Four reasons why burnout is more common in ADHD employees – and how leaders can help

Woman with ADHD sleeping while working from home, burnout

Article by Leanne Maskell, ADHD Coach, Director of coach training company ADHD Works and author of  ADHD: An A to Z

It’s very common for people with ADHD to experience burnout. We may be prone to being ‘human doings’ instead of human beings, setting ourselves unrealistic expectations and becoming mentally and physically exhausted in the process.

In the workplace, the limitless potential of people with ADHD can be sustainably and effectively harnessed by leaders who can help them to avoid burnout.

Here’s four reasons why burnout is more common in ADHD employees, and how leaders can help:

1. Impacted executive functioning skills

The 30% neurodevelopmental delay in executive functioning skills that people with ADHD experience can show up in a variety of ways. We may be unaware of how much we’re taking on, struggle to plan ahead, delegate work, ask for help, or stop ourselves from working throughout the night.

We may struggle to understand what we need, making it difficult to communicate to others, and easier to do ourselves. ADHD can also impact our ability to process instructions, over-performing in case we get things wrong.

How you can help: set clear, specific and written SMART instructions, break goals down, clearly assign responsibilities, and set regular check-ins to ensure your employee with ADHD feels supported in their work.

2. Interest-based nervous system

People with ADHD may be able to ‘hyper-focus’ and produce a month’s worth of work in a day if they’re interested in a topic, but struggle significantly with seemingly ‘easy’ tasks if they’re not so interested. We often need mentally stimulating work to stay engaged – not less!

There’s a strong correlation between workaholism and ADHD, as we are constantly seeking dopamine. This can make work addictive, and we can struggle to switch off, especially if there’s deadlines or if we’re in a new job, for example.

How you can help: understand what your employee with ADHD is most interested in and how you can help support tasks they struggle with. ADHD coaching can be particularly helpful for employees to set up routines that help them to switch off.

3. Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

The emotional regulation challenges associated with ADHD can mean we are highly sensitive to potential rejection, known as ’Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria’.

This might see employees with ADHD holding themselves to unrealistic standards, such as working on the weekends, or avoiding asking for help when needed. In contrast, they may struggle to say ‘no’ to colleagues asking for help with work and take on too much!

How you can help: regularly reassure your employee with ADHD that they are doing a good job, provide context for meetings, written feedback with time to process it, and encourage them to ask for help and say no.  

4. Masking

Adults are often diagnosed with ADHD after burning out. It’s been suggested that people with ADHD have put in 500% more effort than average throughout childhood, and just assumed everyone else had to work as hard as they did.

ADHD can significantly impact all areas of our lives, making it very challenging to do basic self-care such as cooking, exercise, or taking breaks. It may also use up a lot of our energy to mask in the workplace and appear ‘normal’, worrying about stigma associated with being ourselves. This can all contribute to burnout, as we suffer in silence.

How you can help: have clear policies in place for people to ask for support such as reasonable adjustments (and make these!), offer ADHD training for employees to be able to sign-post to support and spot when someone is struggling, and encourage everybody to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work.

In the right environment, employees with ADHD can thrive at work, producing exceptional results with their innovative, out-of-the-box thinking and skills such as resilience, bravery and creativity.

As a leader, you can help facilitate collaborative, compassionate, and curious cultures to help everybody reach their full potential at work – without burning out!

About the author

Leanne MaskellLeanne Maskell is an ADDCA qualified ADHD Coach and the Director of coach training company ADHD Works. Diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 25, Leanne raises awareness about ADHD and provides training and support for those going through diagnosis and beyond. Leanne worked as a legal policy advisor for The Law Society working on immigration, mental health and disability legislation for Coronavirus and Brexit policies, and has delivered talks to the World Health Organization on improving global access to diagnosis and support for those with ADHD.

Through ADHD Works, Leanne provides coaching, training and retreats for individuals and organisations – with clients like Microsoft, Yahoo and Paperchase – for ADHD-ers to understand and be empowered by their ADHD, and for companies to support and harness neurodivergence in the workplace. Leanne is the author of best-selling book ADHD: An A to Z.

ADHD An A to Z HR front coverADHD an A-Z: Figuring it Out Step by Step

Navigating the world with an ADHD brain can be exhausting. The rollercoaster ride from clinical assessments through diagnosis to treatment can leave you feeling anxious and isolated, worried about failing or feeling different.

This handy guide is here to change all that. If you have (or suspect you have) ADHD, you’ll know the frustration of being given neurotypical or clinical advice – but this is straight from an ADHD brain to you.

The accessible A-Z format, covering everything from burnout and finances to time management and relationships, gives you the tips and confidence you need to reach your full potential. It empowers you to understand why ADHD brains work the way they do and how to harness your unique mind to think creatively and overcome any hurdle life throws at you.


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