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Understanding ADHD and your employees

It's becoming more common in adults.

This article was last updated June 20, 2023.

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 that lasts well into adulthood, regardless of when it was diagnosed. 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, ADHD showed the second-highest increase in prevalence among millennials from 2014 to 2018 at 39 percent, behind only 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 by 2025. As of 2020, millennials made up 50 percent of the workforce, so it’s likely that you have at least one employee with ADHD — 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 identify it. In addition, the diagnostic criteria for the condition were developed for children. Adults with ADHD often have other behavioral conditions External Site like depression, anxiety and substance use disorder that mask or mimic symptoms associated with hyperactivity. As a result, many adults don’t realize they have ADHD.

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

Inattentive type symptoms in the workplace can appear as:

  • Difficulty staying focused on tasks or activities like conversations or long reading
  • Appearing to not listen when spoken to
  • Quickly losing focus on tasks after starting them
  • Having challenges with time management and organization
  • Being forgetful when it comes to daily tasks like paying bills or keeping appointments
  • Frequently losing daily items like keys, wallet and cell phone

Hyperactive type symptoms in the workplace can look like:

  • 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
  • Interrupting frequently, such as cutting into conversations or activities

To be diagnosed with one of the types of ADHD, symptoms must have frequently occurred 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, such as ways to minimize distractions and increase structure and organization.

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Work accommodations for employees with ADHD

Employees with ADHD 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.

However, some symptoms of ADHD can lead to issues if employees don't have the support they need.

Employees who disclose an ADHD diagnosis are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which may require you to provide reasonable accommodations 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
  • Altered work hours to accommodate peak periods of focus and attention
  • Written-out directions, instructions and training materials

Before you make any assumptions on what the employee may or may not need, ask how you can support them in performing their essential job functions. If their health care provider has provided any specific recommendations, encouraging them to follow the recommendations may also be helpful.

Once accommodations are in place, check in with the employee frequently to make sure their needs are being met. 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 takes 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 Send Email.