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ADHD in the Workplace - Part 1

I'm very excited to partake in ADHD Awareness Month, as it means that for the whole of October I can wax lyrical about our ADHD superpowers with no one batting an eyelid.

If you're reading this and wondering what makes ADHDers so different from the rest, well look no further. This article touches on the challenges that ADHDers face in the workplace and how it may manifest as behaviour patterns and coping mechanisms. Its a quick education for employers, friends and colleagues of those with ADHD and who knows, perhaps some of those undiagnosed of you out there might be able to relate. If this triggers anything for you please do get in touch, I'm open for discussion.

Let's start with the three main types of ADHD as described by the DSM-5, which contains the diagnostic criteria for ADHD:

1. Predominantly inattentive

(re distractability/executive function issues/forgetfulness)

2. Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive

(re physical hyperactivity/excessive talking/impatience)

3. Combined-type

(a mix of both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive) The problem with the DSM-5 criteria is that it has never been validated for adults. It basically requires an adult to be functioning on the level of an untreated elementary school-aged child in order to meet the criteria. It doesn't take into account the emotional dysregulation element of ADHD or the situational variability of this unique brain wiring. This explains why so many adults with ADHD struggle to get a diagnosis and get the support that they need.

Fortunately, expert clinicians that truly understand ADHD in adults have come up with more functional experiential definitions like William Dodson MP. William Dodson's description of ADHD certainly aligns with my own experience, both personally and professionally, coaching adults with ADHD both in and out of the workplace.

A. Interest-Based Nervous System.

Individuals with ADHD have an Interest-based nervous system as opposed to an importance-based one.

ADHDers are "hard-wired for interest".

WIlliam Dodson believes that the performance, mood and energy level of ADHDers are solely determined by the momentary sense of “ICNUP”:

Interest (fascination)



Urgency (usually a deadline)

Passion (what is meaningful/brings joy).

This is essentially the fuel for the ADHD brain. Without these elements nothing happens. This is of course quite a problem in the workplace when employees with ADHD are expected to stand and deliver consistently and on demand… not when they “feel like it”.

ADHDers are driven by “FOLI” (fear of losing interest). Boredom for ADHDers is like what kryptonite is to superman and they will seek to avoid it at all costs, preferring crisis and chaos to no stimulation at all. When engaged however, ADHDers are instantly energetic, positive and social.

Often interest wins over importance (to others), making it very difficult for ADHDers to deliver what is expected of them. 90% of jobs are based on second hand importance – essentially the employee is expected to prioritise and deliver on tasks the boss views as important. This is problematic for our bright and innate problem-solvers, who viewing the task as pointless or less important (in terms of impact/progress) struggle to engage.

It also makes decision making very difficult, as importance/priority don’t organise or motivate ADHDers. This makes conventional systems of planning and organisation (based on importance and time) very challenging.

B. Emotional Management and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

The main reason why employees with ADHD end up leaving the workplace is down to Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) which is a fundamental feature of ADHD and really the most crippling aspect. It can also lead to extreme unhappiness and in the very worst cases suicide. RSD is a severe sensitivity to rejection, criticism, teasing or the perception that they have failed/fallen short of what is expected of them. it's down to genetic and neurological hardwiring. It can be completely overwhelming and happen without warning. It can also feel like physical pain:

Reaction Internalised = Rumination

Reaction Externalised = Flash Rage

To avoid this, ADHDers can become:

- 'People-Pleasers'

(boundaries often overrun – in the workplace this manifests as never saying no, over-delivering, over justifying and striving for perfection so one can be above reproach, which can end up in the employee becoming so become overwhelmed with work that they either burnout or disappoint – triggering more RSD)

- 'Chameleons'

(identities are often lost and the employer does not get the benefit of the ADHDer’s individuality and unique strengths)

- 'Avoiders'

(“better not to try than try and fail” – employee does not apply themselves, “hides away”, and does not share in meetings)

It is certainly no small feat to successfully navigate the workplace with ADHD. Hopefully you can now better recognise how ADHD manifests in employees with ADHD and you have a greater appreciation for the challenges ADHDers encounter everyday in the workplace. When you know better, you do better, or in this case, when you better understand ADHD you can better support it. It can very much be a superpower in the right situations with the right support network.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will explore the competitive advantage that employees with ADHD can bring to their employers. If you would like workplace training or ADHD coaching for any of your employees with ADHD, get in touch.

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