How to Manage ADHD Employees, with Examples [Guide]

Ewan Hanbury-Brown  |  05/12/2020

Ewan Hanbury-Brown shares top strategies and examples of workplace accommodations for ADHD that managers can provide to help their ADHD employees succeed.

Ewan Hanbury-Brown was diagnosed with ADHD at 17. Now in his early 20s, Ewan has lived experience working in professions as diverse as retail, exercise physiology and now academia, where he is currently completing a PhD looking at ADHD and exercise. He shares his experiences on what makes for good management for ADHD employees.

What are the four principles of good management of ADHD employees?

1. Think of them as a person first 

Many managers—and people in general—tend to see shortcuts and suppose things based on someone’s ADHD. I found managers that have been most effective in helping me still see me as a person. Their approach is “How can I help?” How do I make how we work together better?

2. Be specific

You need to be specific—as both the employee and the manager—about what concerns or struggles you may have, and what solutions you're looking for. And you need to know what the parameters are; what you can and cannot do. 

If as an employee you really struggle with organising yourself, but you're passing off as relatively organised, then your manager probably won’t know that it's something you find challenging. So you need to raise that point with them. 

One of the best things I've seen is managers asking probing questions and really getting down to the crux of what exactly is it that you're struggling with, and what exactly they can do to help you. Plus it's important to remember that any accommodations made in the workplace have to be reasonable, but they don't have to be particularly big accommodations.

3. Check and follow up

You're not going to get everything right the first time or have everything figured out at that first meeting. It's a constant thing that you have to work on. You need to have an ongoing discussion at a meeting every one or two weeks, maybe every month—whatever works for you. But make it an ongoing habit.

4. Don't Assume

As an employer, don't assume anything about the employee, actually ask them. If you assume things, it might cause confusion and make things harder because the employee might feel uncomfortable, asking for things or telling you something, if you've already assumed something about them. Just gather the relevant information and keep an open mind. 

In many ways it's just an extension of good management practices. That's what I’ve learnt talking to people who've managed ADHD individuals. It's to make sure you actually engage in proper communication with them.

How can managers support ADHD Employees with time management?

1. Break down tasks to provide clarity and prioritisation

If you break down each task for them and say, “Okay, these are the ten tasks that need to be done. This is your priority for now. Do you have any questions?”  

2. Have regular meetings to provide feedback

It's not a chance to lose your temper at them and get angry, but to provide some legitimate accountability and feedback. ADHD employees want to know what they’re doing wrong and why they’re struggling. Having feedback from a third party is really useful.

3. Be solutions-focused 

Instead of focusing on a particular weakness, have a session where you really work on developing relevant skills  or identifying a strategy that will work. That sort of positive approach will be very beneficial.

4. Enlist the support of co-workers 

Consider other employees who could help provide guidance. Are there any particular employees that the ADHD employee gets along well with or understands where they’re coming from? See how those dynamics might work.

Take-Away Messages

1. Practise what you preach

The simple reality is you might need to prioritise that ADHD individual for a while. If you want to help them with their executive function skills, you’ll have to manage your own time and be organised.

It’s about working closely with an employee, not just barking instructions at them. Sometimes all it takes to see improvement in their performance is having you as the manager or a colleague sit down and explain a task.

2. See the ADHD employee as a whole person

You need to consider their talents and their education. They’re individual and individuals vary so look at the whole person. They might have weaknesses, and they might have strengths. And you need to balance both of those and work with them. Because if you don't, then you might miss out on some incredible talent.