How to lead, manage & support employees living with ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a complex neurological disorder that affects around 1 in 20 people in Australia.

ADHD affects the brain's executive functioning and self regulation, impacting a person's ability to control thoughts, words, actions and emotions.

Everyone's experience with ADHD and work is different. Some people don't need extra support at work, while simple changes in the work environment or job tasks may help others succeed in their job.

In this guide on how to manage people with ADHD, we look at ways employers, managers and supervisors can support employees with ADHD to succeed in the workplace.

How to manage people with ADHD

The best way to help employees with ADHD succeed is to take time to understand their challenges and needs – and offer understanding and flexibility.

With the right support, employees with ADHD can thrive in their role and offer strengths that benefit the whole team.

Many of the tips below aren't just good advice for how to manage people with ADHD – they can also be used to help improve leadership and management in your workplace overall.

1. Ask your employee how you can best support them

Everyone's experience living with ADHD is different. It's important to ask your employee how you can best support them – and get their perspective before making changes in the workplace that will affect them.

After all, no one understands their ADHD symptoms and everyday challenges with ADHD better than they do.

Not everyone with ADHD will have the same symptoms or challenges. Some won't need additional support at work, while others may benefit from simple changes in the workplace or their job role.

Keep in mind that employees are not obligated to talk about their health condition or disability, unless it affects their ability to perform the essential tasks in the job.

Some people are happy to talk openly about their ADHD symptoms and may actively seek support from you.

Others may prefer to keep things more confidential or be worried about stigma in the workplace. It's important to handle all information confidentially and sensitively, and provide reassurance where necessary.

2. Empower your employee to work to their strengths

The whole workplace benefits when employees are empowered to use their strengths and skills.

Recognising and affirming an employee's strengths can help them feel valued in the workplace which has a positive effect on productivity, employee satisfaction and team morale.

While everyone has a unique set of strengths, many people with ADHD are great at:

  • Adapting to unexpected challenges
  • Performing under pressure
  • Creative thinking and problem solving
  • High energy and enthusiasm
  • Hyperfocus and concentration

Speak to your employee about their strengths and weaknesses. Consider redesigning their role to emphasise their strengths and overcome areas they struggle with.

For example, you may give them more time to work on problem solving tasks or projects that require hyperfocus while allowing them to delegate tasks they find difficult such as paper work or filing.

3. Consider a flexible schedule

Many people with ADHD struggle with time management and often have issues with sleep.

Managing energy levels throughout the day can also be a challenge and work-related burnout is a real risk.

Consider offering a flexible schedule to help your employee better manage their time and energy levels.

For example, if they struggle arriving at work on time, consider allowing them to arrive within a 15 minute time period, rather than a set time each day.

Some people with ADHD work best when they have structured breaks throughout the day.

Talk to your employee about what works for them – whether that's taking 5 minute breaks every half an hour, alternating between seated and active tasks or working from home some days.

4. Reduce distractions in the workplace

Managing distractions at work can be a major challenge for some people with ADHD. Talk to your employee about solutions that would be helpful for them.

Some ways to reduce distractions in the workplace include:

  • Position the work station away from high traffic areas like the kitchen and bathroom. Face the desk towards a wall or provide privacy screens.
  • Provide noise cancelling headphones.
  • Allow the use of sunglasses, portable fans and other personal items to help manage distractions from light, noise and temperature.
  • Allow the use of unoccupied meeting rooms or private offices when needed.
  • Encourage employees to respond to calls, emails and messages at a set time in the day, rather than when they come in.

5. Develop organisational strategies with your employee

If your employee struggles with organisation and time management, try working with them to create procedures and strategies that help them feel more confident in their role.

Consider implementing organisational strategies such as:

  • Provide specific deadlines like 'by 4pm on Tuesday"' rather than vague deadlines such as 'as soon as possible' or 'when you have time'.
  • Encourage your employee to set their own task list each day.
  • Provide written instructions and encourage note taking during meetings and important conversations.
  • Offer daily or weekly check-ins with a supervisor.
  • Provide organisational and time management apps and software.
  • Set up a 'buddy' system.

6. Offer helpful tools and technology

Show your employee what you can offer in terms of tools and assistive technology, but be open to other ideas and adapting to best suit their needs.

The wrong app can be more of a burden, so it's important to check in about what's working for them.

Tools and technology to consider include:

  • List making apps
  • Calendars and scheduling apps
  • Note taking software
  • Text to speech / speech to text software
  • Blockers
  • White noise apps

7. Foster an inclusive workplace

Diverse and inclusive workplaces are more productive and innovative – and they tend to have higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.

Embracing neurodiversity – including the unique contributions of ADHD brains – can be highly beneficial for the whole team. It's a great way to attract new talent, improve your organisation's reputation and understand your audience better.

An inclusive workplace helps employees feel like their perspective is heard and valued.

When you foster a workplace culture where all voices and experiences are valued and respected, it benefits employees, employers and customers alike.

Need help supporting your employee?

At APM, we've supported thousands of job seekers, employees and employers across Australia to create safe and inclusive jobs for people with injury, illness and disability.

We've seen first-hand how creating a supportive and inclusive workplace benefits everyone.

If you need help supporting an employee with ADHD, speak to the team at APM about how we can assist.

We can help you access information, resources, funding, workplace support and more. Call us on 1300 967 522 today.

If you're an employee living with ADHD and are finding it hard to cope at work or are worried about losing your job, you could be eligible for support from APM through the Disability Employment Services program. Call us on 1800 276 276 to see how we can help.