National and local laws may make it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers or job candidates with disorders like ADHD, which makes such discrimination an obvious bad idea. But author and coach Leanne Maskell believes there’s an even bigger reason companies should avoid biases against those with ADHD — they might have highly sought-after skills.
Employees with ADHD can be a brilliant asset in the workplace. The neurodevelopmental condition has been scientifically linked with traits like out-of-the-box thinking, resilience, creativity and the ability to hyper-focus. With the right environment, these strengths can be harnessed to achieve extraordinary results, as recently demonstrated by Steven Bartlett who discussed his own diagnosis.
However, the reason it’s called a disorder is that ADHD is diagnosed only after a person’s life has been significantly negatively impacted by symptoms of inattention, impulsivity and/or hyperactivity for a long period of time. ADHD is not a personality trait but can actually be a disability, triggering important legal duties for employers to ensure they are protected from discrimination at work.
In the UK, the Equality Act protects people with disabilities against discrimination within society and work, which includes people with ADHD who meet this criteria. Although it’s hoped that employers would support everybody who works with them, especially those who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own, this isn’t always what happens in reality.
This is largely because the legal duty requires employers to take action by making changes to the way things are done at work, known as reasonable adjustments. As everybody with ADHD is different and nobody tells us what reasonable adjustments can help level the playing field for us when we’re diagnosed, this can be very confusing for employers to apply on an individual basis.
Essentially, it’s often unclear what action is needed, and conversations about support can feel vulnerable for everybody. Having supportive cultures, policies and training in place enables everybody to figure this out together, instead of retreating in fear.
Corporate compliance professionals are no doubt familiar with diversity as it relates to DEI efforts. But support is growing for another type of diversity — neurodiversity. With estimates that say as many as 20% of the world’s population is neurodivergent (that’s more than the share of people who are left-handed), it’s on companies to adjust.Read more
As leaders, it’s crucial to first understand ADHD within the workplace before it can be harnessed — we call this name it to tame it. Learning about how it can affect employees, especially in light of the current global ADHD medication shortages, is crucially important to have an ADHD lens for work.
Leaders can learn about ADHD and neurodiversity in general by accessing training focused on the workplace and ensuring their training is tailored to specific audiences. For example, organization-wide training may increase ADHD awareness and spark important conversations, while HR or manager specific training can focus on important issues, such as how to tailor working styles and specific strategies to support employees with ADHD.
Having this kind of training is important to support everybody within an organization to think differently about people who think differently, fostering a neurodiversity-friendly culture and psychological safety for people to disclose ADHD at work.
By ensuring everybody within a workplace feels confident talking about ADHD, leaders can equip them with the tools to provide individualized support. For example, having a neurodiversity or reasonable adjustments policy in place could set out processes to be followed by managers and HR, ensuring everybody is (literally) on the same page.
The UK government’s Access to Work tool can also provide tailored support in addition to the legally required reasonable adjustments, aimed at helping people with health challenges to stay in work. Up to £65,000 worth of support is currently available per person, per year, although this is used by less than 1% of eligible people. For employees with ADHD, it can fund tailored support, including ADHD coaching, training and administrative assistance.
With a foundation of support in place, the immense strengths that accompany ADHD can be harnessed in the workplace. Leaders can focus on this by equipping managers with ADHD coaching skills, empowering employees with ADHD to reach their full potential within the workplace.
This could look like aligning workloads or teams alongside the unique qualities of ADHD, such as supporting employees to focus on their zone of hyper-focus areas, where they may be far more productive than their peers at certain tasks. Task-swapping among teams can ensure everybody is playing to their strengths and supporting each other effectively.
Leaders can also establish strategies to harness ADHD within an organization, such as by providing “blue sky thinking” days where employees can contribute ideas and feedback. As people with ADHD tend to have “idea-machine” brains, these can provide containers within which their immense value for the future can be harnessed, freeing them up to focus on the now.
Cultivating a working environment for people with ADHD that recognizes, values and encourages them to harness their unique qualities within the workplace is a no-brainer.
As Lisette Schipper, neurodiversity advocacy lead at Google, said in the foreword to my book, “The future of work belongs to those who embrace neurodiversity. Only when we understand each other’s strengths and struggles, can we create an environment where everyone dares to surpass expectations.”