Line Managers: How to Support Employees with ADHD

The letters ADHD held up by hands

You don’t need to be an expert to get the best from employees with ADHD. A little understanding and support goes a long way…

Rethink what you know about ADHD

The popular stereotype of ADHD of badly-behaved boys being distracted by squirrels can often be untrue or misleading and lead to prejudice from employers. People with ADHD can do extremely well at school and those who achieve less well academically have often lacked support or understanding. Women and girls are often underdiagnosed. Not all people with ADHD have hyperactivity or impulsivity, and these things may not look the way you would imagine.

Try to assume the best of employees 

ADHD affects short-term memory and the way a person takes in information. A common scenario is a task not being completed in the way expected because an instruction has been forgotten or missed, especially when the work involves a lot of emails, tracked changes or attachments. Always check someone’s understanding of a task, and double up important instructions rather than relying on verbal or email instructions alone. If someone hasn’t delivered what’s expected of them, try and find out why in a compassionate way without assuming negligence or disobedience. A person with ADHD be in the habit of assuming the blame for admin mix-ups, whether they are to blame or not. You can help by gently discouraging this.

Talk to employees about the support they might need

What’s most helpful for someone with ADHD at work can vary depending on the role. Common helpful strategies can include:

  • Doubling up or repeating instructions to help with memory 
  • Minimising irrelevant or distracting emails where possible
  • Putting different instructions in separate emails with clear subject headers so they aren’t missed and can be easily located
  • Giving specific instructions and not expecting unwritten rules to be understood “Could you write me a 250 report on the quarterly sales figures by 10am tomorrow” rather than “Have a play around with those figures and see what you can come up with” or “I need this done in the next hour” 
  • Important information documents being made easily available to employees 
  • Support with email and computer file management
  • Strategies to help with focus, such as visual reminders 
  • Support to minimise unhelpful distractions or minimise someone being distracting to others, such as noise cancelling headphones, a quieter workspace, or removing visual stress.  
  • Allowing healthy distractions such as fidget toys
  • Tips for improving organisational skills designed by and for people with ADHD rather than neurotypical people.

Many of these work for everyone and can be introduced without making employees feel singled out.  

Try not to look too negatively at someone who has changed or left jobs often

People with ADHD and other neurodiverse conditions have often changed jobs or had portfolio careers. This may because they’ve lacked support at work, or they find change stimulating. With the right support and progression at work, people with ADHD can be extremely loyal employees. 

Help ADHD employees balance routine with change 

Many people with ADHD find change and unpredictability exciting, both at work and in life. However, the same unpredictability can make also make some of the challenges of ADHD more difficult to manage and lead to stress and anxiety, particularly around short-term memory and planning. Employees with ADHD tend to do their best work with the right combination of structure and variety.

Be aware of communication differences 

ADHD can affect how a person communicates and absorbs information in different ways. People with ADHD are often creative but may have difficulty organising thoughts and may veer off topic or appear to talk too much or too little. Giving guidance can help us communicate in the way you need. For example, by politely steering us back to the topic if we go off on a tangent, or helping us shape our responses with word counts or verbal cues: “In a couple of sentences, tell me what you think about…” Regular face-to-face or voice-to-voice check-ins can support both good communication and organisational skills. 

Be aware of other neurodiverse conditions which often occur alongside ADHD 

Neurodiverse conditions often go together or overlap. Someone with ADHD may also be dyslexic, dyspraxic, dyscalculic or autistic. This can also affect the way they communicate in different ways.

Help employees build healthy support networks at work

Because of the way our brains work, employees with ADHD are especially motivated by rewards and feedback and can really benefit from a mentor or coach at work. Without clear support and boundaries, an ADHD or neurodiverse employee who lacks confidence and is keen to be liked may gravitate towards a particular colleague when they need something. This can be flattering or overwhelming for the other person. Try to support your employees to know and trust the right people in the organisation for different needs. 

by Maxine Roper, Genuine Copy

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