Article by Natalie Iacona, Business Operations Analyst at Belasko
Is your workplace and team prepared to support a new employee with ADHD? Not many are, but I wanted to showcase my experience with Belasko as a case study for other workplaces to gain some insight.
I have ADHD, or as I like to call it ‘perpetual burnout and occasional chaos’, and certain autistic traits which effects all my five senses. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder which, because of historic underdiagnosis in females, is becoming more prevalently diagnosed in adult women in recent years.
At its worst, people with ADHD can struggle with maintaining focus, stillness of body and mind. Therefore, ADHD is often linked to insomnia and a delay in the circadian rhythm which can severely affect sleep. Lacking energy exacerbates emotional dysregulation and negative eating habits. These features combine to impair executive functioning, which circle back to less sleep and less energy.
The typical workplace requires a significant amount of multi-tasking. We must prioritise tasks, handle back-to-back meetings, make time for self-development, and utilise a multitude of media to get the job done. To suffer from ADHD means to fight impulsivity to stay on track which can be very draining. ADHD burnout is very difficult to prevent, with those various elements of working life being perpetually overwhelming. Furthermore, every person that suffers from ADHD is different so the chances of people understanding this very personal challenge is slim.
It is important to stop this negative spiral, and to do so you must first recognise that ADHD in the workplace requires the right level of support, and it starts with honesty!
Now whilst I don’t claim to have it completely under control, like everyone, I have good and bad days. One reason I can now have more good working days is down to the support I’ve received from the Belasko team since sharing my diagnosis with them.
It’s not an easy journey to be honest with your employer, but it’s crucial. The main reason for this is the lack of education around ADHD and how it affects people. ADHD is hugely stigmatised and often downplayed. Commonly it is thought to be nothing more than a person lacking the ability to focus and who demonstrates hyperactive behaviours. As you can see from the above, It’s far more than that.
ADHD affects almost every one of the body’s functions in some form. The effects of an up to 30% developmental delay in executive functioning skills and emotional regulation are the main causes of difficulty for a lot of people with ADHD.
For me, there was a huge fear of admitting the things I struggle with as they are often associated with laziness and are considered society’s defining adult life skills, for example being on time and remembering to eat. Equally, ADHD is not related to intelligence or capability to do one’s job well, so the fear is that people will think that because you can’t do ‘easy’ things, you can’t be trusted to do much else, the fear of being overlooked for development and progression opportunities is huge.
Here are some basic steps of how the team has helped me.
It’s clear to me that Belasko welcomes diversity in all its forms, Neurodiversity is just one example. Open communication has enabled me to be in a happy, healthy environment. Only by taking the risk in sharing my situation have the rest of the team been able to gain my trust and foster the mutual respect I experience daily.
Since joining in October 2020, the entire team has been incredibly responsive and understanding of any changes we have made. For some, including myself, asking for equipment, changing my way of working or needing tasks delivered in a certain way can seem daunting. The ability to have an open conversation about how processes work or ways of working is incredibly liberating.
It’s one thing to have the conversation, but it’s also the way in which my questions and requests are received. It’s never responded to with a sigh or groan but rather an understanding ear and immediate action.
One example of this is an adjustment to my email signature in the form of a communication notice so anyone I am in contact with can know how to best support me. Boundaries have been established and there is no expectation on others to retain this information as they too are very busy! It reads:
📣 Communication Note: Hey there! Quick reminder about my preferred communication style as a person with ADHD. To help me stay focused and efficient, please send requests and feedback in writing whenever possible. If we need to meet, let’s use my calendar and include a clear subject, agenda, and specific ask. Your support and understanding is much appreciated!
With my ADHD and sensory challenges, it can be incredibly difficult to complete simple tasks in my day-to-day life, let alone putting on my best face for the 9-5. These bad days don’t follow any schedule or calendar invite and the Belasko team is completely flexible with this.
Belasko has enabled me to work flexible hours, blocking out ‘focus time’ and ‘available for meeting time’ in my calendar, and including a note in my email sign off to indicate my preferred communications styles. There is a clear mutual understanding of how the business, and I can best work together, creating an incredibly rewarding and productive team environment.
More support systems are being released daily and whilst many of these are paid, I’ve realised that having an employer who cares means we can overcome the costs. The business has helped me access funding through Access to Work for 12 weeks of one-to-one ADHD coaching, provide disability training in the workplace, noise cancelling headphones, dictation and mind mapping software and another software to record meetings and training with high quality audio and transcription.
This type of investment not only allows me to perform at my best, but also reassures me that there is actual care behind what you hear or see online. It’s easy to say ‘we take care of our team’ or ‘great working benefits’, but these are the type of benefits that make a positive difference every day.
I very am proud to work for a company, with people, who treat me equally and without judgement. I have found comfort in authenticity and have been able to positively contribute to my team and business in turn developing my skills and confidence.
Businesses wishing to support Neurodiversity in the workplace can follow my checklist below, I hope you find it helpful!
My checklist for in the UK to support Neurodiversity in the workplace:
- Learning about the Access to Work application processes & signposting employees here: Access to Work: get support if you have a disability or health condition: What Access to Work is – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Ensure Managers have adequate training to understand the validity of neurodivergent communication styles and needs – train everyone to respect everyone; preferred modes of communication, needs and boundaries, not just those assumed by the majority.
- Offer Occupational Therapist assessments as standard if someone discloses a health condition or seems to be struggling – this could be a hugely beneficial tool to bridge the communication & knowledge gaps between you and your employee.
- Focus on output – support the process and celebrate the output!
- Note the difference and overlap between Hybrid working & Flexible working policies; offer mutually agreeable solutions accordingly. Some will absolutely do more, and better, in less time if they’re enabled & encouraged to work with respect to their energy levels, whereas another may only thrive where they can rely upon a very dependable routine.
Paul Lawrence, Group Managing Director, said: ‘Natalie’s honesty and transparency about her diagnoses goes to the heart of Belasko’s values and it is only through her bravery that we have been able to positively respond. The benefit for us is that we have a caring individual who helps to bring the whole team together and is a cultural carrier for the business. We’ve been delighted to support Natalie in producing this blog, something that is a personal passion for her, and hope that it might help others to take on personal challenges of a similar nature in the workplace.’