Managing a Person With ADHD

Working With Energetic, Easily Distracted People

Managing a Person With ADHD - Working With Energetic, Easily Distracted People

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People with ADHD can bring tremendous energy to your team.

Have you ever felt frustrated by a team member who was smart and hardworking, but disorganized and easily distracted? You might have assumed they were lazy, had a poor attitude, or just didn't care. But it's also possible that they had ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

In this article, we explain what ADHD is, and we suggest strategies to help you manage someone with ADHD, so they can be a successful and productive member of your team. We also explore the challenges it can present for you and your team, and we highlight some of the benefits that can come with ADHD, such as the energy and creativity.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD covers a range of behavioral symptoms that includes inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Most people with ADHD have a combination of these symptoms.

Some people have a milder version, called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which affects their ability to concentrate, but they do not experience hyperactivity or impulsiveness. ADD can go unnoticed because the symptoms can be less obvious than those of ADHD. The American Psychiatric Association uses the term ADHD whether a person experiences hyperactivity or not. [1]

ADHD usually appears in childhood, but may not be diagnosed until adulthood. It appears equally in men and women, although it is more commonly diagnosed in boys.

According to ADHD expert Dr Edward Hallowell, author of the 2005 book, "Delivered From Distraction," and founder of the Hallowell Centers, the criteria for adult ADHD include:

  • Physical or cognitive restlessness and mood instability.
  • A frequent search for high stimulation, and a low tolerance of boredom and frustration.
  • Trouble with getting organized, planning, managing time and money, and completing tasks.
  • A tendency to worry needlessly and endlessly.
  • A tendency toward addictive behavior, impulsive decision making, and impulsive behavior.
  • Chronic procrastination and inconsistent mental focus, at times super-focused, at other times totally distracted.
  • Chronic problems with self-esteem.
  • Unexplained underachievement, and not fulfilling his potential.
  • A lack of awareness of her behavior, or how it impacts people around her.
  • Family history of ADHD or other impulse control or mood disorders. [2]

Note 1:

Employees with ADHD are often protected by law from discrimination. It's important to be familiar with the appropriate legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, in the U.S., and the Equality Act 2010, in the U.K. This will ensure that you're treating your team members fairly, and in accordance with the law in your particular region, state or country. Talk to your HR department if you have any questions or concerns about managing someone with ADHD.

Note 2:

Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to ADHD, so your team member may not disclose their condition to you – and they're not obliged to. If you manage someone who demonstrates any of these behaviors, it's important that you do not attempt to diagnose them yourself, but you can make suggestions to help them, as you would any other member of your team.

Managing a Team Member With ADHD

The key to managing a team member with ADHD successfully is to support them as they overcome their own challenges, but also to get the best from them for your team and organization.

If a team member tells you that they have ADHD and asks for some extra support, arrange a time to talk to them to find out what they'd find helpful. Then, talk to your HR department to make sure that you comply with relevant disability legislation.


It's important to keep in mind that neurodiversity can be a benefit to teams and organizations – many companies are now seeking to improve their neurodiversity. [3]

Differences in brain function shouldn't be considered a "problem," it's normal and to be expected in a healthy, high-functioning team.

Most ADHD accommodations are simple, inexpensive and beneficial to everyone in your team. Here are some strategies you can use to tackle some key areas where people with ADHD can struggle in the workplace, according to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN): [4]

Adapting your approach: talk to your team member and discover what style of learning or training works best for them, much as you would with anyone else on your team. Someone with ADHD may have trouble remembering tasks or activities, so you can help by providing them with written instructions and notes as reminders, allowing them extra training time for new activities, and offering them refresher training.

Making workplace adjustments: providing a quiet, or even a private, workspace can reduce disruption to your team and benefit the individual with ADHD. They may find it hard to concentrate and can be easily distracted by office noise and activity. You can provide them with noise-canceling headphones or move them to a quieter part of the office.

Your team member may exhibit signs of hyperactivity or impulsive behavior, such as tapping, humming and fidgeting, which could disturb colleagues and perhaps affect their performance. Scheduling regular breaks can create an outlet for physical activity. Providing them with a private workspace can reduce the disruption to other team members.

Gaining the support of colleagues: some of the behaviors of someone with ADHD, and some of the measures needed to accommodate them, could impact the rest of your team. But there are steps you can take to build good working relationships among your team members.

You can provide training for them, so they get a better understanding of the disorder. Appointing a mentor or "buddy" can help a team member with ADHD to cope with any social or communication difficulties, and help them to feel part of the team. For example, they may not fully understand body language or innuendo, so a mentor can help them understand social cues.

Focusing on strengths: A team member with ADHD can be creative and energetic, but may have difficulty with prioritization and managing their time. So, you can help them to concentrate on what they're good at by helping them to be more organized. A simple timer can give them a clear idea of when they need to complete a task. Providing a written list of assignments and deadlines may be useful.

Using time management tools can also help, as it breaks tasks up into manageable chunks. And our article, The 5S System, has tips for improving office organization.

Giving feedback and setting boundaries: You may be willing and committed to helping a team member with ADHD as much as you can, but that does not mean "bending over backward" to such an extent that you cannot get your own job done.

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So, be sure to provide clear instructions about deadlines and the standard of work you expect, and offer specific feedback on areas where they can improve. It's also important to be clear about your organization's conduct policy, and review it in a way that helps them understand what standards of behavior are expected.


While a manager should show compassion and understanding, and provide a supportive environment, your team member must also be made aware of what is acceptable behavior. You should contact your HR department if you need help and advice to do this.

And consult HR before instigating any disciplinary procedures against anyone whose behavior may be linked to ADHD, to ensure you do not unwittingly fall foul of any anti-discrimination legislation.

The Benefits of Managing a Team Member With ADHD

People with ADHD can bring energy, enthusiasm and new perspectives to your team. For example, when they are engaged in work that is interesting to them, their energy can provide them with an ability to "hyperfocus." While people with ADHD may find it hard to concentrate on some activities, they can also focus intently on tasks or subjects that interest them.

They are often bright, energetic and creative people who have found innovative ways to overcome a lifetime of challenges. This also means that they are aware that people are different and need different things to succeed. Consequently, they can be very compassionate and generous individuals.

Key Points

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioral symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness, or a combination of these. ADHD usually appears in childhood, but some people may not be diagnosed until they are adults.

People with this condition often struggle with time management, organization, memory, concentration, and hyperactivity. Their creativity, energy and ability to hyperfocus on particular tasks, however, can make them valuable members of a team.

You can help a team member with ADHD succeed with a few simple accommodations in the workplace, and by thinking about your approach as a manager. For example, you could find a quiet or private area for them to work in, and talk to them to find out what kind of learning or training works best for them.

If you have any concerns about their behaviors or standards of work, talk to your HR department.

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Comments (19)
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi SarahBartlett,

    Welcome to the Club. As one of the Mind Tools team, I’m here to help you here and in the forums, and to get the very most from the club.

    Your feedback on how your colleague reacted to your disclosure was sadly typical. If you feel you would like to, why not start a thread in the Forums and open up a discussion with other Club members? We'd love to hear your voice on the topic.
  • Over a month ago SarahBartlett wrote
    Thank you for posting this, I have ADHD and work in HR. This has given me a few ideas on how to manage my time and prioritization. I am shocked at the stigma that is still attached to it. I am very open about my ADHD and a colleague said to me just the other day "I am shocked you are ADHD I thought that was only naughty kids had it and grew out of it in their teens". I think more understanding is needed in the workplace.
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi mistyh78616,

    Thank you for sharing with us, and for the positive feedback.
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