional regulation. Suddenly, things might start to make sense: why you were considered a “daydreamer” or “lazy”, why certain boring daily tasks seem harder for you to complete than for other people, why you find rejection acutely painful – the list goes on.
With a new understanding of how your brain works, you may reconsider aspects of your life, including your career. Are you in a job that plays to your strengths? Would a different job better complement your ADHD symptoms e.g. by allowing flexible working hours? For more information on this topic, see the Exceptional Individuals page Jobs for people with ADHD.
*extract taken from the Scottish ADHD Coalition cited by the ADHD Foundation
Note: In some jurisdictions, ADHD is considered a disability and is therefore covered by disability legislation, which in some cases includes the obligation on employers to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace. This is dependent on your specific country’s laws.