Why ADHD coaching is a key HR skill in 2023

How to nurture an ADHD-friendly culture and more inclusive workplace

Although ADHD is often traditionally associated with hyperactive young boys, in 2023, the reality shows a very different picture. Think offices instead of classrooms, with exasperated teachers replaced by bewildered HR staff.

With a 400% increase in adults seeking assessments since 2020, our society is experiencing the impact of ADHD only being diagnosable in UK adults since 2008. This could mean hundreds of thousands of adults learning they may have a disability, which could, in turn, trigger a series of complex legal duties for employers they may be unprepared for.

With no instruction manual accompanying an ADHD diagnosis and 73% of leaders having never been offered neurodiversity training, this can be a minefield for everybody. Disability discrimination claims relating to neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD and Autism in the employment tribunal rose by 30% in 2021, showing the cost of employers failing to properly accommodate invisible disabilities.

Disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, requiring employers to take proactive action, but it may not always be clear what this is. Training employees with specific coaching skills in neurodiversity can transform an ‘obligation’ into an opportunity for a more inclusive – and successful – workplace. 

Coaching can not only support employees in overcoming ADHD-related challenges but empower them to harness the unique strengths proven to accompany it, such as resilience, creativity, and the ability to hyper-focus.

However, people with ADHD need coaching tailored to their unique brain wiring. ADHD coaching involves a collaborative process through an ADHD-informed lens, designed to move people forward with actions to achieve tangible results. ADHD is associated with a neurodevelopmental delay in executive functioning skills such as memory and self-awareness, which coaching can be targeted to support.

These are key skills for HR professionals to cultivate truly inclusive workplaces.

Speaking the same language  

Employers can struggle with creating inclusive and accessible policies relating to neurodiversity, especially as ADHD can be highly situational. It may be a ‘disorder’ for one person but a ‘superpower’ for another. People may proudly embrace it as part of their identity whilst also experiencing it as a disability requiring reasonable adjustments. If you’ve met one person with ADHD, you’ve met one person with ADHD.

It can be hard for HR professionals to keep up, and easy to get it wrong. This can result in important policies and conversations being shrouded in legal jargon or simply not happening. ADHD Coaching skills can enable everybody to speak the same language by engaging in active listening and responding appropriately, preventing or swiftly addressing any misunderstandings on a ‘human to human’ level.

Levelling up the playing field

A natural response for employers being told about ADHD is to ask what they can do, but the person often won’t know what adjustments they need. This can cause significant stress in navigating Occupational Health referrals who may not be specialised in ADHD themselves.

Using ADHD Coaching skills, colleagues can instead confidently and curiously collaborate to explore the potential impacts of ADHD at work, identifying challenges and testing supportive strategies to give them the same opportunities as non-disabled colleagues. A shared understanding of why these adjustments are needed helps everybody to work towards the same goals as a team instead of feeling isolated.

Beating stigma

Although ADHD awareness is growing, it may be challenging for individuals to understand the complexities of what this means in practice, resulting in unconscious bias or harmful throwaway comments. Employers have a duty to ensure disabled employees are not discriminated against, regardless of formal medical diagnosis. This is especially important when reviewing performance, where minor misunderstandings are at particular risk of rapid escalation.

In a world where ADHD has become highly topical, with regular features of celebrities being diagnosed in national media, and a lack of viable support via the NHS, employers are increasingly being expected to fill in the gaps. Employers trained in specialist ADHD Coaching can provide effective support and knowledge to prevent conflict, stigma and discrimination from occurring in their workplaces.

Extending support to all employees

Managers may see conversations about ADHD as an ‘HR thing’, resulting in tension for everybody. Trained HR professionals can ensure colleagues feel confident supporting people with ADHD at work, understanding what this means for them in practice. Supporting people with ADHD at work isn’t a box that can be neatly categorised and checked off – it’s an ongoing process.

From having interest-based nervous systems to experiencing Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, people with ADHD may be very different to manage from their neurotypical colleagues. Knowing how to unlock this potential can be highly effective in fostering inclusive cultures of psychological safety for everybody.

Harnessing ADHD

Having the skills to coach a person with ADHD can completely transform the way they work. Although we have to meet the diagnostic criteria of ‘Disorder’, things don’t have to stay that way, especially if we no longer have to expend energy on masking our symptoms in the workplace.

This can see huge value for employers in harnessing the skills of employees who can do a month’s worth of work in a day, think outside the box, and understand how their unique brain-wiring works. 

Ultimately, HR professionals with ADHD Coaching skills can confidently and expertly support everyone to understand, support and harness ADHD at work. At a time when waiting lists for ADHD assessments can be seven years long, these skills have never been more valuable in cultivating inclusive workplaces, regardless of diagnosis.

Leanne Maskell is an ADHD Coach, author of  ADHD: An A to Z and Director of coach training company ADHD Works.

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