7 Reasons to Nurture Your Underperforming ADHD Employee

blonde haired employee with adhd bored at a computer

Last Updated on

April 30th, 2024 10:46 am

If you work alongside someone who can’t concentrate for more than three seconds, never does the cleaning, and can’t stop playing on their phone, then stop and think for a second.

What’s really happening to your employees with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Are your underperforming employees showing poor performance in conducting the most essential functions or is there more going on than you first thought?

Working alongside an employee with ADHD who is underperforming is a challenge for any management team, especially if other mental health conditions such as Bipolar Disorder are in play as they are so often. But finding out your employee has a disability or mental illness makes it harder for many managers to make effective accommodations and adhere to legal requirements and conduct standards that come with having a diverse and inclusive workforce.

So before we delve into our seven reasons, let’s take a closer look at working with employees with ADHD (formerly known as Attention Deficit Disorder) and why there are issues in the first place.

Why is Your Employee Underperforming?

When an employee receives a diagnosis of ADHD, they feel that to many managers it becomes an inconvenience. Traditionally, managers look at the recommendations, carry them out, then treat the staff member like everyone else and leave them to fend for themselves.

But then some employers go too far the other way, completely misunderstand the guidelines and move into “TMI/you’re not my mother/I am capable you know, I just struggle to function sometimes” territory.

See where the issue is here? It’s no surprise that so many employees with ADHD see standards of performance slip over time as poor performance creeps in. Should you treat employees all the same as everyone else, or give special dispensation on the basis of disability?

Well, let’s work it out. Straight from someone who has been there as an employee with ADHD and a manager, here are seven reasons why an ADHD employee that is underperforming may in fact become your biggest success with a little help and support.

Black-haired girl employee with ADHD concentrating on computer

Black-haired employee with ADHD concentrating on computer

1. Their Disability Is an Ability

Well, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder results in an inability to conduct the most basic executive function. This is sometimes known more colloquially as Executive Dysfunction. Suppose your employee can’t finish a task, and their poor time management causes employer hardship, ending up in a poor performance review. Your employee with ADHD doesn’t always see themselves as having a disability in the traditional sense, even though the term disability exists in the law’s eyes.

In the workplace, making reasonable accommodations for neurodivergent employees is a legal requirement. The very definition of disability implies support is essential. Indeed, that’s the case for everyone, no matter what their strengths and weaknesses are, especially in their daily life.

You might find that all your ADHD employee needs are regular check-ins and more positive reinforcement. And in that way, they’re no different from your other employees. But don’t ignore their struggles. Mental health conditions are prevalent in the adult population in the workplace, and adults with ADHD are no different in that respect.

ADHD brains are as complex at the best of times. That said, there’s nothing more demotivating for someone with executive function issues than being made to feel like the negative repercussions define them. It’s one of the main reasons so many employers see poor attitude coming from their cohorts. Let their unique talents and personality define them instead of for a change.

2. Your Employee With ADHD Thinks Outside the Box

ADHD employees succeed in their creativity because they see things from a different perspective. They’re able to connect disparate ideas and are great when it comes to problem-solving during complex projects. When people with ADHD develop a new way of doing something, they often come up with something nobody’s ever thought of before.

That said, many do struggle with distractions and sensory overload. Often the distractions come from being in a very sociable environment and their working memory suffers. Given the chance, many with ADHD would thrive in a private office where they’re able to step out for regular breaks without triggering poor performance.

What potential employer wouldn’t want such an individual employee in their arsenal? Chances are it’s in your job description when you recruit your staff, after all!

thinking stick man having ideas represented by colorful lightbulbs

ADHD brains are some of the most out-of-the-box, innovative thinkers in the workplace and beyond

3. ADHD Employees Succeed in Difficult Times

An ADHD employee underperforming at work often struggles to follow routine schedules. It’s also why, for many with ADHD, pre-agreed accommodations are a perceived waste of time. As a result, poor performance creeps in, which can have a knock-on effect on individual employees, especially if there’s a mutual reliance on getting on with their job duties.

To counteract this, those with ADHD are great in a crisis. In a workplace where impulsive behavior is essential, people with ADHD have become very adaptable. They excel in understanding how to cope with sudden changes in plans or other unexpected tasks that might crop up at any time.

Emergency services are a prime example of this at work. It’s also why people with ADHD are drawn to high-energy workplaces such as the stock exchange. Despite office noises typically distracting staff members with short attention spans, in these environments it acts as white noise and brings huge benefits for employees with ADHD in their ability to hyperfocus and improve job performance as a result.

Major life activities don’t phase the employee with ADHD. Especially when they’ve found the best ADHD medication that suits their needs. It’s spending three hours trying to find a clean sock that they left on top of the lawnmower that bothers them more.

4. They’re Enthusiastic

Because people with ADHD are so enthusiastic, they have boundless energy that makes them exciting to be around. Many ADHD employees succeed because they fit the morning person’s stereotypical mould; their brain switches on straight away or gets tired more quickly because of their hyperactive mind (aka their enthusiasm). Still, people with ADHD always put 100% effort into what they’re doing.

Not only that, you’ll often find they’re some of the most passionate about embracing diversity in the workplace and boosting morale amongst staff. As a by-product of their own in-built rewards systems, they’ll take on the role of employee caregivers and embrace those who need closer supervision.

Where employees with ADHD become demotivated is having to execute marginal functions, those menial jobs that can be outsourced elsewhere, or where their skills aren’t being put to good use. Their enthusiasm and passion comes from the essential functions and tasks that only they are able to undertake. Turning those marginal functions into someone else’s essential job duties will transform your employee’s poor attitude and performance overnight.

That next performance review will be more positive, for sure!

Enthusiastic adhd employees jumping in the hair

An ADHD employee underperforming can transform into an overnight success with the right support

5. They are Good at Multitasking

People with ADHD learn how to deal with unexpected tasks because they have to do that all the time. As a result, when faced with a new challenge that requires them to switch from one activity to another, ADHD employees succeed at tasks they’re interested in. They may not always be great at finishing tasks, but as part of a crisis team, they’re experts at moving on to another task if needed.

If you find your employee is struggling, take a look at employee assistance programs. These are designed to help employees manage their workloads and improve productivity, and in some cases (such as Access to Work in the UK) they are government funded. So it’s well worth a look!

Many also struggle with time management. Which is great when they’re in the zone, but can result in a late arrival to work or clients. So making sure you provide essential functions such as flexible scheduling, day planners and flexible deadlines over a set period of time is a must. 

6. They Make Great Team Players

People with ADHD thrive on teamwork. Because they’re so enthusiastic and like to help others with their tasks, they enjoy being part of a team. And, let’s not forget the Executive Dysfunction in an ADHD employee underperforming means they’ve had to spend their whole life working as a team, even doing everyday tasks.

Their creativity also comes with a big heart and a thirst for fun. Often, with effective accommodation for their needs in the workplace, many individuals with disabilities can boost staff morale and improve mental health conditions and wellbeing across the entire team. 

7. They’re Not Afraid to Try New Things

People with ADHD are willing to take on new and unusual tasks. It is because they like to be the ones doing things that everyone else is doing differently. They love to be involved in projects that are a little out of the ordinary and like to be the first person who has tried it before.

So sometimes, what you might see as poor performance could be your employee trying something new to see whether it improves performance. Of course, there are conduct standards to be upheld in certain industries. But when channelled in a healthy manner, embracing your employee’s initiative might be the best employment decision you made for the future of your business.

Reasonable Accommodations and Flexible Scheduling Transform Employee Performance

The rewards of having an employee with ADHD working for your business are huge. As you can see, people with ADHD make great employees if they’re in an environment that understands their needs. Arguably the very basis of disability is when the environment doesn’t accommodate for someone’s needs, even someone without a medical condition.

Embrace that employee victory.

By focusing on the strengths of underperforming employees by allowing them to thrive, you’ll find your business flourishes. Plus, many of those issues you once had no longer exist, or at worst, are manageable with the proper care. For the greatest leaders, it becomes an opportunity worth seizing, no matter how high the mountain.

If the type of accommodations for employees made support and empower your neurodivergent employee to overcome any obstacles that come their way, they’ll be the most valuable person in your business, and the most rewarding employment decision you make. 

It’s time to rewrite the definition of disability once a for all.

Keep reading for more information on the difficulties for people with ADHD in the workplace and the most common questions people ask!



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Rob Butler
30-Something Millennial with ADHD and suspected Autistic and Dyspraxic. Thought leader behind this website. Big visions of a better future for everyone, but forgets where he is half the time.Loves Rugby, his kids, and anything silly. Hates U2 and Marmite.

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