I once worked with a talented teammate who had some persistent work-related issues. Now, we’re best of friends, but at the time, I didn’t know what to make of his behavior at work. All I saw was someone who could hardly stay at his desk, was quite impulsive, and was usually late on deliverables. During long meetings, he would often try to engage in side conversations. It wasn’t until he revealed his mental disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), that I understood him better and knew how to support him.
Many employees with ADHD find their careers sabotaged by something they have no control over. Research has shown that adults with ADHD are more likely to be reprimanded or terminated from their jobs for perceived “behavior problems.” Usually, they experience “higher rates of unemployment and frequent job changes, and often are overlooked for higher-paying positions.”
Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought it would be a great time to talk about ADHD in the workplace. To discuss this topic even further, I’m featuring an amazing HR professional from my network, Julie Turney.
Julie is a People Experience professional with over 15 years in the HR profession. Among many great things she’s known for, Julie is the Founder and CEO of HR@Heart Consulting Inc., a boutique coaching firm with a global client base, providing safe spaces for HR professionals to lean in, grow and thrive. A company birthed out of her second bout of HR burnout, Julie decided to heal and help others in her profession do the same.
Recently, I watched an episode of Kamara Toffolo’s YouTube show featuring Julie, where they talked about neurodiversity in job searching. In this episode, Julie shared her story about being diagnosed with ADHD and how it has impacted her. I found it insightful and thought she’d be the best person to address this topic for Mental Health Awareness Month. So I reached out to Julie, we struck a great conversation over Zoom, and then planned for this Q&A, which I’m sharing below:
- How would you describe ADHD? Also, what’s the relationship between ADHD and mental illness?
Someone with ADHD is easily distracted, struggles to focus, can be somewhat impulsive, and is always on the move. In terms of mental illness, I’ll say that it is an extensive term. Mental illness refers to any condition that affects a person’s behavior, mood, or thinking, covering everything from mild anxiety to severe depression or bipolar disorder. It also includes ADHD (also known as attention deficit disorder – ADD). The three main symptoms of ADHD are hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. All of these impact behavior, mood, and thinking, and that’s why ADHD meets the criteria for mental illness.
- What’s your story about living with ADHD?
I was diagnosed with hyperactivity at the age of five. As a child growing up in the ’80s, people did not label things like this the way they are today, so they perceived me as an unfocused child. As I grew up, my mum found ways to help me cope with my illness, and for that, I will always be grateful to her.
- Are there ways that having ADHD has impacted your career?
I am an Introvert with ADHD, so there have been times when my ADHD has impacted my career and relationships. I struggled with job hunting at first, and my biggest problem was maintaining eye contact with people. During interviews, I would glance at the panel but not as much as I should.
On the job, I struggled with distractions. As an HR professional, people come to you all the time to talk about something. I would lose concentration on what I was working on because of the distractions. It would take me a while to regain my focus once they had left, and so many times, I would work very late to complete the tasks I planned for the day. I also had trouble focusing on what people were saying if they went on for more than a minute or two.
- What are some of the biggest challenges for people with ADHD in the workplace?
Some of the biggest challenges include distractions, impulsivity, hyperactivity, poor memory, boredom-blockouts, poor time management, and procrastination. There’s also difficulty with long-term projects, paperwork, and interpersonal skills.
- How can we identify these challenges in ourselves or our colleagues?
If you have a colleague who does not submit work on time, struggles to stay focused, and looks for distractions, this tells you that they are bored and cannot do the same thing all day long. Chances are they may have ADHD. You can support them by providing an opportunity for them to confirm their illness and then get them the help they need to cope with their ailment.
- What are some misconceptions about people with ADHD in the workplace?
I have read so many articles where people describe individuals with ADHD as tardy, not committed, lacking attention to detail, and branded as “difficult employees.”
- How would you like to correct those misconceptions?
Studies show that there are many advantages to hiring talent with ADHD. We are actually very creative and detail-oriented when placed in the right situation or job. We are committed to whatever is feeding our passion and where we have a sense of belonging. Employees with ADHD can be most productive with organizations that provide the right circumstances for us to thrive.
- Do you think it’s advisable to disclose mental disorders to employers?
Yes, I do believe there are advantages to disclosing your mental disorder. I understand that disclosing your mental disorder can create biases. But, it is freeing and allows an employer to understand your situation and provide the right working environment for you to thrive.
- Based on your experience, what are common sources of distraction at work for people with ADHD, and what tips would you give for managing those distractions?
Common distractions could be as simple as workplace banter, people moving around in an open space—a reason why I believe that working in an open-concept office does not work for everyone—and lack of challenging tasks, leading to boredom.
To manage those distractions and stay focused, you can listen to music while you work, record meetings instead of taking notes, take regular breaks, and get a coach to help you find coping mechanisms.
- Since managing distractions at work can be quite challenging, are there any accommodations that people can request from their managers?
Yes, I work best with music, so you can ask for white noise headphones or request to work in a space with the least amount of distractions or noise. It would help if you also asked for specific days to work from home to get more work done. I get a lot done when I’m working from home.
- How can HR professionals make the workplace more inclusive for people with ADHD?
First, we need to become more aware of mental illness in the workplace, so I recommend that HR professionals take mental health first aid training courses. These courses, which are available online, offer lots of suggestions for supporting employees with ADHD. Second, you need to educate others once you have educated yourself and call out non-inclusive behaviors. Also, hire neurodiverse talent and provide the environment for them to thrive.
- Do you have a closing statement you would like to share?
In closing, I’ll state that ADHD does not define me. I have learned numerous ways to cope with my mental illness, such as practicing mindfulness, coloring, listening to ambient tunes to keep me focused and on track, writing notes, and recording messages to myself. I also forgive myself when I fall off track because I recognize that I am a human being with faults. So, don’t be so hard on yourself. You are awesome, and ADHD is only a part of who you are. With the right coping mechanisms, you can succeed at work.
At this point, I’ll say THANK YOU to Julie Turney for lending her voice toward mental health awareness and educating us about ADHD. 💚
P.S. Hey there! Did you find this blog post helpful? If you did, please consider sharing it on your social media so that others can benefit from it too. It would mean a lot to me! 😊
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