How to be a better colleague and ally to someone with ADHD

By Leanne Maskell

‘The future of work belongs to those who embrace neurodiversity. Only when we understand each others strengths and struggles, can we create an environment where everyone dares to surpass expectations.’ Lisette Schipper, Neurodiversity Advocacy Lead at Google

As ADHD has only been diagnosable in UK adults since 2008, and awareness has skyrocketed in recent years, with a 400% increase in the number of adults seeking assessments, many people are finding out they are neurodivergent much later in life.

Years-long NHS assessment waiting lists, national shortages of medication, and excessive stigma mean many of us are struggling to navigate ADHD, which may show up, especially within the workplace. Accessing support can be extremely stressful, which can be exacerbated whilst trying to maintain ‘professionalism’ at work and masking our challenges.

As a colleague to someone with ADHD, seemingly small actions can make a big difference. Here’s how to help:

  1. Listen & learn

If you’ve met 1 person with ADHD, you’ve met 1 person with ADHD – it can manifest differently in everybody. Requesting neurodiversity workplace training benefits everybody and can help you to take an ‘ADHD lens’ in the workplace, understanding the types of challenges we may face.

Listening to colleagues with ADHD who feel comfortable sharing their experiences can be extremely valuable and validating – you don’t have to be an expert! Providing a safe space for someone to share their experiences, including what this means for them in the workplace, can be very empowering.

  1. Advocate for support

You don’t have to be neurodivergent yourself to check whether your organisation has supportive policies in place. For example, if your company doesn’t have a neurodiversity, disability or reasonable adjustments policy, you could provide this free template.

You could also take action on topical issues such as the medication shortage by alerting your organisation with this free template, for example. This can be very helpful, especially because it might feel very vulnerable for employees who are struggling to alert their managers.

Learning about support such as Access to Work can also be brilliant to signpost towards, as the Government can fund up to £66,000 worth of support for anybody with a health condition impacting them at work.

  1. Be an ADHD Champion

Championing a condition like ADHD could emerge in several ways. Firstly, you could undertake formal training, such as our ADHD Champions course, which equips you with a logo to signpost to employees that you’ve learned ADHD-specific coaching skills and can help.

Secondly, you could proactively champion ADHD and challenge damaging narratives and stigma, particularly within the workplace, such as by countering discriminatory comments. This can be immensely helpful on a general level, especially for those of us who feel scared to engage in such conversations.

Thirdly, you could champion individuals with ADHD, helping them to celebrate their successes and providing mentorship and support. The 30% developmental delay in executive functioning skills such as self-awareness and memory can impact our career progression, but having support from our colleagues can help us to not just survive, but thrive, at work. One way of doing this could be celebrating ‘wins’ as a team each week, which benefits everybody!

  1. Be pro-active

Having ADHD can make asking for help feel very difficult, especially within the workplace. Engaging in ‘task-swapping’ at work can be extremely beneficial for everybody, as everyone could swap tasks they find challenging or easy in a complementary way. This fosters a stronger working environment for all, and especially benefits people with ADHD who may excel in certain areas and have significant challenges in others, especially with seemingly ‘simple’ tasks like administration!

Further to this, proactively offering support, checking in and suggesting activities such as body-doubling ’(working alongside a person to get work done for extra accountability) can be very helpful for colleagues with ADHD at work. As we can struggle with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, offering encouragement, positive feedback, and invitations to socialise are often strongly appreciated!

Providing written information, from agendas and context for meetings, to written instructions and checklists, can also be game-changing for employees with ADHD. Recording SMART goals, with clear deadlines and check-ins set in advance, are further examples that benefit everybody at work – but especially those of us with ADHD.

Ultimately, being a better colleague and ally to someone with ADHD helps foster an inclusive, supportive, and cohesive working environment that empowers everybody to bring their best selves to work.

About the author

Leanne Maskell is a qualified ADHD Coach and the Founder and Director of coach training company ADHD Works, helping individuals and organisations like Disney, Microsoft and Yahoo harness ADHD in the workplace. 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. She is the author of ADHD Works at Work and ADHD: An A to Z.

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