9 Ways to Support Your Coworkers With ADHD

Sam Dylan Finch | May 24, 2021

Respect the headphones, please.

I remember the first time a coworker asked how they could support me.

While I’d gotten mixed responses when I disclosed having ADHD, this response was refreshingly different. No awkward pauses or strange, prying questions. Just a simple, “How can I help?” It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about working with my ADHD. I’ve been lucky to work in environments where the team around me was committed to my success. I hope that, by sharing what was supportive for me, it’ll inspire others to show up, too.

Here are nine ways you can support a coworker with ADHD.

1. Be Mindful of Interruptions

Having protected, uninterrupted time to work is crucial for people with ADHD. While some people can rebound from distractions, people with ADHD can find them especially challenging. When chatting with our community on Twitter, interruptions were one of the big complaints ADHDers had around coworking.

What can you do instead?

  • Respect the presence of headphones

  • Minimize distracting IMs and other notifications during the workday

  • Give advance notice for meetings/calls

2. Redefine ‘Respect’

Traditional ideas around what “respect” means can actually be harmful for people who aren’t neurotypical. For example, while not making eye contact, showing up late, fidgeting, interrupting, or “spacing out” could be seen as disrespectful, these are all very valid struggles for people who are neurodivergent.

What can you do instead?

  • Be flexible around tardiness and interruptions

  • Don’t draw attention to fidget toys or stimming

  • Understand that eye contact and other social cues may be missed

3. Celebrate Successes

People with ADHD are often perfectionists and can have difficulty taking criticism. When mistakes are made, it’s most helpful to get curious about them. Ask: “Where did you get stuck on this?” “What do you think we should do differently?”

It can also be immensely helpful to celebrate successes as they arise. Positive feedback is a great source of motivation for people with ADHD, and it can help reinforce what’s working.

What can you do instead?

  • Recognize that not everyone works well under pressure

  • Keep perspective around mistakes

  • Don’t forget to acknowledge the wins!

4. Keep Your Expectations Clear Clarity is key to workplace success for ADHDers. When we find ourselves procrastinating or struggling to complete a task, it’s usually because we lack clarity on how to move forward. This can be prevented by creating SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based), and having consistent deadlines and checkpoints to keep us on track.

What can you do instead?

  • Set clear, achievable goals and deadlines wherever possible

  • Utilize check-ins to address obstacles as they arise

  • Work together to identify top priorities

5. Concise Communication Helps

If someone has to search for the key takeaways in your communication, you could benefit from being more concise. After every conversation, your coworker should be able to identify what the most urgent tasks are, the next steps, and a deadline by which those steps need to be completed. If it’s in writing, that’s even better!

What can you do instead?

  • Bullet points are your friend!

  • Make sure all action items are in writing

  • Save the “urgent” label for truly urgent tasks

6. Consider Communication Differences

Not everyone enjoys a video call. In fact, for neurodivergent people, video calls can be a source of real angst. Being flexible on communication methods can be helpful. You may find, for example, that your coworker needs communication to happen largely in writing for comprehension, or would prefer to turn the video function off so that they can move around freely without distracting others.

It’s also crucial to set agendas for meetings, so that we can set expectations and have adequate time to prepare. For some of us, that prep time is the difference between being focused during a meeting and completely off-track.

What can you do instead?

  • Set agendas, however brief, in advance of meetings

  • Be open to alternative communication methods

  • Loosen expectations around behavior on camera (or allow cameras off)

7. Check In Before Switching Systems or Tools

I can remember the day when my old job switched to Outlook as their email client. Email was a huge part of my job, and without my carefully curated filters and folders, I was completely thrown. I quickly fell behind in my work, and it took months before I could finesse that system to make it work for me.

What may seem like a minor change or exciting new tool could actually deeply impact your colleagues. Before switching systems or tools, a collaborative discussion — including plans for an onboarding period — can help minimize the impact.

What can you do instead?

  • Invite feedback on existing systems/tools

  • Don’t abruptly change systems/tools without adequate preparation

8. Be Proactive In Talking About Mental Health

People with ADHD thrive in environments where they can talk openly about the challenges they face. Our best allies are coworkers who are willing to create safe spaces for us to do so. That environment can be created if everyone takes steps to normalize discussions around mental health in the workplace.

Proactively discussing mental health, and emphasizing its importance to the team, can help create a workplace that feels accepting and open.

What can you do instead?

  • Create safe spaces to openly discuss mental health

  • Encourage taking mental health days

  • Speak up when misinformed comments are made

9. Ask Us What We Need

More often than not, people with ADHD are already aware of the accommodations that would be most helpful for them. All you need to do is ask! Listening when we name our setbacks and challenges, and being open and flexible about how to solve them, can be a powerful moment of solidarity.

Asking “how can I help?” not only lets us know you care, but it shifts the culture of the entire workplace.

Creating the safety needed to have a real conversation is one big step forward in normalizing neurodiversity in the workplace. And that doesn’t just benefit us — it creates a culture of transparency and vulnerability that will change your workplace for the better.

Looking for support? Inflow, an ADHD management app, is here to help. Our science-backed program helps people with ADHD learn to thrive. Learn more about how Inflow can help you reach your potential by downloading our app on the App Store or on Google Play!

Sam Dylan Finch is the Content & Community Lead at Inflow. You can find him on social media @SamDylanFinch.