More and more adults are getting diagnosed with ADHD, which means more and more people are managing employees with ADHD. Women, in particular, are being diagnosed later in life. Their predominantly inattentive or combined type was frequently ignored because it didn’t cause problems for other people. This is also true for those of us who identify as non-binary and trans.
As we develop greater understandings of neurodiversity, awareness is building around symptoms. These can include brains that won’t switch off, or struggling to concentrate on uninteresting tasks.
Symptoms can differ depending on people’s history, culture, age, gender, and more. They can also differ based on the type of ADHD that a person has (hyperactive, inattentive, or combined). The medical establishment previously called the inattentive form of ADHD, attention deficit disorder, or ADD.
In some countries, not everyone can afford to get an official diagnosis. Others may get stuck on a long waiting list.
Accommodating these individuals even without medical verification, and finding ways to work with them, can lead to increased morale across the team. In addition, it can boost productivity with tasks completed more quickly and efficiently, and generate more creative ideas.
But these things only happen if you work with your employee, not force them to work in the way that you think is best.
So, what can you do to ensure you’re successful at managing employees with ADHD? Here are some tips.
While research may seem like an obvious thing to do, it’s often forgotten.
But if you have an employee struggling with a health condition you know little about —or that you only have assumptions about—researching the condition is an important step that will enable you to assist and encourage them in the right way. New studies are coming out all the time; understanding the results shows you care about your employees’ lives and want to support them.
One of the big reasons for this lack of awareness is that ADHD is often misinterpreted or misdiagnosed. Most studies have centered white boys, which means there’s little understanding of how ADHD affects adults, other genders, or POC.
Someone being a relentless fidget isn’t the only symptom of ADHD. It’s not as simple as them constantly disrupting classrooms or meetings.
Understanding the nuances that come with a condition like ADHD is really important if you want to be supportive when managing employees with ADHD.
ADHD looks and feels different for everyone, and can change over time depending on what’s happening in a person’s life.
Use the right language
Using the right terminology can be hard, especially when you’re learning new words and phrases you’ve never needed before. This dictionary is a really helpful reference.
The most important thing to remember is that it’s okay to get things wrong. Make it clear that you want to be corrected, too. This shows your employee that you’re open and willing to learn.
Don’t say phrases like, “we’re all a little ADD/ADHD”
Phrases like, “we’re all a little ADD,” or “we’re all a little OCD,” downplay the detrimental and lifelong impact these conditions can have on someone’s life.
Yes, these conditions often operate on a scale.
But if you haven’t lived with the condition, or don’t know someone with it, you can’t know what the impact of that condition actually is. (Which is part of why research helps, but the impact will still vary from person to person.)
It’s your job to be supportive of employees with different conditions. Using inclusive, supportive language is a big part of that.
The language we use can reflect how we think and feel much more than we realize, so it’s important that we educate ourselves.
Listen to what they need
It’s all too easy to suggest meditation or exercise as ways for people to control, or mitigate, their brains. But it isn’t always about controlling or mitigating the fact that someone’s brain works differently.
An ADHD brain can be a superpower in the right environment. It can make someone more creative, empathetic, honest, insightful, and observant. But employees can only embrace those powers if they’re offered the right support.
So, instead of forcing them to work in a way that works for you, or the business, find a way that works for them. Let them tell you what they need; don’t make assumptions.
Supervisors may be tempted to micromanage when an employee isn’t fulfilling their potential, or is feeling overwhelmed. But this can lead to further frustrations for everyone.
Micromanaging says to an employee that you don’t trust them. It’s understandable if they’re missing targets, but instead ask them what’s going on and how you can support them. Maybe they need fewer responsibilities, more responsibilities, or an alternative way of doing something.
Break tasks down
ADHD can make it challenging to get things done. Breaking tasks down can really help with this process, as it triggers the brain’s reward response, something which ADHD loves. The more often you can trigger this response, the happier it’ll be.
Imagine that you’ve got a report to put together, and your employee with ADHD is in charge of it. Instead of saying ‘project manage this report,’ break it down into each step that needs to be done. This could include planning, drafting, editing, designing, marketing, etc. Then, assign dates to each task.
This makes it easier for you to track what’s happening. It also allows them to feel like they’ve accomplished something sooner, triggering that reward response. Plus, it will help reduce the feelings of overwhelm or intimidation that can lead to procrastination on big projects.
Tools like Trello, Milanote, or even a physical planner can be useful to help them—and you—track deadlines and progress.
Give clear (positive and negative) feedback
Most people, when they give someone feedback, only focus on the negative. Or they use a ‘compliment sandwich,’ which can be very transparent.
Instead of either of these approaches, just be honest!
Share what you like about what they’ve done or how they’ve done things, then suggest areas where they could improve.
And include them in the process of identifying how they could improve.
Give them time to go away and research ways they can improve on the identified issues. Don’t immediately expect them to have answers if they didn’t know that adhering to deadlines was an issue for them.
There’s no harm in you both going away to do research using resources like the ones mentioned above, to find solutions that work for everyone.
A diverse workforce is one that can be more creative, better at solving problems, and happier to go to work every day. That can only happen if employees are provided with the right support, though. And that support comes from an understanding of the fact that everyone thinks, feels, and prefers to work in a different way.
One final way to enhance your company’s efforts around managing employees with ADHD is through employee communities. Providing additional colleague support can go a long way towards improving the lives of neurodiverse employees. If you’re looking for a way to manage your employee community efforts, we hope you’ll give Workrowd a look. We’ve put the tools and data you need to manage successful employee communities at your fingertips, including best practice resources to help team members drive impact. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.