There is an estimate of 2.6million people living with ADHD in the UK, which is likely a pretty conservative estimate. Many people can go their whole life without considering ADHD due to lack of awareness, especially girls and women as symptoms can look different to ones usually associated with ADHD. Add to that the path to a diagnosis requiring a lot of executive functioning which is something that can be difficult for someone with ADHD… you get why this would be a conservative estimate.
Even that conservative estimate means about 1 person out of 25. You worked, are working or will work with someone with ADHD at some point in your career, whether they are aware of it or not, whether they will disclose it or not.
Not providing the right support to the ADHD workforce is not only discriminatory and against the Equality Act 2010, but it is very simply exclusionary.
Nothing good can come from making someone’s life harder at work.
Disregarding the role or department someone is in at work, they have a clear part to play in the overall organisation. Their daily tasks will then inform daily tasks of other people no matter how much or how little they collaborate.
In an organisation that doesn’t offer ADHD adjustments, legally called reasonable adjustments, as a standard practice, employees with ADHD constantly have to fight to try to focus and when they do will probably be interrupted by someone stopping by in an open plan office or a ping on teams or slack.
The part that really doesn’t make sense is that the kind of adjustments that would help someone with ADHD would also benefit other neurodivergent employees as well as neurotypical ones. We are talking about things such as quiet environments to work from, flexible hours, flexibility around working remotely or not, sending meeting invites with crystal clear expectations ahead of time, following up in writing with instructions, body doubling (a form of accountability partner where you tell each other what you are working on, work simultaneously for an agreed period of time and check in at the end how far each of you got on that given task) to help stay on track etc.
Sounds simple enough right ? And yet… while many organisations can offer those adjustments to an employee who is coming forward with an ADHD diagnosis, none of those things are offered as standard or included within company policies. We still face this infantilisation of the workforce where you have to prove you need something before you can even request it.
Lack of support at work leads to anxiety, impacting wellbeing at work.
In an organisation that doesn’t offer any kind of reasonable adjustment as standard, there is also the stress of having to come forward as having ADHD. If you do decide to do so, then comes the dread of finding the right person to talk to about it.
I’ve met many team leaders who were describing some struggles from their teams that could have very well been from neurodivergent employees and didn’t have any form of understanding of how to show compassion and provide support in the moment. Some of them can even struggle with the notion that not everyone’s brain works the same. This is why it has to be a company-wide initiative.
You would hope that HR departments took the time to explain to all line managers how to handle certain situations and what was available to support their team members. The reality is very different. Small organisations don’t always have the appropriate training or history to know how to handle it, it happens on a case by case basis and big organisations often have policies and how-to leaflets for line managers available somewhere on a drive no one knows how to access outside of HR or the diversity and inclusion team.
We still have a very long way to go for ADHD awareness and to reach a point where an employee doesn’t feel they have to hide what they go through everyday at work or have to fear asking for adjustments.
Belonging as opposed to fitting in.
Brené Brown has an amazing way of putting it “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are”.
In that sentence you can see clearly the labour and the exhaustion that goes along with trying to fit in. In the context of ADHD at work, trying to hide how your brain works. Trying to take in verbal information the way you think you’re expected to, trying to focus in a busy open space or while being interrupted, trying to meet all deadlines with no accommodations or alternative ways to meet them.
There is no surprise that it comes at a cost for the person with ADHD as well as their productivity. This only leads to more stress and anxiety.
Focusing on that sense of belonging is where the key lies. If an employee or prospective employee with ADHD knows from the get go that body-doubling is a common practice in the workplace, people can make their working patterns around their most productive time and place and that all meetings and communication are encouraged to be followed up in writing to be as inclusive as possible; that level of inclusion from the first moment you interview for an organisation already alleviates the additional stress and anxiety that comes with trying to fit in.
Creating that sense of belonging and, in that case, showcasing actual support for the ADHD workforce requires more than just providing adjustments when requested. We need to do more to support ADHD employees.
In most cases, we are still a long way from having inclusive policies for all from day 1 and trained line managers who would know what to suggest to a team member showing this kind of struggles. The good news though is that you can take a step in that direction today. How about making sure your team sends inclusive meeting invites and instructions ?
Florence Weber-Zuanigh is a certified CPPC and ICF empowerment coach who works with women (both cis and trans) and non-binary people in both group coaching and workshops to help them find their introverted path, reach body positivity/neutrality, get focused and achieve their goals. She is also the founder of Diversity in the Boardroom and works with businesses to help them foster supportive, inclusive work environments through diversity and inclusion initiatives.