Neurodiversity in the workplace – A first-hand account to improving your support for colleagues with ADHD

In an employment world where unique skills and ways of thinking are celebrated, are companies doing enough to support employees with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

With every passing day, today’s HR leaders are doing more and more to encourage and embed diversity, equality and inclusion as a core principle in the workplace. People with ADHD can thrive in a working environment that supports their strengths. Remember, not all employees are the same. Unique individuals require a different approach.

Whether you’re looking to provide a more welcoming environment for potential hires or support your colleagues who are showing signs of ADHD, getting your approach right could truly enable your company to benefit from unique talent.

Zest recently sat down with Jake Jones, Marketing Executive and former Formula 1 published motorsport journalist, to talk first-hand about his experiences of an unsupportive working environment, and how it affected his career. Jake opened up about the barriers he’s had to try and break down and what can be done to champion employees who display similar traits to his own.

What is ADHD?

According to ADHD UK1, roughly 4% of adults in the UK live with ADHD. It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder that’s characterised by inattentiveness, restlessness and impulsive behaviour. While often diagnosed at childhood, there’s a good possibility that members of your workforce are suffering from the disorder without being properly diagnosed.

In adults, the symptoms of ADHD are more difficult to define. This is largely due to a lack of research into adults with ADHD.

The NHS have listed a long list of symptoms that adults may display, including:

  • Carelessness and lack of attention to detail
  • Poor organisational skills
  • Inability to focus or prioritise
  • Forgetfulness
  • Extreme impatience

Struggling to fit in

Jake’s experience around ADHD in the workplace has, for the most part, been negative.

Open and honest about his ADHD, false promises of understanding have largely come and gone without any action being taken. Symptoms out of his control have often been used against him, inevitably leading to a forgettable experience working for each company.

‘Employers say they understand but don’t take action. They’ve ignored advice I’ve sent to them, and it’s ended with ADHD symptoms being used as a character flaw against me. I’ve been called lazy, slow and angry. A colleague with a teenage mentality, a fun sponge and not a nice person. That’s all for displaying symptoms I simply can’t help.

‘To be honest, it sucks. It shapes your view of the world negatively as you grow up, especially when you’re made to feel that it’s your fault. Imagine growing up hating yourself because you did things you can’t explain?

‘Even your own family may not take steps to understand you or tolerate you, so that gives an indication of how far away the workplace is from championing people with ADHD.

‘Before I was diagnosed, I found myself in a job-loss cycle. After doing everything I could to understand myself personally and professionally, all the counselling, medication, and tests so people and employers could understand me, the thing that shocked me most was that it didn’t make any difference at all. People still do not or will not understand in the way you need them to and it’s disheartening. Even mentioning the word ADHD is seemingly a big no-no in our community because you don’t know what attitude someone has to it.

‘Admitting or telling someone in the workplace you have ADHD, asking for reasonable adjustments is best avoided until there is someone from HR who may better understand. It might seem sad to read this, but it’s genuinely how it is for a lot of people. You can feel that it’s best not to tell anyone that isn’t close to you as human social bias can get in the way of genuine interaction. It’s recommended that people with ADHD read and understand the Equality Act of 2010. I did and I’ve already had to threaten legal action against discrimination.’

Are companies doing enough to offer support?

Nowhere near enough, according to Jake.

‘It’s still seen as a negative personality trait rather than embracing a hire for who they really are as a person. Until attitudes shift via a mass government information campaign or something similar, I don’t think it will change either. It’s just the world we live in.

‘The founder of LadBible recently found out he has ADHD, and now runs a podcast available on Spotify. It’s refreshing to see high-profile people sharing their experience. It gives me hope that we’re not too far away from change.

The positive impact employees with ADHD can have

It’s time to start celebrating what makes your employees unique. Jake believes there’s a huge number of positive traits colleagues with ADHD can have on your business, and if you take the time to understand those individuals, you can both thrive together.

‘There can be plenty of positives. Creative vibrance, passionate energy, extreme hyper-focus on stimulating tasks. I’d argue I can get a month’s workload done to a higher standard in half the time if I’m really interested in something.

‘By extension, we’re great problem solvers as we’ve already thought of 10 scenarios by the time others may have thought of one. We can be great in a crisis, as we’re managing multiple crises almost daily.

‘People with ADHD care massively about things and causes important to us. We can be great relationship builders as we’re compassionate. Talking for hours can be easy when we have a genuine interest in the other person. We’re spontaneous, process-driven, resilient and can have a unique perspective of the world, so we’re likely to introduce unique solutions for employers.

‘I think employers can certainly push themselves to do more for their most valuable assets. I’d like to see a more supportive working environment be developed through:

  • Offering mental health support – It can change your view of the world, both past, present and future. Discussing painful and traumatic incidents. There are very few services available due to austerity and attitudes that ADHD sufferers are simply ‘fine or bad tempered’, so I think employers should fill this support role where perhaps the government have struggled.
  • Reasonable adjustments – Offer your colleagues breaks from their desks, time away from loud spaces, and an understanding over lateness or impulsiveness. Don’t try and put square pegs in round holes. Simply talk to your employees and try to understand what they need and why when they speak to you.
  • Research ADHD – Simply take time to familiarise yourself with the traits and symptoms
  • The ADHD Foundation document2 – Something every/any employer should have’

Jake’s key research articles that helped him on his initial journey


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