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ADHD is a lifelong condition with its unique set of challenges, often beginning from a young age and developing alongside the person as they get older.
Once entering employment, challenges associated with ADHD can really be enhanced, generating hurdles that, when unrecognized and unaddressed, can limit one’s performance and overall job satisfaction (Fuermaier et al., 2021).
Therefore, understanding these challenges and implementing effective strategies can transform ADHD into a source of innovation and productivity.
In this article, we will explore some of the most common ADHD workplace struggles and offer insight and practical advice to help you thrive in your chosen profession.
Before doing so, though, it is important to note that ADHD-related workplace challenges can appear differently in people, so this is not a definitive list of signs.
If you have concerns about this area, consulting a professional who specializes in neurodiverse conditions can help you by answering your questions and providing management strategies.
Improving Focus and Productivity
Executive dysfunction challenges can be very prevalent in people with ADHD, with frequent side effects such as planning challenges and disorganization (Eslinger, 1996).
For example, in the workplace, you may struggle to decide which tasks to tackle first, leading to inefficient use of time and potentially impaired job performance.
Regulating focus can also be a challenge for many ADHD individuals. For example, a professional with ADHD might find it challenging to concentrate on a project, leading to missed project milestones and the stress of tight deadlines.
Below are some strategies that you can use to increase your productivity and focus in the workplace:
Firstly, ensure you minimize any distractions. This can be from the environment, e.g., noise and bright lights, or electronic, e.g., app notifications and messages.
Secondly, remove any temptations. Whether that is looking at your phone, a website, or talking to a colleague, ensure you have nothing around you that may shift your focus. There are websites and apps available that lock you out of the specific website you chose, e.g., Instagram, for a set amount of time to increase productivity.
Distractions can look different for each person. Mickey Atkins, who is a therapist with ADHD, explains below:
“Neurotypical folks might find listening to music or having a podcast playing at the same time that you’re doing something to be distracting. I don’t. What I do find distracting is the wristrest on my desk. If I’m not currently using it I’m flopping it around and playing with it and poking in and pushing my pen into it because it’s a really fun sensory experience for me, and this is what I mean when I say remove distractions.”
Lastly, declutter your space. Ensure that your working environment is helping you be organized and focused on the project at hand without any unnecessary items littered in the space.
Time management strategies
Make use of organization tools such as planners and calendars. This could be electronic or pen and paper, but having a system to track what you must do is critical. This way, you can set reminders for things, track your progress, and ensure you are on time.
Email your weekly plan to yourself or make it visible in your work area so you cannot avoid it.
Identify your pique productive days and times and schedule your tasks around that. Doing work during your most energized times makes you more likely to finish tasks quicker and leave time for other activities.
For example, if you know that you work better after lunchtime, schedule your easiest tasks for earlier in the day and leave the bigger projects for later.
Lastly, identify a routine that works for you and be consistent. Ensure you stick with your system but remain flexible and open to making adjustments.
Break down work into smaller chunks and incorporate comfort breaks. The Pomodoro technique might be very beneficial.
There are plenty of Pomodoro videos on YouTube with different themes and background music to make your focus time more interesting. In this way, you don’t need to remember to keep setting reminders – just press play, and the video will guide you.
If you have a sedentary type of job, try taking coffee breaks, short walks around the office, or doing an activity like printing. This can help you curb movement/fidget needs so you can be more productive when you sit down and do work (Carnes & Holloway, 2009).
If you are working in a hybrid pattern, plan your work week so you can do tasks you have been procrastinating while you are in the office.
Research has shown that people feel motivated when they combine work activities with socializing as well. This was called “double dipping” (Kreider, Medina & Slamka, 2019). So, if you are feeling unproductive at home alone, save those tasks for the office.
Dr. Russell A. Barkley, a leading ADHD researcher, suggests that,
“cues, prompts, and other forms of information that are just as salient and appealing yet are directly associated with or are an inherent part of the task to be accomplished” (Barkley, 2011).
Thus, having more manageable and relevant segments and stimuli available can help increase focus.
Take short breaks for rewards after completing a task. This provides motivation to stay engaged.
Managing impulsiveness and hyperactivity
Impulsivity can result in saying things without thinking, causing misunderstandings, damaged work relationships, and potentially disciplinary actions.
For example, during a team meeting, an employee with ADHD might impulsively interrupt colleagues, which could disrupt the flow of the discussion and lead to tensions among team members.
Here are a few suggestions on how to manage impulsiveness and hyperactivity:
Try to incorporate mindfulness and breathing exercises as part of your daily routine. These can help ground you and assist in taking a step back from impulsive thoughts.
Dr. Ari Tuckman, an expert in ADHD management, suggests using coping strategies like deep breathing and self-reflection to reduce impulsive reactions. You can read more of Dr. Tuckman’s work in his book “More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD” (Tuckman, 2009).
Use delay techniques. Whether that is noting things down first, asking yourself questions such as “Is this a true need or want?” or counting down in your head from 5 before reacting, these can help minimize reactivity.
Using our previous example, when in team situations and you wish to contribute or add on, but your colleague is speaking, count down 5,4,3,2,1 in your head to curb the impulse to speak, and raise your hand instead to indicate you have something to say.
Ensuring your work environment is not actively encouraging or triggering impulsive actions or decisions is another way to manage impulsivity. For example, unsubscribing from marketing emails to reduce notifications, leaving your phone in your work bag, or asking to hang out at less stimulating places with your colleagues.
For hyperactivity, try having something nearby, such as a fidget toy. This may help to direct hyperactive energy into something that you can play with while you work (as long as it’s not something that can distract yourself or others!)
Lastly, spend some of your free time outside of work to identify expression strategies to help get your emotions out where you are not in a position to impact others. For example, journaling, exercising, creating a drawing, recording a voice note, or talking to a trusted colleague.
How to Ask for accommodations at work
Without appropriate accommodations, individuals with ADHD may struggle to perform at their best, which can lead to burnout and job dissatisfaction.
“You don’t need to have a diagnosis to get support at work, so I think that’s really important to know. A lot of people think that you have to go to get the diagnosis and then you get the support in the workplace. There isn’t a legal requirement for that; you just have to show that you have a mental impairment and that it substantially impacts your ability to do your job or your day-to-day activity.”Alex Partridge, host of the ADHD Chatter Podcast
For example, imagine you are working in a hot desking style office, meaning you often switch places around and do not have a set location to call yours. This can lead to struggles in adjusting to new seating arrangements and some high distraction days if you are sat closer to areas of high frequency, e.g., bathrooms and kitchens.
Therefore, it is very important companies have adequate measures in place to support ADHD colleagues, but you, at an individual level, are asking for such accommodations.
Here are a few suggestions on how to ask for workplace accommodations:
A good start would be to talk to your supervisor, line manager, or HR department about reasonable accommodations. Some examples of such can be:
- A quieter workspace
- Flexible hours
- Assistive technology
When going into this meeting, it is important to clearly outline your needs and how they relate to your ADHD symptoms.
Use concrete examples to illustrate how accommodations can improve your job performance. Try to also emphasize how the accommodations will not only benefit you but also enhance your productivity and the quality of your work.
Be prepared to explain how it can positively impact the company.
If they seem uncertain, try suggesting a trial period for accommodations. This allows both you and your employer to assess the effectiveness of the accommodations and make adjustments as needed.
Asking for accommodations during the recruitment phase
Jodie Hill, Neurodivergent Campaigner explains a bit about asking for accommodations during the recruitment phase:
“Employers aren’t allowed to ask you ‘Do you have a disability?’ but they can ask you ‘Do you need any adjustments for your interview?’ So it might be the lighting, it might be the temperature, or you might want the questions in advance so that you can prepare.”
She goes on to explain what to do if the accommodations are not met:
“If your employer or prospective employer is not going to give you them (accommodations) in an interview, do we really want to work for them? …If they’re not going to be accommodating at that stage, why wait to then get the job and then ask…they’ve already given the signal that might not be yeah accommodating later down the line.”Jodie Hill, Neurodivergent Campaigner
Examples of what is unreasonable to ask for
While it is important to advocate for yourself at work, there does need to be a level of mindfulness exerted to ensure any accommodations you may ask for are within reasonable workplace settings and parameters.
For example, avoid requesting for:
- Excessive number or duration of breaks
- Unlimited work-from-home arrangement, especially if the job posting specified that on-site work is needed for the role
- Unlimited or very extended timeframe for assignments and work tasks
- Requesting absolute silence in a shared office space
- Frequent, unplanned changes to your schedule
- Hiring someone to do the role for you
- Having someone constantly working beside you
The key is to find a balance that addresses your needs while respecting the operational requirements of the workplace.
What if your employer says ‘no’
It can understandably be both frustrating and disappointing if your employer denies ADHD workplace-related accommodations. Here are a few practical tips on what you can do when faced with such a situation:
- Ensure you remain calm and level-headed as much as possible. Avoid emotional explosions and take a quick time off to cool down before making impulsive decisions or actions.
- Request feedback to better understand the situation and what concerns the employer has.
- Check your company’s policies on accommodations. Do your requests align with any legal obligations or anti-discrimination laws?
- Be prepared to provide any supported documentation, e.g., medical or professional letters.
- If discussions with your employer are unproductive, involve the Human Resources department.
- Consult legal professionals to understand your rights and potential courses of action.
- Consider whether finding alternative employment with a more supportive environment is a viable option.
“If you raise a grievance and it’s not addressed, then you either decide: Is this for me? Is it bad enough that I can’t do my job? Do I need to leave?”Jodie Hill, Neurodivergent Campaigner
Consider whether the job is suitable for you
Not all jobs are made equal, and may not be the proper fit for everyone. This is especially true for individuals with ADHD, where an ill-suited job can have a compounding effect on existing struggles, leading to further symptom exacerbation and stress (Oscarsson et al., 2022).
For example, an individual with ADHD who dislikes repetitive, detail-oriented tasks might feel overwhelmed and stressed in a data entry role, ultimately affecting their self-esteem and well-being.
Here are a few suggestions on how to begin considering and reflecting on job suitability:
Ned Hallowell in his book “Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive,” encourages readers to find their “sweet spot” (Hallowell, 2015). Passion and love for your work and what you do are key drivers of this.
Therefore, make a list of activities, tasks, and hobbies you enjoy doing and search online for careers that align. This way, you will be able to find more suitable careers that align with your likes and interests.
Research the company’s culture and values. Seek organizations that prioritize work-life balance and support employee well-being. Look online for any information you can find on sites like Glassdoor and see if the feedback points to them having an accommodating work environment.
Additionally, explore the flexibility within the role. Do they offer autonomy, allow for self-paced work, or have opportunities for creativity and problem-solving?
Having an informal conversation prior to an interview with the hiring manager can be a good way to scope for these things if not explicitly mentioned in the job description.
Lastly, try to connect with professionals who have ADHD and are on similar career paths. They can share their experiences, strategies, and insights into finding the right job fit. This can range from online forums to LinkedIn.
Consider what strengths you bring
Focusing solely on weaknesses can undermine self-confidence and job satisfaction, as individuals may overlook their unique talents and strengths.
For example, an employee with ADHD who primarily focuses on their struggles with time management may not recognize their outstanding creativity and problem-solving skills, missing out on the chance to leverage these strengths in their work.
Here are a few suggestions on how to begin considering and reflecting on your strengths:
Dr Michele Novotni encourages people to lean into their strengths and work on them daily. Specifically, she suggests:
“Each day intentionally set out to build or improve a relationship at work through an area of your strength. If you are kind, find a situation to demonstrate your kindness. If you are funny, brighten someone’s day. Look for an opportunity to shine each day.”
There are certain online tools that can help you identify your strengths, such as the “Clifton Strengths” which is a strengths-based measure of individual emotional, cognitive, and social skills and talents. The basic option is free.
A good idea if you would like to do this by yourself is to keep a journal of your achievements and successes at work.
Write down specific instances where you demonstrated your strengths. This can serve as a helpful reference for acknowledging your capabilities.
You can also discuss strengths with colleagues who share similar roles or experiences. This may then lead to insights about how your strengths align with the demands of your job. Try asking them for feedback, e.g., “What do you think I excel at?” or “What qualities do you appreciate in my work?”
Know your limits
Overcommitting and failing to set boundaries can result in work-related stress and exhaustion, and potentially lead to work-life balance issues.
For example, a professional with ADHD who consistently takes on additional projects beyond their capacity may experience work-related stress and, as a consequence, may neglect personal life responsibilities, harming their overall well-being.
In her YouTube video titled “The Unexpected Side Effects of Pushing Yourself to the Limit”, Jessica describes her experience with pushing herself to her limits as “the harder and longer you push yourself, the harder it will be to recover”.How to ADHD, 2023
Therefore, it is important to know when to stop to avoid burnout and other detrimental consequences.
Here are a few suggestions on how to get to know yourself and your limits better:
Learning your triggers is a great starting point in figuring out your limits, as it can give you guidance on which situations to apply coping strategies, which to avoid entirely if possible, and which ones are more manageable. Ways you can begin to explore this are:
- Keeping a journal and documenting times you felt overwhelmed
- Asking your colleagues for their perspectives and when they have noticed you struggling to cope at work
- Using technology to help you such as mood-tracking apps to document feelings of stress. Are there any patterns emerging?
Additionally, recognize that saying no is a means of safeguarding your well-being, preventing over-commitment, and ensuring that your work commitments align with your goals. It is important to honor your boundaries so you can truly feel fulfilled as a professional.
Ensure you are communicating your needs and limits confidently with your colleagues and supervisors, and reflect on past experiences for learning.
Feel free to seek advice from trusted peers who may help guide you or let you practice being more assertive with them.
Lastly, ensuring you are practicing both self-care and self-compassion is key to giving yourself the time and space to decompress. This is a challenging journey, and there will be times when you may feel uncomfortable or out of your waters.
Establish some good and healthy routines like going on nature walks or recharging by watching your favorite show to regain momentum.
Are those with ADHD more likely to be workaholics?
Workaholism can occur in individuals both with and without ADHD. Some people with ADHD may overcommit to projects, say yes to different opportunities, jump from activity to activity, and overall load their schedule with things to do.
This, coupled with the fact that they may struggle to stay on top of things due to challenges with organization, impulsivity, people pleasing, and time management, may create the impression of workaholicism.
However, a workaholic is someone who works excessively due to internal compulsions (Sussman, 2012), whereas individuals with ADHD might do so out of necessity to manage their symptoms and maintain their job or academic performance.
Therefore, while behaviorally, they may look the same, the intent behind the actions is different.
Is it hard to keep a job when you have ADHD?
Keeping a job while having ADHD can indeed present some unique challenges, such as difficulties with time management, organization, concentration, and impulsivity (Langberg, Epstein & Graham, 2008).
These challenges can impact job performance, causing issues with meeting deadlines, maintaining focus during meetings or tasks, and staying organized.
However, many individuals with ADHD have successful and fulfilling careers. There are strategies and accommodations that can help individuals with ADHD excel in the workplace, such as creating structured routines, using tools like calendars and reminders, seeking support from colleagues or supervisors, and potentially considering medication or therapy to manage symptoms effectively.
I struggle with lateness and attendance due to ADHD. What should I do?
Struggles with lateness and attendance issues due to ADHD can be challenging. Here are some strategies that can try to help you improve punctuality and attendance:
- Set several alarms: Use alarms or reminders on your phone, computer, or a dedicated alarm clock to help you stay on schedule. You can set alarms for waking up, leaving for work, and important meetings or appointments.
- Establish routines: Creating a structured daily routine can help you stay organized and on time. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and allocate specific time slots for various tasks.
- Use timers: This can help you manage your time more effectively, e.g. set a timer for tasks to help you stay focused and avoid distractions.
- Prepare the night before: To save time in the morning, prepare as much as possible the night before. Lay out your clothes, make a to-do list, and gather any items you’ll need for the next day.
- Speak to your employer: Consider discussing your challenges with your employer or HR department. They may be able to provide accommodations or flexible work arrangements that can better support your needs.
How can I stop interrupting coworkers or saying impulsive things I regret?
Interrupting coworkers or making impulsive comments can be a challenge when you have ADHD. Here are some strategies to help you manage:
- Focus on active listening: Maintain eye contact, nod to show you’re listening, and refrain from formulating your response until they’ve finished speaking.
- Pause before speaking: Count to three in your head if needed to give yourself time to gather your thoughts. This pause can help you filter out impulsive responses.
- Use non-verbal cues: Raise your hand slightly or use a subtle gesture to indicate you have something to say. This can help you wait for an appropriate pause in the conversation.
- Use thought bubbles: Visualize your thoughts as bubbles, and before speaking, imagine your comment inside a thought bubble. Take a moment to consider the content and whether it’s appropriate before allowing the bubble to “pop.”
- Ask for feedback from colleagues: They can provide insights into your communication style and suggest areas for improvement.
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