How to Help ADHD Coworkers Succeed
Coworkers with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) face many challenges at work, but there are ways to help them excel.* A nine-to-five office job is difficult for many people, especially those with adult ADHD. I personally like the structure and stability of that kind of position, but the idea of doing something in the same place for eight hours, often under someone else's supervision, is daunting.1 That said, the following advice applies to a variety of jobs, traditional or not, in which your ADHD coworkers need extra understanding.
Training and Teaching: Expect an ADHD Coworker to Have a Learning Curve
- Give us time to learn. Someone with ADHD might pick up certain skills in a flash but take a long time to learn others. Since we have a poor working memory, it can be hard to recall procedures, especially when there are distractions during initial training (and there always are, even if it's simply the rush of learning something new). Taking time to learn a task does not mean that we are incapable of performing it.
- Neither overwhelm nor underestimate ADHDers. Because it takes time for us to learn, teaching us too many things at once can be overwhelming. However, variety also keeps us engaged and happy. Keep in mind that we might perform better on assignments that require creativity and allow independence than repetitive and "easy" tasks.
- Explain and clarify. Present us with clear and consistent goals. Avoid vagueness and explain why the company does things the way it does. We are curious creatures who are motivated by interest. Vagueness causes problems because we might see too many paths that can be taken on a particular project and become lost. We need to know if we should trust our own judgment or follow strict rules.
Creating a Conducive Work Environment for ADHD Coworkers
- Balance structure and flexibility. Give people with ADHD advice and tips, but allow us to use our own strategies if we wish. If possible, point us in the right direction, explain the rules, and then give us independence.
- Reassure us and allow space for emotions. Many with ADHD doubt themselves and feel like frauds in the workplace. We also often suffer from rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD), which means that we react strongly to rejection, real or perceived. This sensitivity isn't a sign of incompetence, but it can make us paranoid and moody. Though certain displays of emotion are not appropriate at work, it is helpful for us to express our feelings. (I want to note the work performance of someone with ADHD can drastically vary based on mood, personal circumstances, and environment. She might appear to be the ideal employee one day and an unreliable slacker the next.)
- The office space should engage but not distract. Those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder can be fun, playful, and talkative--sometimes too much so. Peers caught up in a conversation with us might need to be the first to end the chat, preferably while letting us know that we are still on good terms.2
- Provide tools, including items as simple as paper, pens, and trash cans. This helps us write down instructions we might forget, and a handy trash bin can help reduce clutter in our area.
- Offer support and reasonable accommodations to struggling ADHDers. Doing this is not the same as letting people with ADHD do whatever they want. It will help us do our best work.
What are your experiences with ADHD coworkers or employees, or are you someone with ADHD who has advice to offer? Let me know your suggestions and experiences in the comments, and thank you for reading.
Matteson, N. (2018, September 3). How to Help ADHD Coworkers Succeed, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, July 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2018/9/how-to-help-adhd-coworkers-succeed