- Employees with ADHD may have challenges in the workplace related to executive functioning, such as planning, prioritizing, and motivation.
- The human resources department, with the help of an ADHD expert consultant, can help an employee who has ADHD with appropriate accommodations.
- Effective workplace accommodations for employees with ADHD include limiting distractions, assigning a mentor, and more frequent check-ins.
Peter* was referred to me through his human resources department at a large real estate firm he had joined nine months before seeking my services. He reached “top sales agent” status within his first four months of employment, and at 43 years old, Peter had been a licensed real estate professional for 20 years.
However, he struggled when it came to many behind-the-scenes tasks. For example, he often made errors on contracts, despite his years of familiarity with real estate paperwork. Peter was forgetful when it came to appointments for showings and scheduling property inspections. He was well known for forgetting—or misplacing—the keys he needed to open a home for a showing. He frequently dealt with embarrassing situations that made him appear unprepared—and unprofessional.
The human resources (HR) department reached out just in time. HR implemented my recommendations for Peter. He maintained his standing as a top sales agent and successfully managed the increasing demands of his job with renewed confidence.
In this post, I will provide a brief overview of what you and your company or organization can do to work with your employees—whether you’re managing ADHD or dealing with underperforming employees—to maximize their talents and abilities and maintain a productive and inclusive workplace.
How ADHD “Looks” in the Workplace
Executive functions are a cluster of cognitive skills that include prioritizing, maintaining focus, organizing, working memory, and strategizing. These skills are essential when employees complete tasks that require sustained mental effort. Workplace accommodations for people with ADHD mainly focus on executive functioning abilities because lacking these skills can significantly interfere with an employee’s ability to perform work duties. The executive functioning symptoms of ADHD include:
- Difficulty planning and prioritizing tasks and, for instance, working on a single job all day when three tasks must be completed by the end of the workday.
- Struggles with motivation and initiating tasks manifest as procrastination or reports of experiencing “mental blocks” that prevent starting projects.
- Poor organization skills, as evidenced by a messy office or workspace, papers and documents everywhere, cluttered desks and drawers, and overall difficulty maintaining organization of work materials.
- Difficulty completing tasks from start to finish and, for example, exerting much energy when developing ideas for a new project but difficulty getting around to starting and finishing it.
- Poor attention to detail. The inattention, forgetfulness, and impulsivity among people with ADHD often lead to omissions or errors when it comes to filling out documents accurately and following step-by-step directions, mainly when requirements are complex or lengthy.
Improving Performance and Productivity
ADHD accommodations, while meant to provide the maximum support to your employees, must also be reasonable and not impose undue on your company or organization. However, many adequate workplace accommodations for ADHD can be applied quickly and discreetly without disrupting the workplace environment or other employees.
I met with human resources at the real estate firm to learn more about the workplace environment and discuss ways that accommodations could be implemented to ensure Peter’s continued success. As a consultant, I didn’t provide treatment to Peter. Instead, I referred him to a psychiatrist and therapist. With Peter’s consent, I was able to speak to these providers to share his strengths and weaknesses and the needs of his team.
While there are a variety of accommodations that can be implemented in the workplace, I created strategies that were specifically tailored to Peter’s individual needs while remaining realistic in terms of feasibility, given the nature of the workplace environment.
Below is an example of potential accommodations I may provide HR. The recommendations vary depending on the circumstances.
- Provide a quiet or isolated workspace when Peter works onsite to limit distractions.
- Allow him to use anti-distraction tools when working at the office and around others in public spaces, such as earplugs and headphones.
- Allow for Peter to work in unused offices or conference rooms. Encourage Peter and his manager to conduct brief, daily morning check-ins to discuss tasks for the day, priorities, and progress.
- Assign a mentor, preferably a trusted peer with longevity in the company or the industry, to help Peter understand the team’s culture and improve communication.
- Peter and his manager should have frequent check-ins to discuss task completion, for example, breaking down one task into several parts and scheduling a check-in for each “part.”
- Allow frequent breaks of approximately 5-10 minutes every 45 minutes. This high-priority task will enhance engagement and focus while minimizing inattention, errors, and forgetfulness.
- Hire an onsite ADHD psychiatrist specializing in ADHD and cognitive behavioral therapy to teach effective strategies and maximize productivity. The ADHD psychiatrist will help Peter develop organizational systems with his computer and files, efficient workflow strategies, and time management skills.
- Allow opportunities for teamwork with co-workers whenever feasible. For example, biweekly, informal co-worker gatherings could provide opportunities to exchange information and tips for work-related success.
- The team leader can develop a written standard operating procedures guide that serves as a checklist for everyday tasks, creating a method and logical structure for task completion.
Employees at all levels and industries struggle with ADHD and other issues that lead to underperformance in the workplace. Unfortunately, so many go unidentified, and their deficits are often attributed to other factors, such as lack of ability, poor motivation, or other personal flaws and weaknesses. It’s impressive to see how an individualized and thorough assessment of the areas where the employee struggles, followed by the implementation of workplace accommodations, allows professional strengths and talents to shine.
As a consultant, I am devoted to empowering employees and providing them tools and insights that will enable them to achieve their utmost potential at work—and in every area of their lives.
*Disclaimer: Details of cases have been altered to protect the confidentiality of any individuals.
1. The A.D.D. Resource Center: Dedicated to Changing Your Life, Improving Your Future. DSM-V Criteria for ADHD. https://www.addrc.org/dsm-5-criteria-for-adhd/
2. CHADD. Workplace Accommodations Can Make You and Your Employer Successful. https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/workplace-accommodations-can-make-you-and…
3. CHADD. Asking for Workplace Accommodations. https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/asking-for-workplace-accommodations/