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How People with ADHD are Being Failed in the Workplace

When it comes ADHD, I don’t think I’ve been as adversely affected as I have in the workplace. I’ve been denied promotions, bullied, treated differently and joked about as a result of it. It’s mortifying, wrong and I’ve had enough of it.

Coming out at work has always been a very difficult decision to make and can be scary. I worry about it being used against me or that colleagues will treat me differently if they know. But if I don’t tell my managers then I have to work harder to ‘mask’ my ADHD symptoms or find ways of working that make it easier for me.

I’ve only just started to disclose my diagnosis but already, I am seeing it affect my workplaces. I’ve been told by managers to let them know what they can do to help me, but this doesn’t matter when they refuse to make even small changes to accommodate it.

Last year, a manager cracked a joke about my ADHD in a discussion about promoting me. ‘We all know concentration isn’t one of your strengths,’ he said to my face. The same manager has never had to ask me twice for work nor remind me of a deadline. The promotion was never offered to me.

It’s not supposed to be like this. Companies are supposed to make reasonable adjustments or raise access to work schemes or grants. They cannot fire you or deny you a promotion based on your neurodiversity. However, there is the law, then there is what small businesses do. 

I’m tired of companies offering to help when next week they won’t allow the suggestions to be implemented. Allowing me to wear headphones in the office to block unwanted noise doesn’t mean much when I am having my concentration in a meeting questioned or mocked. 

ADHD people often find themselves masking in office situations. This is where we do not disclose our diagnosis yet spend a lot of time covering our symptoms to appear like our neurotypical colleagues. We spend twice the amount of energy forcing ourselves to do things differently from how our brains work.

We hear so many negative messages around ADHD that it can be difficult to know our strengths in the workplace. It’s important to know them because it highlights the worth we can have for a business. Good managers will be able to spot this and should know how to nurture or develop these skills. However, this can be a manager’s first experience of ADHD where they simply have no idea what to do with it.

People with ADHD are very good at spotting patterns and connections which means we often think creatively. Our high-energy means we can produce a huge amount of work in a short space of time.

While the stereotype is that we can’t pay attention, it’s actually that we can’t regulate it. So we can get extremely hyperfocused when we engage with a task. ADHD people are great crisis managers because they are thought to produce more theta waves than neurotypical people. Theta waves mean a deep state of relaxation, so the overproduction means ADHD people are excellent at staying calm.

There are lots of different ways to implement changes that will help workers with ADHD in the office. Allowing regular breaks, encouraging the use of notes or apps or even recording meetings can be helpful. Headphones can block external noises and accepting that change may take us longer to understand allows us the space to concentrate or get used to new things. This goes for learning new skills too. 

Long meetings can be a struggle so keeping them short and sweet is great or allowing physical movement during breaks. Providing structured or written instructions gives us a clear idea of what we are meant to be working on. I can take on the world but I will need a how-to list written in bullet points to do it.

Note-taking in meetings or bringing a fidget toy with you can help too. I’m a bit too old for a fidget spinner (in my opinion but if it works for you that’s okay) but I do make sure I have a pen on me to chew or fiddle with. Doing this helps to reign in my nervous energy and allows me to concentrate. 

It’s amazing how many managers assume they know what is best for their employees with ADHD without asking. Forcing your neurodiverse employee to do extra lists or reports that no other employee has to do so you can keep an eye on them is degrading and simply put bad management.

In my eyes, it highlights to me that a manager doesn’t trust me and I can only assume that my ADHD has formed part of that given I’m the only one having to write a daily report called ‘what I’m working on today.’

Another thing worth knowing about is that our approach to feedback can be different too. Rejection sensitivity Dysphoria is a huge problem for me as I take feedback to heart. I find negative feedback incredibly upsetting because I cannot regulate my emotional reaction to it. So I start to beat myself up for it.

How managers handle this is crucial. It doesn’t mean I can’t take feedback but that it needs to be balanced, fair and gentle. It just means taking the time to talk to me about it rather than allowing me to assume a typo means I’m fired.

Access to Work grants are worth knowing about. The grants can help to pay for vital equipment that can help such as ADHD work-based coaching and practical aids such as noise-cancelling headphones and standing desks. But ultimately, making small changes falls on your managers and yourself to implement. Being your own advocate for this is exhausting but simply put, managers will not know unless they are told that you need help. 

It’s not impossible to bring about change in the workplace. The ADHD Foundation estimated that one in five people are neurodiverse which means someone else in the canteen could be going through the same thing you are. If we don’t ask, we don’t get. However, if we do ask and don’t get then it’s up to us to start making some noise about it.

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2 replies on “How People with ADHD are Being Failed in the Workplace”

I have ADHD and was bullied out of my job in a garden centre by my manager. No reasonable adjustments, blocked promotions, shouted at whilst mocking my condition and ended up with tennis elbow after being left alone to shift 500 Xmas trees. A year later and I’m still in pain physically, emotionally and can’t work.

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