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Sit-stand desks and other workplace 'game changers' for ADHD adults

How can we help ADHD employees reach their full potential at work?

ADHD is a commonly misunderstood neuro-behavioural disorder which affects adults as well as children - often impacting family life, relationships, careers and long-term self-esteem.

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There are lots of myths surrounding ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), from the idea that it's not a 'real' medical disorder, to the misconception that only children have it. Unfortunately there is still a fair amount of stigma around ADHD, with people commonly dismissing it as an excuse for laziness, ineptitude and bad behaviour.

Adult ADHD has only been recognised as a 'real' disorder in the UK by NICE guidelines since 2007. There is still much research needed to improve our understanding, but experts believe ADHD is likely to be related to dopamine levels in the brain. Namely, that people with ADHD do not process this neurotransmitter - critical for mental stimulation, interest and reward - effectively in order to function as well as those with typical levels of dopamine.

There are three different types of ADHD:

 

  • Predominantly hyperactive impulsive ADHD
  • You have problems with interrupting, talking lots and taking risks.
  • Predominantly inattentive ADHD
  • You have a hard time paying attention, remembering things and being organised.
  • Combined ADHD
  • A mix of both behaviour types.

 

These are of course all very common symptoms experienced by lots of people who would be considered 'neuro-typical', which is why the diagnosis of ADHD is often met with scepticism. But for people with ADHD the symptoms are pronounced, chronic and they tend to have a noticeably negative impact on daily life.

Adult ADHD in the workplace

In a professional setting, ADHD can be especially problematic. Company life is by nature structured and systematic: there are deadlines to meet and and processes to follow. For a person who's mind is constantly wandering around searching for the most stimulating thought or task, it can be very difficult to conform to the rules and stay on track.

For people with ADHD, interest trumps importance. They can become entirely absorbed for hours on end in an activity that mentally stimulates them, while completely forgetting about the mundane admin tasks they are supposed to be doing.

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Unlike the typical employee, ADHD employees do not feel the pressure and obligation of needing to complete an 'unstimulating' task, no matter how important it is generally deemed to be.

The reward of pleasing a manager does not match up to the dopamine reward of complete creative absorption. Likewise, their tendency to be impulsive means they don't dwell on the consequences. If a task does not stimulate them, it can easily slip down their list of priorities without them even being aware that this is happening. In an instant, something they had every intention of doing can be wiped out by a more interesting thought or task.

As we know, the consequences of doing this in the workplace can be serious, leading to warnings, demotions and even dismissal. Even for the most intelligent and ambitious people, ADHD can seriously hamper any chance of success.

Negative self image

ADHD can easily be perceived by others as laziness, selfishness, self-absorption and carelessness. Friends, family, colleagues and employers of people with ADHD can become increasingly frustrated by certain behavioural patterns. They might begin to think the person is being purposefully late all the time, that they have no will-power, or perhaps lack the intelligence to keep their belongings in order.

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Research shows that ADHD has no bearing on an individual's intelligence. Many ADHD sufferers are extremely bright, highly creative and often just as frustrated with themselves as others are with them. They can feel as though they are constantly letting themselves down with stupid mistakes. As much as they want to take control, be in order, please others and achieve great things, the way their minds naturally work can make it more of a challenge to do this. As a result it's not unusual for an ADHD sufferer to frequently feel like a failure and a disappointment to those around them and to themselves.

As employers, it is vital that we understand this about our ADHD employees and do what we can to help them reach their potentials in the workplace.

Look at the positives

While many of the behaviours mentioned above can have a detrimental effect on ADHD sufferers, some typical ADHD behaviours can be highly advantageous to employers, including:

  • ability to see the ‘big picture’
  • being creative and inventive
  • ability to focus intensely for long periods of time
  • high levels of energy
  • risk-taking can lead to discoveries
  • being intuitive.

Workplace game-changers for ADHD employees

If you want to harness the talents and abilities of your employee with ADHD, then it's vital that you a) understand his or her condition and b) take actions to help them get on better in the workplace.

In fact, under the Equality Act 2010, an employee with ADHD may be considered to have a disability if their condition has a 'substantial', 'long-term' negative effect on their day-to-day lives. In this case, you are legally obliged to make 'reasonable adjustments' to support them in the workplace.

You never know, a simple tweak could be a complete game-changer for someone with ADHD. Here are some easy-to-implement ideas for improving their working environment:

1. Sit-stand desks 

DeskRite 100 Sit-Stand Platform - Medium - Standing Position with Monitor DeskRite 100

A quick browse on the ADHD feed on Reddit shows that some people with the condition are experimenting with using desks that move up and down to help them focus on computer tasks. Here's what some of them had to say:

  • "I've been using an adjustable standing desk for 5 years now, and I love it for a variety of reasons. It does make it easy to fidget and stay focused."
  • "I know it's been said around here before from time to time, but I finally got a standing desk at work, and its an absolute GAME CHANGER! Now when I'm at my desk, I'm constantly focused. Can't explain it, but when I was sitting, I was more likely to get distracted and drift into the internet or a game on my phone. There's something about standing up that just keeps me focused on my task at hand. If you have a desk job, try a standing desk. Amazing."

Sit-stand desks don't have to be costly. Simply place our DeskRite 100 on top of your existing surface to transform it into a height-adjustable platform.

2. Greater flexibility

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Offices can be busy, stimulating places. For someone with ADHD, the noise, movement, conversations and activities in the office can make it hard to focus. Allowing them the chance to work from home, or better - from a variety of environments, will help them concentrate and prevent them from getting bored.

For advice on moving to a flexible working policy, head over to our consulting pages where you can access free information and contact our experts for a consultation.

3. Provide wireless noise-cancelling headsets

Wireless headsets like the Plantronics CS510 Wireless Monaural Headset & Lifter allow users to get up and walk around while talking on the phone, perfect for a chronic fidgeter. They also allow greater audio clarity so users are less likely to be distracted by external sounds.

4. Create quiet spaces

Consider redesigning your office space with quiet areas for employees to disappear to if they need a change of environment to focus.

booking-com-singapore-office-5-790x425 Break-out area at the Booking.com Singapore offices

Invest in comfortable seating to offer a respite from their everyday office chair.

Download our Invest in Seating brochure for inspiration ›

5. Provide a mentor 

Assign ADHD employees with a mentor who will help them with behind-the-scenes planning such as time management and prioritising of work tasks. Having a neutral person rather than a manager doing this will prevent any feelings of embarrassment that can come with needing extra help in this area.

6. Encourage notes in meetings

Record meetings using a high quality voice recorder like the Olympus DM-770 so your employee can listen back if they missed anything at the time.

With the right support and understanding in place, you can help any employee with ADHD to overcome the challenges they face in their professional lives to unleash their true potential.