If there is anyone to ask about ADHD, it’s Amanda – who’s had a very unusual and unique experience straddling health, education, and the workplace.
Professor Kirby is a qualified GP who worked in adult psychiatry and stress management but changed her career when her second child was diagnosed with dyspraxia at three years of age, more than 25 years ago. Amanda also has a Ph.D. relating to emerging adulthood and neurodiversity and has initiated and run a masters in SEN programmes.
Amanda is now the Chair of the ADHD Foundation and works closely with many other charities working in this area. In addition, Amanda is the CEO of Do-IT Profiler, a ‘tech for good’ company that provides neurodiversity screening and web-based support tools for schools and for adults in education and employment.
Q: What are the challenges that people with ADHD face in the workplace?
A: The first thing is other people. So often it's other people's misunderstanding of what helps you to focus and misconceptions that somebody with ADHD can't focus.
The name is a problem – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder sort of implies that you have a deficit of attention. The reality is you can hyper focus on the things that you're interested in, but sometimes you find it difficult to switch focus.
So, in a workplace like an office environment, other people having a chat next to you by the water cooler about their weekend will be really interesting and maybe distracting. The fact that other noises around where, perhaps, you need to have quiet to be able to work, might be distracting.
Being given information in a way that you don't understand what the timelines are and when you need to deliver means that sometimes your intention is good, but you don't deliver on time.
Other people's actions and interpretation and biases about you can sometimes cause you the greatest challenges: communication, workplace/home balance and things like planning, time management and organisation.
Q: How can managers support their employees if they are struggling?
A: Well, the first thing is don't worry about the label, right? Everybody's different. Every job you're in is different.
Think about the individual, because about 40-45% of people with ADHD will have dyspraxia. A number of people with ADHD will have autism, so very few people are just one thing. As a manager: ask about the person, not about the label. And don't assume that when somebody says they've got X, it means Y. So, don't be biased and don’t assume knowledge.
Have regular check-ins with your team to check they know what they're doing and when they need to do it and that they can come to you and ask. If they've got training needs, discuss what they are. Those are things that every manager can do.
Q: And what can business leaders do?
A: Business leaders can support the general workforce by recognising that neurodiversity is the different ways we all think, process, communicate, act, and move differently. And that if we want diverse thinkers and diverse ideas and we want to attract and retain talent, that's going to be good for business. So, business leaders need to see this as an important number-one imperative for optimising talent and maximising productivity.
They need to show this is worth it and then they need to bake it into their processes, policies and practices, right the way through the employment life cycle to ensure that they're doing inclusive practice, not in a one-by-one piecemeal way, but an anticipatory way to say we have neurodiverse teams, some of them will be divergent in terms of diverging away to different ways of doing things. We accept that, we embrace it, and we encourage people to work in our work settings.
Q: What are some of the positives of hiring people with ADHD specifically?
A: ADHDers are good at all different things and in different aspects of society, and we see people who are entrepreneurs, we see people who are good at initiating. People are good at working across teams and come up with novel solutions where they can take elements from different areas and find a new way of seeing. They can be very project oriented. So, there are a lot of ways in which they can add value to any team in any business.
Q: What would be the perfect working environment for someone with ADHD?
A: Well, the perfect work environment for someone with ADHD will vary from one person to the next. There is no perfect - otherwise we're doing it by label and not by person. If I was an ADHD firefighter, or an ADHD office worker, or an ADHD chef, I would be working in entirely different environments. I would need to understand my interests, my motivations and who I am overall. ADHD is only one part of someone; they should not be defined by it.
The perfect environment is the one that fits that individual – so ask that person. Then understand whether they need adaptations to tasks or alterations to their environment. Some of those will be possible, but if you’re a chef working in a kitchen, you can't say “I can't work in the kitchen”. Ultimately, you'd have to change job. There are always going to be limitations to the adjustments that can be made.
Q: What adjustments do you think could be made within the recruitment process?
A: Well, one key thing you can do is tell people what's going to go on. You know, sometimes it's a bit of a mystery. You can't ask for an adjustment if you don't know what's going to happen. So, make the employment life cycle very obvious.
Ensure that when you're doing your application forms, the job description describes the job. (Useful, right?) It needs to tell you about the organisation, without the long list of desirables as well as essentials, because someone could be put off. People who don't have everything, who are overly honest, will say: “I haven't got it all. I'm not going to apply.”
You don't know who doesn't apply for your jobs, so really make sure that it's an inclusive process from start to finish. Employers should be offering help and assisting at all stages of the hiring process, saying: “We want to support you, whoever you are, not only those people who've got a label. We want to support you, if you need some help and support, so you can showcase your skills. Here's what we're doing now. Let us know if you need some help and support,” so showcasing that throughout.
That might mean giving out the questions before the interview so that someone can prepare and not be so anxious that they can't even respond. You ensure that if you're doing a virtual interview, you tell everyone what you're using, Teams or Zoom or Webex, so they're not in a panic downloading a new piece of software and over-focusing on that, rather than thinking and being ready and collected to do their best at the interview.
Q: Why is it important that businesses do this?
A: I think the biggest question is why would we want to exclude 20% of society who contribute to every workplace? As a boss or recruiter, imagine you’re a parent of a child with ADHD and you want to help make the best of your child's opportunities in a job. Or you know someone who is amazing at what they do, but they’re not getting opportunities. Make it personal and then you start to say, “Yes, absolutely. This is something for everybody. It's not something for certain people.”
To ensure your recruitment process is inclusive, and your employees feel they belong at work, contact a Reed specialist recruiter today.