ADHD Reasonable Workplace Adjustments

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Clattering keyboards, ringing phones, constant distractions, sleeplessness, flying time. These might sound like minor annoyances in a typical workday, but for someone with ADHD, they’re more like barriers to entry.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder presents many challenges to day-to-day life. This is sometimes because of the severity of the condition, but often because everyday life isn’t designed with neurodiversity in mind. Thankfully, UK law necessitates that workplaces make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees with ADHD – let’s look at a few.

Why are reasonable adjustments important for someone with ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by Inattention, Impulsiveness, and Hyperactivity (though this shows less in women). Evidence also suggests that ADHD can seriously disrupt sleep, exacerbating these symptoms in turn.

People with ADHD possess several character traits that can make them brilliant workers, such as creativity, motivation, and the ability to hyperfocus on tasks that interest them. But these positive traits don’t cancel out the very real challenges it brings. ADHD can make it feel impossible or exhausting to keep track of time, sit still for long periods, follow written communication, or memorise and organise projects.

Presenting substantial and long-term challenges to day-to-day functioning, ADHD can be defined as a disability under the UK Equality Act of 2010 – the same Act that legally requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled employees.

Making workplaces more hospitable for employees with ADHD allows employers to benefit from their various skills and gifts. But this goes beyond individuals. ADHD affects an estimated 4% of the adult population – without adjustments, those with ADHD will, as a group, be massively disadvantaged in the labour market and at severe risk of poverty (this is already happening to some extent). Employers have a legal and ethical responsibility here.

What are reasonable adjustments for ADHD?

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Every workplace adjusts for disabilities in some way; wheelchair ramps, mobility lifts, and accessible disabled toilets are among the most common examples.
When it comes to ADHD, there are dozens of ways to slightly adjust workplace environments and practices to welcome ADHD employees.

Provide a quiet space within the office

Sensory overload presents a major barrier for those with ADHD to engage in day-to-day life, especially when it comes to sound. Loud or intrusive noises – phones ringing, lights buzzing, doors slamming, etc – can grate on a person with ADHD to a deeply uncomfortable extent.

A designated quiet space can make all the difference, giving neurodiverse employees the chance to recuperate and avoid overload. Even if they’re not commonly used, the knowledge that escape is an option can be a great comfort. Other ways workplaces have adjusted for this include providing noise-cancelling headphones or transitioning away from open plan office spaces.

Allow short breaks to be taken

Regular 10-to-15-minute breaks can seriously help manage hyperactivity and fatigue in ADHD. ADHD is thought of by some experts as a ‘reward deficit’, genetic and structural differences in the brain making it less responsive to dopamine. This has a myriad of effects, including exacerbating the need to fidget and move regularly.

Taking time away from the desk to stretch, walk, or engage in other activities curbs the discomfort that results from deficient dopamine levels. There are many ways of doing this – it may work for some to take four 15-minute breaks a day, or some may prefer the Pomodoro method (5-minute breaks within every half-hour, with longer breaks every two hours).

Write down instructions and information

Many workplaces assume that all employees are operating with the same cognitive makeup and will naturally know how best to get things done. This can leave employees with ADHD perpetually uncertain of themselves, creating anxiety and exacerbating symptoms. Clearly written instructions can tackle this, specifying how and when tasks should be completed.

ADHD is sometimes thought of as a disorder of time perception, an inability to think outside of the present. Bitesize instructions that break large projects down into small steps can fit this cognitive difference.

Written instructions may not be perfect for all employees, especially since ADHD is commonly comorbid with dyslexia. A mix of written and verbal instructions, possibly including short daily meetings, may work best for some.

Offer ADHD/neurodiverse mentoring

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Research has shown that neurodiverse mentoring (or coaching) can significantly help reduce and manage symptoms of many neurological differences, especially with ADHD.
An ADHD mentor fosters a goal-oriented partnership focused on identifying and managing symptoms. They educate clients on the different forms and expressions of ADHD while also talking through specific problems. Think of a life coach trained specifically on your brain structure.
ADHD mentors aim to help with:

  • Time management.
  • Planning and organisation.
  • Verbal processing.
  • Motivation.
  • Feelings of paralysis.

An ADHD mentor is one of the most effective ways an employer can help ADHD employees maximise their full professional potential, and coaching costs can be funded by the UK’s Access to Work scheme.

Offer organisational software and solutions

Who needs memory when you have your notes app? There are countless applications available on mobile, desktop and browser that can help an employee with ADHD self-manage projects and tasks.
Some types of applications that can help include:

  • To-Do-Lists: list apps can be indispensable in helping visualise and tackle tasks. Todoist, Evernote, and Notion are just a few of many highly rated examples.
  • White Noise Apps: ambient sound that drowns out intrusive noise can foster focus and decrease the chance of sensory overload. Focus@Will, ADHD White Noise, and Atmosphere are all available on the Google Play store.
  • Blockers: an app blocker that limits access to social media, phone games, and other distractions can make it far easier to self-manage. Cold Turkey is considered the go-to browser blocker, but some free alternatives include StayFocused and LeechBlock.

Allow employees to block our time for undisturbed work

With distractibility being such a big symptom of ADHD, giving employees a means of blocking out the world and hyper-focusing on work is crucial. This may be as simple as agreeing a time for an employee to complete their work in an isolated area/office.

A ‘do-not-disturb’ office sign and/or function on phones and email software might also help, as would having the employer gently ask coworkers not to bother the employee (at the employee’s discretion, of course).

Some find it easiest to manage distractions from home, where nobody can bother them. In some cases, therefore, a mix of remote and on-site working might be optimal.

This list is by no means exhaustive; there are always more ways employers can make the workday easier on their neurodivergent employees. A workplace needs assessment can tell you what your workplace specifically can do to help.

ADHD presents differently in everyone – what works for some may be unbearable for others. The first step should always be a constructive conversation between the employee and employer to see how needs can best be met.

To learn more about ADHD and workplace adjustments, please visit the links below.

Useful links

How to interview candidates with ADHD
ADHD in the workplace
How to attract neurodiverse talent

Blog Author

Louis Ricci