The Pros and Cons of ADHD in the workplace:

Are some traits hidden, adapted, or suppressed when they could be mitigated or harnessed for better performance?

How are people’s ADHD traits shaped by their experiences through society’s norms and expectations – and can their differences be better utilised?

Steve Ollington, 17th November 2023

Background and Aims

There is a plethora of research on ADHD, much of it being clinical studies concerned with genetics, medication, and neuroimaging (Mason & Rosier, 2017). Some non-clinical studies review the challenges people with ADHD face at school (Daley & Birchwood, 2010) (DuPaul & Jimerson, 2014), and how they experience common co-occurring symptoms of other disorders such as anxiety and conduct disorders (Katzman et al., 2017). Fewer studies look at ADHD in adults, and those which have, have tended to focus on the impacts of diagnosis (Harpin et al., 2013) and the effectiveness of various treatments (Kolar et al., 2008). There are some studies that look at whether ADHD gets ‘worse’ from childhood to adulthood (Cuncic, 2022), and how traits may change over that time (CDCP, 2022) along with some research about how these traits are hidden (Mylett, 2022) or compensated to fit into the world of work (Rivero, 2018).

However, little explores the idea of whether such adaptions should be needed (Stavraki, 2023) and no research that I have been able to find which goes into detail about whether masked or compensated-for ADHD traits could be harnessed by workers and their employers, increasing their flexibility and productivity, transforming ADHD traits into valuable business assets rather than liabilities.

There are many studies discussing potential benefits of ADHD traits (Sedgwick et al., 2018) (Cramond, 1994), especially linking creativity to ADHD (White & Shah, 2011) but there is little to be found on how traits play out in common workplace environments. One surfaced, which explores positive and negative experiences of some medical students (Godfrey-Harris & Shaw, 2023) – but apart from that, the majority of work-related research is regarding how the traits impact general entrepreneurship (Lerner et al., 2018).

The entrepreneurial traits studies (Lindzon, 2023) show that the traits can be beneficial in business more generally, as there are elements of entrepreneurship that could be applied to other job roles. But that would mean freeing up minds of the executive function tasks that people with ADHD are known to struggle with (Brown, 2006, p. 59). The popular forum, Reddit, has a ‘subreddit’ for ADHD, which is filled with users starting threads with titles such as: “I hate bureaucracy!”, “Incredibly frustrated with bureaucracy”, and “Bureaucracy really exhausts my executive function”. These comments are often then receiving confirming replies from other (assumedly) people ADHD (R/Adhd, n.d.).

In the book ‘The ADHD Advantage’ by Dale Archer, MD, the author (who has ADHD himself) states:

“While we are often visionaries, hyper focused on the creative pursuit of the day, we are not necessarily paying the bills watering flowers or taking care of the kids, and often that burden falls on the shoulders of the person in the relationship who is good at executive functions.” (Archer, 2016, p. 215)

Which stands to reason would apply to work also. Could it then be that entrepreneurialism and ADHD work well together because the person can focus solely on their creative outputs whilst being supported with executive function tasks by their employees? And could a micro-version of this model take place within other levels of business?

Virtually no research exists that expands on the entrepreneur studies and considers ADHD in more typical workplaces. Meanwhile, there is a paucity of research that takes the full list of traits (rather than just their categories of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity) (Hammer, 2023, p. 193) into a variety of workplace scenarios and considers how people with ADHD can mitigate for some and harness others.

This proposal is to carry out research on what changes could be made within common workplace environments to the benefit of companies and employees, not just through the existing concepts of reasonable adjustments for ADHD (ADHD UK, 2023), but around the roles themselves, along with training of others, to create more human-centred ways of working (Sniukas, 2022a) in which people with ADHD will be able to best perform.

In order to explore this, it is important to look at how people with ADHD currently fit into workplaces, in different job types and at different levels – including adjustments and compensations they have made, such as masking and suppression of traits (Stavraki, 2023). It is also important to find out under what circumstances they are able to thrive at work.

Research Questions

  1. What differences are there in a person’s ADHD traits since entering the world of work, and through different work environments – have they been masked, suppressed, or allowed to flourish? What are the reasons for this?
  2. Some traits could be beneficial in different environments or circumstances, such as if employers operate more flexible, inclusive models. Which traits are they, and how could employers make the best use of them?
  3. Which traits require more understanding from businesses, where training could be tailored for increased tolerance and patience from colleagues – to know how their co-workers think and operate differently?


To reveal the differences and levels of suppressed traits, providing the opportunity for further discussion about their potential benefits, a greater understanding of compensatory behaviours, (e.g. avoidance, people pleasing, etc) (Rivero, 2018) will be developed by interviewing employees who are diagnosed with ADHD, asking them which traits apply/applied to them and how severely before they began working, and at different jobs. The interviews would then go on to explore how this affected their work and what compensatory behaviours, if any, they adopted in response.

The interviewees will then be asked about their greatest workplace achievements, before exploring under what circumstances those happened – and whether there were any differences that facilitated the higher performance. This will look at the types of achievements, and whether they are in-line with identified benefits of ADHD traits (ADDA, 2023) or traits not yet fully recognised by consensus as beneficial – such how ADHD people missing information has led to higher skills of extrapolation (Heiner Lachenmeier, 2023).

Each interviewee should provide information on what they see as their skills and abilities – both innate and learned – and how these were applied at work. Questions will also be asked about how the interviewee might have felt held back at any point, and what they felt could have better enabled them, whilst ensuring no negative impact for their employers.

It will be important to consider what type of work people are in. It is likely, for example, that traits will have been adapted differently by people in an office compared to people who work alone or outside. For this reason, employees within different economic sectors, at various levels of seniority should be sought for the interviews.

The questions should include both challenges and benefits their traits have brought them, along with experiences working with colleagues, customers, managers, and more where they feel improvements could be made if others had greater understanding of people with ADHD and how they think.

The interview questions will need to be formulated, along with who can be interviewed, and what ethical considerations must take place, for exam

  • How many questions?
  • What are the questions?
  • How complex are the questions?
  • What follow-up questions may be needed?
  • What are the categories of questions?
  • Who should be interviewed?
  • How many people should be interviewed?
  • How/Where will they be found?
  • What permissions need to be in place? (e.g. to record the interviews and use the data)

Once all data has been collected, it can be cleaned and processed for analysis. Similarities and differences will be sought, patterns uncovered, and clustering shown. Statistical exploratory analysis will be applied with the categorical and numerical data to begin with (using content analysis to extract words, and creating numerical data) – but due to the nature of the questions, the results will mostly be derived from qualitative data analysis (QDA) (Hotjar, 2022) such as:

  • Thematic Analysis
  • Narrative Analysis
  • Grounded Theory Analysis
  • Discourse Analysis


Knowing the differences between these traits that can and cannot be overcome by different people in different situations, will help with tailoring more specific training on ADHD for use by companies to ensure increased awareness and understanding by workers about their colleagues.

Such training would also look at different ways to co-operate for the maximum benefit of companies and employees, by providing frameworks in which ADHD people can fit more naturally, embracing their talents.

The knowledge from the training would allow for greater understanding of the disconnects within the system of Ways of Working (Sniukas, 2022b), meaning they could be addressed, and better productivity would be achievable through higher functioning teams, leading to a competitive advantage.

I believe with research of others with ADHD, there will be confirmation that just as some schools are finding higher performance by ADHD children by changing their established processes (Archer, 2016, p. 95), so too can businesses with ADHD adults – by harnessing what makes their brains different, and embracing neuro-divergence rather than the neuro-convergence of most business infrastructures. Instead of adults with ADHD trying to change themselves to fit into the classroom or company, small changes could be made to the company or classroom that would be of benefit to all.

This could be a case of treating people with ADHD that have certain experience levels as internal consultants. Just like the entrepreneurs (Roggli, 2021), they would have space to create, and be supported by others who might excel and prefer to work in the areas of executive function (Greenwood, 2016, p. 76), forming teams with strengths and weaknesses to support each other, and giving businesses who utilise this model less restrained/restrictive levels of innovation – whether that be anything from the ADHD benefits shown in product design (White & Shah, 2016) or novel problem solving (Redshaw & McCormack, 2022).

Ultimately, masking these traits and using coping mechanisms allow people with ADHD to adapt and fit into rigid systems, to conform somewhat. But this is not only at a cost of their wellbeing (Maria Szulc et al., 2021), as this research hopes to demonstrate, it may be at a cost of business too.

This research intends to discover what happens if the rigid parameters to conform are removed, replaced with more flexible structures that enable greater difference in thinking. It seeks so answer the questions of: How much better can people with ADHD perform due to a more suitable working environment, and how much better would their professional (and personal) lives be, if more people understood and accepted them due to awareness training.



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