Now, more than ever, awareness around mental health diagnoses is becoming an important topic in the workplace. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that an estimated 15% of working-age adults have a mental disorder. At Flourish, we’re dedicated to creating an open and welcoming environment that not only celebrates the differences of each team member, but is done so with an understanding mindset that our entire team can actually rally around. We all love what we do and find great enjoyment in it, however, the environment we work in can be a demanding one without the proper support. A typical day for us is filled with managing multiple clients, prioritizing tasks, overseeing large-scale projects that include multiple stakeholders, and much more. It’s critical that we understand the mental health of our team and how our environment can affect each person and any diagnoses they may have. ADHD is one such diagnosis, and we’ve worked hard to understand ADHD and how to best help our teammates who deal with ADHD.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) is a diagnosis most people have heard of, but not many are truly familiar with what it means. ADHD is a very common neurological disorder, with an estimated 7.2% of children and 4.4% of adults worldwide with ADHD. Many will refer to people who deal with such mental health or neurological disorders as “neurodivergent” and those who do not as “neurotypical.”
ADHD presents several consistent issues; however, people may not realize there are many different kinds of ADHD. While hyperactivity is the most well-known, there is also impulsive, inattentive, and a combination type. In previous years, it was mainly thought of as a children’s disorder, without much thought about how ADHD can affect adults. Throughout the past several years, ADHD in adults has become a large part of the conversation around ADHD and how to best support these neurodivergents.
Neurodivergent brains work differently and process things differently. Because of this, there are unique challenges and benefits that come with an ADHD diagnosis. In this blog, we’ll explore what Flourish has learned about ADHD and how to support our employees best, including common symptoms and struggles of ADHD, the benefits of an employee with ADHD, and how employers and their teams can implement systems to empower those with ADHD symptoms in the workplace.
Many ADHD symptoms are commonplace among most who deal with it. However, it’s important to remember that while many symptoms can affect and help a majority of ADHD adults, every person is different and has their own struggles- here’s how you can help your employee thrive.
Struggles of ADHD
Working full-time presents a unique set of challenges for adults who deal with ADHD. The majority of the struggles that ADHD adults deal with are in regard to tasks. Tasks or projects often require multiple steps for completion. The ADHD brain is almost incapable of simplifying these tasks to make them more manageable.
For a neurotypical person, making dinner is simply making dinner. For someone with ADHD, making dinner is a large series of decisions and tasks that must be tackled before there is any benefit, i.e. choosing what to eat or make, checking for the necessary ingredients, and more.
Small tasks pile up in the ADHD brain and make projects seem so large that they’re impossible to start. Simply beginning a project is hard when tasks pile up in an ADHD brain: the necessity to stay focused on the task at hand, ensuring there aren’t any mistakes, prioritization of tasks, proper time allocation, struggling to begin a task without a spark of interest, etc. All of those task-related issues are things that an ADHD person struggles with daily. People with ADHD also struggle with forgetfulness, organization, getting overwhelmed or overstimulated easily, and RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria), all of which can contribute to a consistently higher stress level than their neurotypical counterparts. This is just a small glimpse into how an ADHD person can feel and operate on a daily basis.
Benefits of ADHD in the Workplace
As employers, it can be easy to decide that you don’t want to hire employees who struggle with ADHD. But those who struggle with ADHD can be a valuable addition to any company and, given the right environment and support, can flourish!
ADHD isn’t a negative that employers should avoid. Instead, think of it as an untapped benefit for your organization. ADHD adults bring a wide range of qualities that many employers look for, i.e. creative, high-energy individuals who think outside the box, hyperfocus on projects that interest them, and work well under pressure. They’re also often detail-oriented, good in crises, and quick starters on projects when they have a clear path in front of them. All in all, neurodivergent adults thrive in a work environment where they find passion in their work and have a solid support system from their supervisors.
Supporting Employees with ADHD
Proper support systems for ADHD employees are crucial for long-term success. Creating a work culture that encourages mental breaks is a great place to start. Hyperfocus is common when working on projects that spark interest; however, projects that don’t can cause employees to struggle. Where many neurotypical brains can begin a boring, mundane task, a neurodivergent brain struggles to begin because there is a lack of enthusiasm for the task, despite the knowledge that it needs to be done. Think of it as if you were stuck in knee-deep mud – you WANT to move, you WANT to be unstuck, but you’re incapable of getting moving without outside help.
By introducing a healthy and open culture that celebrates the differences between your employees, you can set up any team member for success. The most important thing is to make sure you sit down with any employee who discloses an ADHD diagnosis and discover the best ways to support them.
Whether an employee chooses to disclose or not, systems and culture changes can be implemented to ensure any employee can succeed with your company, regardless of whether they’re neurodivergent or neurotypical. Breaking large projects down into smaller, more manageable sections with clear, defined instructions or processes that are written out and sometimes verbally explained is beneficial to ADHD employees. Allowing more time to complete work, as well as the freedom to take breaks and do other tasks may be highly beneficial for some.
This allows time for the neurodivergent brain to take a break from focusing on a single project. Forcing a neurodivergent brain to focus when it needs a break can result in projects taking longer to complete and more mistakes being made.
When an ADHD employee is highly engrossed and focused on a project, they may need to set focus time to complete their work. It’s important to make sure this focus time is respected. Allowing for silent work areas, noise-canceling headphones, standing desks, free-movement desk chairs, and sometimes even altered work hours can all be beneficial environmental factors for an ADHD employee.
These environmental changes can help by allowing an ADHD employee to have more control over their environment in terms of working in more solitude, being able to move and fidget as needed, and more. With dedicated long periods of focus being difficult for an ADHD employee, it’s important to remember that for any meeting that lasts over 1.5 hours, scheduling a break for 5 -10 minutes in the middle of that time will help break up the dedicated focus time and allow for a neurodivergent brain to come back refreshed and ready to continue.
Suggestions for the ADHD Employee
ADHD employees often already have many systems in place to help keep themselves organized and on track with their tasks and projects. A supportive and open workplace culture is important to the success of an ADHD employee, and so are the systems each neurodivergent chooses to use.
There are several tools and systems that many ADHD employees find helpful. Utilizing a planner that has both a monthly and weekly breakdown gives a visual representation of each month, but also allows for a more detailed breakdown of the tasks necessary during each week.
Additionally, using Friday afternoons or Monday mornings to plan out the week ahead gives a neurodivergent brain a chance to look at the week as a whole and plan accordingly. Scheduling designated times for specific tasks, such as checking emails, making phone calls, and other tasks throughout the day allows for a more thorough focus on each task.
Allowing time for meditation or other relaxing habits throughout the workday gives a neurodivergent brain the ability to calm down and reset while keeping your work and break spaces separate gives a clear delineation of the purpose of each area. Using additional programs or strategies, such as the Inbox Zero Strategy, the Pomodoro Method, and a Tab Manager, can offer additional help to declutter your mind, control your focus time, and manage those distractions that come throughout the workday. Don’t forget the “work mode” on iPhone that will silence any non-urgent notifications during the work day.
The Flourish team utilizes many of these tactics to support our ADHD team members. Our office is designed to allow for uninterrupted work time, or collaboration as needed or wanted. By implementing a flexible work environment, we have created different areas throughout the office where our team can work. This allows collaboration in a small conference room, work comfortably on a couch, body-double with a coworker, and more. By letting our team members use their own personal systems to manage their own day-to-day tasks and projects, they have the freedom to work within our project management procedures which helps set them up for success.
Lastly, to ensure our team works together seamlessly and respectfully, we utilize the DISC assessment and other communication tactics to understand how each team member best receives information and tasks. By creating an environment that is open to the celebration of differences, Flourish has created a place where all of our team members can thrive and ensure our success as a team.