Skip to main content
Blue @ Work

Understanding ADHD and your employees

It's becoming more common in adults.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) used to be commonly considered a childhood illness Opens in a new window. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, affecting just under 10 percent of children External Site in the United States.

Now, however, it is recognized as a condition External Site that lasts well into adulthood, regardless of whether it was diagnosed in childhood. And, over the last decade, there has been an uptick of ADHD diagnoses in adults External Site — particularly in millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996. According to an update from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association External Site (BCBSA) on millennial health External Site, ADHD showed the second-highest increase in prevalence among millennials from 2014 to 2018 at 39 percent, only behind major depression.

BCBSA data shows that ADHD affects 6.9 percent of millennials, a population that is predicted to become 75 percent of the workforce in just four years. As of 2020, millennials already make up 50 percent of the workforce, so it’s likely that you have at least one employee struggling with this behavioral health condition — even if they don’t realize it.

Symptoms of adult ADHD

Despite its increasing prevalence, ADHD is challenging to diagnose — especially in adults — because there is no lab test to diagnose the condition. In addition, the diagnostic criteria for the condition were developed for children, and adults with ADHD also often have other behavioral conditions External Site like depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder that may mask or mimic symptoms associated with hyperactivity. Many adults don’t even realize they have the condition.

There are three different types of ADHD External Site: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, or combined.

Inattentive type symptoms can include:

  • Not paying close attention to details
  • Making careless mistakes at work
  • Difficulty staying focused on tasks or activities like conversations or long reading
  • Appears to not listen when spoken to
  • Not following through on instructions
  • Quickly losing focus on tasks after starting them
  • Problems with time management and organization
  • Extremely forgetful when it comes to daily tasks like chores and errands (may forget to pay bills or keep appointments)
  • Often loses crucial daily items like keys, wallet, and cell phone

Hyperactive type symptoms can include:

  • Excessive fidgeting or inability to stay seated
  • Always appearing “on the go”
  • Talking too much (may finish others’ sentences or blurt out answers to questions before they have been finished)
  • Difficulty waiting for things
  • Interrupts and intrudes frequently, such as cutting into conversations or activities

To be diagnosed with one of the types of ADHD, symptoms must occur frequently over the past six months and cause routine disruption to daily life. Once diagnosed, adults with ADHD can be treated with medication, therapy, or a combination of both External Site. Therapy usually helps with developing behavior management strategies like ways to minimize distractions and increase structure and organization.

How ADHD impacts your workplace

As an employer, you value excellent focus, attention to detail, speed, organization, and collaboration in your employees — something that ADHD can make extremely difficult for some, depending on their type of ADHD and symptom severity.

If ADHD symptoms are not appropriately managed or treated, it can lead to challenges in a team-based environment. Other employees may be frustrated by an individual who is disorganized, can’t manage their time or projects well, and submits projects under the wire or misses deadlines altogether. According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder External Site (CHADD), employers also may find unmanaged ADHD can lead to larger expenses External Site due to lost productivity, absenteeism or presenteeism, and increased health care costs.

People with ADHD may change jobs frequently and more likely to miss or arrive late to work, have troubled relationships with coworkers, and be fired, according to ADDitude magazine External Site. And, if your employees haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD (or disclosed their diagnosis to you), you may feel that they are being difficult or challenging External Site on purpose — which couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are some positives, however. Employees with ADHD often bring unique skills to work. Many can be creative, think outside the box, hyper focus on tasks, and are more willing to take strategic risks.

Accommodating an employee with ADHD

Employees who disclose an ADHD diagnosis are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which may require you to provide reasonable accommodations for them to help them perform essential functions of their job. ADHD may be a mostly invisible condition, but you will likely notice a major change in employees who are offered accommodations.

Though every individual is different, reasonable accommodations for employees with ADHD may include simple adjustments such as:

  • A quiet workspace or noise-blocking headphones to reduce distractions
  • Calendars to keep track of important deadlines
  • Timers to help the individual stay on task
  • Tasks that are divided into smaller, more manageable chunks
  • Short, intermittent breaks
  • Extended deadlines or more time for completing work
  • An established peer-review system to double check detailed work
  • Altered work hours to accommodate peak periods of focus and attention
  • Written-out directions, instructions, and training materials for future reference

Before you make any assumptions on what your employee may or may not need, ask them how ADHD has impaired their ability to perform essential job functions or if their health care provider has provided any specific recommendations.

Once accommodations are in place, check in with the employee frequently to make sure the accommodations are meeting their needs or if minor adjustments need to be made. For more information on accommodations for ADHD, review the Job Accommodation Network External Site

Find out more about millennials in your workplace

On a national level, hyperactivity saw the second highest increase in prevalence among the top-10 health conditions affecting millennials. With the millennial generation expected to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, it's important your workplace take action to address this increased behavioral issue.

We have the solution.

Download your free copy of the Millennials In Your Workplace e-book Opens in a new window, and take advantage of extensive research, in-house data and subject matter experts to create sustainable, long-term changes in your workplace today.

Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield account representative, or email us at blueatwork@wellmark.com Send Email.