Thoughts from a copywriter with ADHD on neurodiversity in the workplace

By Juli West, Seniors Copywriter

If you’ve been keeping up with the flurry of 2024 predictions and goals, you may have seen that the conversation around neurodiversity in the workplace is trending.

I believe now is the perfect time to assess how supportive your workplace environment is for all brains. Not just because it is the new year, but also because we’re experiencing a pivotal shift in this endemic COVID-19 era.

The pandemic, COVID-19 and ADHD

What do the pandemic, COVID-19 and ADHD have in common? Quite a lot actually.

First, about 30% of people who’ve had a COVID-19 infection develop long covid, where many symptoms are related to the brain. These symptoms can mirror ADHD, and in some cases have been successfully treated with ADHD medication.

Second, new stimulant prescriptions spiked substantially from 2020 to 2021, particularly for adult women. While there may be many reasons for this, it’s possible the pandemic served as a catalyst for many to seek help, especially for a condition often underdiagnosed in women.

Third, people already diagnosed with ADHD — who rely on stimulant medication like adderall — couldn’t access medication due to shortages that started in October 2022. Unfortunately, despite the FDA working with key stakeholders in the supply chain, this shortage is still happening. To make matters worse, prices are also rising.

This COVID-ADHD connection is noteworthy due to symptom overlap, diagnostic trends, medication access, and supply chain issues. Plus, this connection has a huge implication for the workplace.

Why this link matters when it comes to work

Research shows untreated ADHD can result in higher costs due to sick leave, lower productivity, and worse job prospects. With the COVID-ADHD connection, the people most likely to be affected are a large portion of the workforce. For long COVID, the highest prevalence is seen in people ages 35 – 44 years in the US. For ADHD, the group with the highest increases in ADHD diagnoses are women in their 20s and 30s.

People with ADHD are 60% are more likely to be fired and 3x more likely to quit impulsively. These barriers and outcomes are not necessarily because of ADHD in and of itself. They can also be due to the functional context that comes with being neurodivergent in a neurotypical work culture.

Consider how people impacted may be dealing with their new normal. This could include:

  • Learning how to perform to expectations while coping with brain fog and/​or executive dysfunction

  • Realizing things that worked before, like stimulant medications, may not be accessible

  • Deciding if it is safe to disclose and request accommodations at work

The workplace environment has the potential to help or hinder employees and outcomes when it comes to neurodivergence. I happen to be one of the adult women diagnosed with ADHD during the pandemic, and am privileged both to be able to access the medication I need and have a supportive, neurodiversity-affirming work environment.

Here are a few considerations to assess your workplace in order to better support employees with ADHD or ADHD-like symptoms.

Understand that return to office is not return to normal”

Evidence suggests that working from home (WFH) compared to working full time on site may be associated with lower depressive symptoms in undiagnosed workers with ADHD symptoms. I firmly believe WFH helped me to recognize what aspects of work culture didn’t suit me — and redefine what does. Unlike previous jobs in-office, where I had to spend extra energy masking, at home, I could work in a way that works for me and not worry about how that work is being perceived.

Overwhelmingly, employees want flexible work options — regardless of neurotype. In a survey of over 19,000 workers across 34 countries with work from home (WFH) experience during the pandemic, over 80% wanted to have at least one paid WFH day per week.

I am not saying WFH is better, nor does it mean you have to change return to office plans. To me, this evidence suggests that there’s currently a one size fits all” work environment, where employees — especially neurodivergent employees — are not getting their needs met in order to produce their best work. Whether your employees are working from home or in the office, it is important to consider how to set them up for success.

Redefine professionalism

There has historically been a right way” to work, with benchmarks to hit and both written and unwritten rules to follow — from the way an employee behaves to how they dress. Yet some things that may initially seem unprofessional may in fact be a very valid expression of neurodivergence.

Before most remote client meetings, I do a handstand. It may seem off the wall (literally), but it helps me get the sensory input I need to prepare for a big presentation. As a result, I show up calmer and able to focus. Something else that I do is fidget. A lot. It helps me focus and process information in real time. But for others, it can be seen as distracting or rude. Frequent micro-breaks are also something that help me tackle projects at hand more efficiently.

It’s not surprising to me that 43% of employees spend more than 10 hours a week on productivity theater tasks: looking like they are working instead of actually doing work. What would happen if we broadened our view of what a professional could look like?

As an ADHDer, I am in many ways an unprofessional” professional. But it’s because of the acceptance and ability to accommodate my needs at work in these ways that I am able not only to avoid burnout, but also perform at my highest level.

Make open communication a priority

In a survey of 500 employees and 500 managers, 93% of managers reported that they would have concerns about an employee who disclosed their diagnosis, such as the ability to handle complex assignments. On the flip side, 93% of employees said that having a supervisor who knows how to support and work with them is more valuable than any other office benefit or perk.

Communicating openly and honestly in order to meet individual needs can have an outsized effect on the way your teams work. At one company, shifting away from oral instructions and towards written checklists took an employee with ADHD on the verge of getting fired to a promotion.

In my own experience, having a manager who has been open to dialogue around neurodivergence without judgment has allowed me to feel comfortable asking for support and ultimately find solutions that benefited us both. We now often work together on camera (known as body doubling) in timed work sprints using the Pomodoro technique because it boosts both of our productivity as copywriters.

Embracing and celebrating neurodiversity

Our Audacity Health CEO Jill Collins says, There is a real opportunity for improvement and inclusion when it comes to ADHD and the workplace — and with that, the potential for better outcomes all around.”

As a neurodivergent employee with ADHD, I’m excited these conversations around neurodiversity are becoming more mainstream, because I’ve experienced the difference that acceptance can make.

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