12 tips for supporting colleagues with ADHD in the workplace
Updated 1st November 2023
Individuals with ADHD often have energetic drive, and are able to hyperfocus on tasks that are driven by their interests. They're often creative, able to think holistically, and make great leaders because of their resilience. With these strengths, people with ADHD make a great addition to any workforce. They thrive best in environments that play to their strengths, and support any challenges they may have. Such challenges can include difficulty maintaining focus, impulse and concentration. So how can we support people with ADHD in the workplace?
To help you support a colleague or employee with ADHD, we asked ADHD coaches, business leaders, and people with lived experience of ADHD for their insights and tips for ADHD workplace adjustments. Here are 12 tips to help you support employees with ADHD to accomplish their tasks and feel accepted in the work environment.
1. Schedule regular check-ins
When a colleague has ADHD, it is important to understand that they have every intention of getting things done in a timely manner; however, there are sometimes a few obstacles that might be getting in their way. The concept of time is often a challenge for someone with ADHD, which cannot only affect the individual's perception of how long something will take, but it might also cause them to miscalculate the length of time until a deadline.
That being said, these colleagues will be successful when they have hard deadlines and are able to collaborate with someone on how long certain tasks might take. Individuals with ADHD will truly benefit from the routine of regularly scheduled check-ins to help keep them on track and to hold them accountable. Without these personal interactions, they might unintentionally forget about a detail or a commitment. Nonetheless, if a system is in place, your colleague with ADHD will most likely be more successful.
Hilary Stern, Founder, Certified ADHD Life Coach and ADHD Consultant at ADHD Advance Coaching and Consulting LLC
2. Make short-term goals clear to group members
When I work with others, I'm great at doing my part, but only if we've discussed what we all will be doing. I need goals with short timelines. If the timeline is too far off, I often forget, or get bogged down by other tasks. If we've talked as a group and broken down a project into weekly tasks, I can always have that done by the next meeting!
Sarah Frank, Founder of The ADHD Recruiter
3. Support time management of tasks and projects
Those with ADHD may be challenged with time blindness, short attention spans, and planning due to poor Executive Function. If your colleague or employee has ADHD, they could potentially get stuck with completing tasks or projects on time.
Be proactive to support them. This could include: Confirm with an email outlining tasks or projects with a timescale of when to be completed; highlight with bullet points what you need from them, why and the desired outcome; set up calendar invites to discuss, with a reminder 24 hours before and a 1hr before.
Kim Allingham, Founder of NMD
4. Be sensitive and open-minded
There is only one good way that you can support a colleague or employee with ADHD. It takes time and patience and sensitivity and it is based on trust and confidence and open-mindedness. You have to get to know them as a person. Together you have to learn, understand and acknowledge their ADHD traits and accept them. Together you have to explore their experiences and find out what works and what does not. And you have to be reliably consistent and non-judgmental, in the way that a true friend is.
Guy Brewer, Dyslexia and ADHD Strategies Coach at Dyslexia Coaching LTD
5. Provide helpful techniques to meet deadlines
If you have a colleague or employee with ADHD, you may have noticed they have difficulty meeting deadlines. To support their success, suggest they use a large wall-mounted calendar or whiteboard placed on an uncluttered wall space, to record project milestones and due dates. It can also help to use a visual or audio reminder, to regularly monitor milestones and due date progress. Using a color-coded system to notate milestones and due dates can further boost effectiveness. It’s not uncommon for techniques to lose effectiveness over time, so if this occurs, suggest they formulate a new color-coding system or change the location of the calendar or whiteboard.
Marilyn Fettner, ADHD, Career and Life Coach at Fettner Career & Life Coaching
6. Help them get things done their way
Focus on the outcome not the method and allow us to get there our way. Rewards and consequences rarely work for ADHDers, but we can achieve incredible things when engaged with our interests and values. ADHD paralysis tends to be worse when under pressure, feeling confined/ restrained, or in a negative mindset. Allow autonomy as much as possible and keep things focused on success.
Encourage people to stand up and move around in meetings or use fidget toys if it helps them to pay attention and have somebody summarize and check action points at the end. Be patient with occasional interruptions, it means we are enthused and excited about the topic.
Helena Territt, Executive ADHD Coach at HatchedCoaching
7. Assign a task buddy to help get work done
Getting started with tasks is often most difficult for adults with ADHD. They might experience feelings of overwhelm or go into ‘hyper-focus’ with planning the task but then are too mentally exhausted to get the work done. Working with an accountability partner or task buddy can be extremely helpful. Setting goals with your partner, and having periodic check-ins provide the accountability needed to motivate and stay on track.
Jo Futerman, Coach, ADHD Specialist, Meditation Teacher
8. Assist by offering to switch tasks sometimes
Unless the ADHD employee has formally disclosed his/her diagnosis, but you "suspect" a diagnosis is possible, . An understanding and supportive colleague can make all the difference to someone with ADHD. ADHD adults often feel diminished when they make mistakes. If mistakes are made regularly, it could be the employee would thrive better carrying out other tasks. You can assist by perhaps asking if he/she would like to switch tasks on occasion. It could also be helpful to encourage him/her to seek help via an ADHD Coach or ADHD Career Coach. Try to show understanding and patience. The impact of feeling overwhelmed in the workplace for ADHD adults can be devastating.
Shell Mendelson, ADHD Career Coach at Career Coachng with Shell
9. Learn a few ways to help them get started
When you have ADHD, getting started on a task or project can sometimes be incredibly difficult. It might look like laziness, intentional procrastination, or a lack of willpower, focus, motivation or interest (and sometimes it is), but there’s more to it. Activation (task initiation) is an executive function, and with ADHD, our brain-based ignition switch is often stuck in park, sometimes to the point of paralysis.
But there’s a lot you can do to help: Ask if they're clear about the project, steps/tasks, priorities, and expected deliverables. Do they want to discuss it (externalizing or talking things through).
Suggest they: Take a break to alleviate frustration (physical movement, hydration, fresh air); commit to working for only ten minutes (seems less overwhelming); set a countdown timer to 'see' the passage of time; create a mind map instead of worrying about beginning with a logical presentation; and gamify the task ("How many ideas can you come up with in 5 minutes?").
Susan Lasky, Productivity, ADHD, EF & Organization Coach
10. Give them freedom to design their approach
For any task, project or process, clarify the outcome and deadlines but with as much flexibility for how the task is completed as possible. The freedom to choose the way the activity is approached and completed involves them in the process, and allows them to use strategies that may be unconventional, but play to their strengths. Supporting them to share those ideas and have access to tools that assist them leads to greater confidence and feelings of success.
Rebecca Champ, ADHD Psychotherapist and Coach at Rebecca Champ Coaching & Therapy
11. Create timelines that are realistic for everyone
If you request something from a colleague with ADHD, it can be helpful to ask them what timeframe makes sense for them to provide you with what you need. Once this is agreed, you may need to check in with them, in a friendly manner, a few days before it is due to make sure it rises to the top of their list. And don’t take their lack of expedient response personally or judge them if they don’t deliver, as they may get distracted, or wait until the last minute to get things done. Be constructive with any conversations and discuss what will help them to get you what you need in a timely fashion.
Wayne Kessler, Executive and Career Coach at Boston Business Coaching, LLC
12. Hire an ADHD Coach for support
The best way to support an employee with ADHD and fine-tune workplace performance is with coaching. Goals will be set and the Coach will help the Employee build awareness, develop strategies, systems or routines to improve or eliminate performance gaps. They will also learn ways to build focus, acquire new skills specific to their role and identify any relevant strengths that could benefit their Employer.
Having an Accountability Partner improves results, reinforces newly learned skills and teaches the employees to advocate for themself! Seeking and implementing this support not only leads to improved confidence and career success but also makes the Employee more likely to stay in that role due to work satisfaction. A win-win situation!
Naomi Bamberg, ADHD Life Coach at ADHD Coach Bondi
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