Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) accommodations at work could include strategies such as breaking down tasks into smaller steps, using short deadlines, and having regular check-ins.
Workplace accommodations can help people thrive in their job. However, just like all people, people with ADHD are unique and have differing needs. What helps one person may not help another.
Employers can work with their employees, and vice versa, to choose the workplace accommodations that will work for them.
In this article, we examine accommodations that may help people with ADHD at work. We discuss the steps in approaching an employer about work accommodations and how employers can support people with ADHD.
Yes, people with ADHD are entitled to workplace accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a federal civil rights law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination.
Accommodations are adjustments to a workplace that enable people with ADHD to perform tasks to the same extent as people without ADHD.
Even if a person with ADHD does not consider themselves to have a disability, the ADA still enables them to get workplace accommodations.
The ADA entitles people to “reasonable” accommodations, which means the adjustments must not cause “undue hardship” for the employer.
The definition of “reasonable accommodations” is somewhat subjective, but according to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, they include modifications to a job, working environment, or hiring procedure.
For example, if a person works in a small, open-plan office, it may not be immediately possible to give them a distraction-free office of their own. This could be expensive or impractical, making it unreasonable.
But that same workplace could provide screens, noise-canceling headphones, or block out “quiet time” in the person’s calendar so they have fewer distractions. In this scenario, these would be reasonable adjustments.
Below are some accommodations employers could make to help people with ADHD in different ways, depending on their needs.
Distractibility is a common occurrence in ADHD. A person may struggle to block out sound or other sensory stimulation, particularly if they work somewhere noisy.
Some accommodations an employer may provide to help focus include:
- giving the person a quiet place to work
- providing earbuds or noise-canceling headphones
- allowing them to work different hours to avoid the busiest times
- minimizing any unnecessary visual clutter
- allowing the person to work in short bursts or “sprints,” then take breaks
- giving them one task or project at a time
- arranging a set time of the day for them to answer calls or emails
- scheduling blocks of uninterrupted time for focused work, ideally at a time of day when they work best
- avoiding long meetings
While overstimulation in the form of distractions can be unhelpful for people with ADHD, understimulation or boredom can be just as challenging.
The right level of stimulation may help with focus. Some accommodations to consider include:
- allowing the person to have an object they can play with discreetly, such as a stress ball, during work
- assigning tasks that are not too easy but not too hard
- assigning them a willing “work buddy” who does the same job, known as body doubling
- assigning tasks that allow the person to get up and move around
- switching up tasks so a person does not get bored
- delegating monotonous or easy tasks to others, when possible
Time management and memory
Some people with ADHD also experience difficulties with working memory, or short-term memory, which can make it easier to forget things.
Employers can help with this by:
- having regular check-ins to discuss the week ahead
- assigning one task at a time
- providing written summaries of the steps or instructions for a task
- using planning or scheduling software that provides a clear overview of tasks for the week
- recording all meetings and presentations, and making the recordings easy to access
- setting up automatic reminders 5 minutes before meetings and appointments
- overestimating how long meetings or tasks will take
- providing visual checklists, charts, or posters displaying key information
- providing a large computer monitor, or multiple monitors, so the person can have all the information they need in front of them
Large-scale, multistep projects can be overwhelming for people with ADHD. People may feel eager to get going but experience frustration when the project is long lasting or complex.
It may help to:
- break down large projects into smaller chunks, with due dates for each phase
- use shorter deadlines instead of one big deadline to reduce procrastination
- provide an easy-to-read overview of the steps involved in a project
- in group projects, partner the person with people who have skills they do not, and vice versa
It may feel daunting to ask for workplace accommodations. However, workplaces with over 15 employees are legally obliged to provide them, wherever possible.
Workplace accommodations are a legal right for people with ADHD, and one that could make a substantial difference to daily life.
To begin the process, a person may need to schedule a meeting with a manager or their employer to explain that they need workplace accommodations. It may help to have some ideas for these accommodations ready to give the employer an idea of what would be helpful.
An employer may ask an employee to complete a form or file a written request. They may also request documentation of a disability from a healthcare professional.
During this process, it is important to keep a record of the request or application just in case a person needs it later.
If the employer refuses to allow workplace accommodations, this is discrimination and may be illegal.
People may benefit from talking with a lawyer if this occurs. They can also file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the discrimination.
Accommodations are just one aspect of creating an inclusive workplace. Other things that employers can do to support employees with ADHD include:
- learning about ADHD and its effects
- learning about the positive aspects of ADHD, such as creative problem-solving
- encouraging and valuing neurodiversity in the workplace
- structuring work in a way that makes use of peoples’ strengths
- being tactful when discussing an employee’s ADHD
- listening to employees with ADHD when they describe what they need
- allowing them to complete tasks in a way that suits them, even if this looks different from how others do it
- assigning a realistic workload with adequate time to complete tasks
ADHD accommodations at work may include strategies such as using shorter deadlines, reducing distractions, or switching up tasks to prevent boredom. These accommodations may help a person concentrate, manage their time, and gain more fulfillment from their career.
Everyone with ADHD is different, so it may take some trial and error to figure out which accommodations are most helpful to them. It can help to keep working with a supervisor to tailor the accommodations to each individual.
Workplaces with more than 15 employees are legally required to provide accommodations under the ADA. If a person faces discrimination, they can speak with a lawyer or file a report with the EEOC.