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  • Saskia Müller

What Reasonable Adjustments Work for ADHD at Work?

Firstly, here's a quick legal guide:

  • Reasonable adjustments are changes that must be made by to remove or reduce disadvantages related to disability that a person may experience at work. These could include changes to the workplace, equipment, requirements, or the way things are done.

  • Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people at work, which the criteria of an ADHD diagnosis would typically meet. Failure to cooperate with this duty is unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act.

  • Having a formal medical diagnosis is not legally required to trigger this duty - it doesn't suddenly 'give' someone a disability. It can arise at any point the employer becomes aware of disability, including at interview stage and during probation.

  • Employment tribunal claims relating to neurodiverse conditions and disability discrimination rose by 30% last year. Compensation awards are uncapped - meaning it can be very expensive not to take disability at work seriously (£2.5 million!).

  • Access to Work is Government funding for support in the workplace addition to reasonable adjustments. What is reasonable depends on factors including resources and size of the employer.

As it's highly situational, if you've met one person with ADHD, you've met one person with ADHD. We all have unique needs, but often we're not sure where to start with understanding how they can be accommodated.

The best approach is one of collaboration, curiosity and compassion. Creating cultures that encourage open conversations about challenges and support is sensible for any employer. However, because there often are no processes or policies in place for this specifically in relation to disability or reasonable adjustments, this might be challenging to do in practice.

Here are the top 6 adjustments I've found that can help, but they're just a starting point - everybody will be different.

1. Having an ADHD Coach (ideally, who has ADHD!)

As ADHD is associated with a 30% developmental delay in executive functioning skills, having a specialised coach can teach a person those skills in a way suited to their ADHD. Coaching may typically last for 3-6 months, equipping someone with the skills they need to thrive in the workplace. Importantly, we need coaches who understand our unique brain wiring.

This may be a reasonable adjustment (instead of general training), because it is specifically to support someone with the substantial disadvantage their ADHD has on them at work. Their neurotypical colleagues wouldn't need it, unless it was coaching a manager of someone with ADHD, for example.

Having ADHD Coaching is vital to ensure other adjustments work effectively - especially technology related ones. I needed coaching to teach me how to effectively delegate work and . Developing these skills and habits through accountability and expertise knowledge is crucial - I'd previously hire and fire assistants before they could finish any work for me!

2. Administrative support / task swapping

A common mistake I see is employers assuming reducing a person's workload would help them with their ADHD. NO! 9 times out of 10, we're brilliant at the 'big stuff' - our brains thrive on adrenaline and challenging work, especially if there's a chance for us to use our innate creativity.

The things we tend to struggle more with are the 'small' tasks. For example, many lawyers I coach struggle with recording their billable hours, which undermines their exceptional work. Personally, I struggle with excel spreadsheets or setting up meetings - what would take 5 minutes for others will take me hours or even days. Our brains are like Ferraris with bicycle brakes - so driving down 'slow' lanes is much harder than speeding ahead.

I cannot overstate how game-changing administrative support is for this. Whether it's a dedicated assistant, flexible virtual assistant, or simply task-swapping with colleagues, having administrative help is ridiculously effective in enabling an ADHD-er to thrive in the role they were hired to do. The investment is minimal in comparison to the potential economic value.

*Note: Access to Work calls these 'support workers', because they help you to do your job - they don't do it for you.

3. Written instructions / information

Writing down clear instructions explaining what a person needs and by when is both incredibly easy and effective to support a person with ADHD at work.

As our skills such as working memory and self-regulation can be impacted, we may struggle with remembering and processing verbal instructions. There's also a significant overlap with Audio Processing Disorder and ADHD. Writing instructions down, even if they've been discussed beforehand, enables us to have a reference point of what we need to do.

It's also advisable to be as clear as possible, as we can struggle with prioritising information. When a person once told me to find 'all' data relating to mental health for a project, I burned myself out and handed in 25 pages a few weeks later, to their horror! Giving examples and being clear on limits is really helpful.

It also really helps me to have written agendas for meetings, and to follow up afterwards with a list of action points discussed in writing. This helps ensure everyone is (literally) on the same page, and again, helps everybody - not just people with ADHD!

Similarly, as we can struggle with feedback, offering to provide this in writing can really help a person with ADHD to process this before discussing it. The same applies for interview questions, which I think is definitely the easiest and most effective ADHD adjustment for recruitment purposes!

4. ADHD training

People with ADHD are very different to manage than neurotypical people, because we have interest-based nervous systems. We're motivated differently, like kids who refuse to waste their time learning algebra they'll never use again, even if that means failing their exams. We have different concepts of time, meaning things like 5-year business plans can feel painfully irrelevant, making it very hard for us to engage.

By having ADHD awareness training, managers can understand how to unlock the immense potential of their employees with ADHD, and how they can best support them. Being given the chance to ask questions to an expert, judgement-free, is a very powerful way of building trust and healthy, open communication in the workplace.

I'd hope any manager would be offered education and support as soon as someone they managed disclosed a disability as normal practice. The support and confidence of managers in being able to pro-actively support their disabled employees is crucial and something that's often forgotten in the haze of bureaucracy.

Training is also very helpful for colleagues to be aware of how ADHD can manifest and to learn best-practice language and support. Unfortunately there's still a lot of stigma which can manifest in the workplace as legally dubious behaviour.

5. Providing reassurance

ADHD brains can be very hyper-active, meaning we can easily overthink situations. Having a manager or colleague we can speak to for reassurance when we need it means the overthinking tornado is easily calmed down, and we can get on with our day.

This applies strongly to situations potentially involving rejection, being told off, or general performance. The Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria that accompanies ADHD means we can often be terrified of having done something wrong, even if this is seemingly irrational, resulting in severe anxiety.

Managers can pre-empt this by letting them know the reasons behind any impromptu meetings or calls and providing regular feedback or support via 1:1s, with extra communication to explain any areas that could be improved. People with ADHD can struggle with 'hands off' management styles, because we need to know we're doing a good job. If you want to see someone with ADHD flourish, tell them what they're doing right.

It can be extremely emotionally challenging for someone to ask for reassurance, so if you're a manager reading this, please be pro-active and make these steps! People with ADHD can really struggle with asking for help and understanding their needs, as our self-awareness is neurologically impacted.

6. Flexibility and trust

In my experience, Occupational Health often recommend a person with ADHD has flexible working hours and locations. This is helpful for us to be able to manage our own working styles in accordance with our ADHD. It's not so much a 'deficit' of attention as a deficit in regulating our attention - we can hyper-focus on certain things, but struggle to start others, and environment plays a huge factor in this. 

For example, I work best in the morning, so prefer to start as early as 6am. Sleep problems linked to ADHD are well evidenced, so others may be able to work much more effectively late at night. Exercise can have the same short-term impact on our brains as ADHD medication, so enabling a person to take breaks in prioritizing this is highly effective to ensuring they can focus throughout the day, making up any hours as needed.

We can also struggle with certain locations, such as offices, due to sensory impacts and distractions. Others may need these locations to focus, so it's generally best left to the person to figure out what works best for them as they try different things out. Factors to consider may also include seating and lighting arrangements, for example.

What is important to remember is that health conditions can't be packaged up into neat corporate check-boxes. We can't tell you in advance when we might need to take a break or work from home, because we don't get to plan our ADHD. Trusting someone to get the work done however works best for them, and having flexible lines of communication to update others as needed, is the easiest way to see a dedicated, fiercely loyal, and highly effective employee.

These adjustments are personally what I have found to be the most universally effective, but please remember that they won't work for everybody.

Providing reasonable adjustments isn't a 'one time fix'. It's an iterative process of seeing what works and what doesn't. The most effective steps employers can take include:

  • Having reasonable adjustment policies and guidance (which I can help with!)

  • Having one central person to speak to about any adjustments, and making this process as easy and transparent as possible.

  • Recording adjustments in writing to ensure they are properly implemented and monitored for effectiveness.

  • Ensuring employees are properly reassured about adjustments and how to seek help if needed. The aim is for them to be as happy and healthy at work as possible - not assessed and evaluated as people.

For a sample reasonable adjustments policy, head here.

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