Are your employees transitioning back to the office after two-plus years of primarily working from home? They may need time to tweak their in-person work habits, especially if they have ADHD.
You can help employees with ADHD reacclimate to the office by creating a supportive workplace culture, helping individuals get personalized accommodations and recognizing that some employees’ work habits won’t mirror their pre-pandemic habits. In fact, they may have become more efficient workers.
“Companies are all having to face change,” says Doug Landman, vice president of business development at ADHD Online. “Employers — if they want to get the most out of their employees with ADHD — should be accommodating and should be open to hybrid work models whenever possible to be able to take advantage of those preferences of the individual employee.”
Over the past two years, the direct connections between managers and employees may have lessened, and that may have hampered companies’ effectiveness. But in some cases, managers may also have have become better acquainted with their employees, including their skill sets and preferred work habits. As managers, you may have learned the value of using creative solutions to meet workplace goals when the entire world had to pivot. As your employees resume a more traditional schedule, incorporating some lessons learned during the pandemic may help your company thrive.
Seth Turner, co-founder and chief strategy officer for AbsenceSoft, a Golden, Colo.-based company that helps human resources professionals manage employees’ accommodations and leaves of absence, says the pandemic forced employers to look more closely at essential functions of a job and what might be an “undue hardship” for an employer. “Work-from-home can no longer be considered an undue hardship (for employers) for many jobs,” he says.
Why workplace flexibility matters
In the midst of the Great Resignation — a term coined to reflect the high number of employees who have quit their jobs since early 2021 — the best employers are helping their employees, including those with ADHD, channel some of their most effective work-from-home strategies back to the traditional office. The employers hope it will help employees remain productive.
“Employee retention is one of the most important priorities in HR right now,” Turner says. “Given the labor shortage, focus on retention and the overall mindset change about what’s an essential job function, employers are more likely to try an accommodation or make an accommodation work.”
Traditionally, employees with ADHD have not always fared well in the workplace, because their tendency to experience difficulties during business hours may not have aligned with managers’ expectations.
“They, on average, lose about 22 days of productivity a year,” Landman says. “An employee who has ADHD is three times more likely to quit their job impulsively than an employee who does not have it, and they’re also 60 percent more likely to be fired from their jobs than somebody who does not have it.”
But employers who encourage employees with ADHD to reach their potential are usually pleased with the results.
“People with ADHD can hyper-focus on tasks that they find enjoyable or engaging,” says Ruth Viehoff, PsyD, a licensed psychologist based in Indianapolis who treats patients with ADHD. “They are creative problem-solvers who can contribute a unique perspective to the workplace. (They) can respond well to deadlines or working under a time crunch (and) can thrive when asked to generate novel solutions or think about new ways of doing things.”
How to engage employees with ADHD
After working from home for so long, employees with ADHD may have trouble reacclimating to a workspace filled with ambient conversation, colleagues walking by and other distractions.
“The office environment may feel overstimulating, and it may be hard for people with ADHD to focus on the task at hand when there are other things competing for their attention,” Viehoff says.
To help employees with ADHD succeed in the office, employers should try to provide reasonable accommodations that may help them create a workspace that mimics what they used at home.
“(The pandemic) gave employees with ADHD an opportunity to show what they could achieve when they could control their work environment,” Turner says. “Take into consideration anything an employee did to modify their at-home work environment to be successful, and see if they can replicate that in the office in a way that isn’t a disruption.”
Accommodations might include:
Reduce distractions. Noise-canceling headphones, white-noise machines, and do-not-disturb features on email and similar software may work for some indiiduals. So might access to a quiet workspace. Bigger-picture fixes may make the office less disruptive for
everyone, including those with ADHD.
“This may mean reconsidering an open office plan, reducing foot traffic through work areas … or changing from fluorescent lighting to soft overhead lighting,” Viehoff says.
Allow movement. People with ADHD often have difficulty sitting at a desk all day. Encouraging employees to shift positions, use standing desks, move to common work spaces or take short walks between tasks may lead to greater productivity.
“As long as they’re able to get their work done, that could be a positive mechanism for helping introduce them back into the workforce,” ADHD Online’s Landman says.
Everyone may benefit from more movement during the day, not just employees with ADHD.
“Normalizing breaks as a helpful option for all employees will help to reduce potential stigma for employees with ADHD,” Viehoff says.
Tailor meeting length, timing, manner of attendance. Hour-long meetings may not be ideal for employees with ADHD, who may lose focus after a short period.
“The ability to break that up into smaller meetings [may help],” Landman says.
If employees with ADHD become engrossed in work during certain hours, try not to schedule meetings during that time frame.
“Many people with ADHD have a sense of when they are most productive during the day,” Viehoff says. “Employers should provide flexibility with scheduling so employees can devote this productive time to pressing or important tasks.”
You might also allow on-site employees the option to attend meetings virtually from their desks. This may allow them to feel less stigma related to their fidgeting behaviors.
Break up larger tasks. When an employee with ADHD takes on a lengthy project, building in interim deadlines and checking on the employee’s progress at predetermined intervals may help to keep them on track.
“It’s a way of helping make sure that somebody’s able to make more measurable progress … without them feeling like they’re getting lost in the process,” Landman says.
Embrace creative ideas. Some people with ADHD work more efficiently if they share a space with other people who are also working quietly. This concept, called “body doubling,” may be used in person or online.
“If enacting this in the workplace, explain that people are not to socialize but are gathered to work independently on tasks,” Viehoff says. “Having access to a body-doubling Zoom room where employees can join throughout the workday and work on tasks may be a helpful resource to offer.”
Permit work-from-home days. You already know that your employees can be prolific while working from home. Letting them schedule certain days from home may help to improve their output, whether or not they have ADHD.
“Allowing people to work from home more frequently allows them to be more productive, as long as they’re still hitting their work objectives,” Landman says.
Helping employees pinpoint effective accommodations
When you commit to helping employees with ADHD transition smoothly to an in-office environment, you should be pleased with the results.
“When accommodations are implemented well, it’s a win-win for employers and employees,” Turner says. Turner refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, passed in 1990. “The whole purpose of the ADA is to make society more accessible to people with disabilities. And by providing accommodations, it allows them to work and gives an employer access to their talents.”
By supporting non-traditional work habits, you’ll help your neurodiverse employees — those whose brains work differently, including those with ADHD — succeed.
“Differences in work styles don’t necessarily mean that it’s better or worse,” Landman says. “It’s very likely that somebody with ADHD will generate work as good, if not better, than one of their non-ADHD counterparts — just as long as those differences are acknowledged and accommodated.”