ADHD, Social Norms and the Workplace

ADHD can be a challenge in the workplace

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The workplace can be a rollercoaster for an ADHD brain.

In some ways, the average work environment can provide structure for neurodivergent individuals. While people with ADHD can rebel against routine, sometimes having a regular schedule can help them stay on top of daily tasks.

On the other hand, this same structure can be a nightmare for ADHD minds. People with ADHD tend to crave new things, and doing the same thing every day makes it much harder to stay engaged in their work.

There is another obstacle that people with ADHD face in the workplace, one that many don’t even recognize at all. As we grow up, we learn the ins and outs of interacting with the people around us in different contexts. At school, at home, with friends and of course at work. Ideally, these social norms help us navigate these spaces, to the point where we don’t even have to think about them.

For neurodivergent people, that is, people with ADHD, autism or other neurodevelopmental differences, they do not always have the same roadmap when they start their careers.

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Social norms are something we learn throughout our lives, in many contexts

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ADHD and Social Cues

To be brought up as a person with ADHD in a neurotypical society means potentially missing the skills that dictate our social norms. These social impacts can come from a number of places, depending on how they manifest for the person.

Core facets of ADHD like impulse control or difficulty controlling attention make it difficult for someone to engage in conversations with neurotypical people; they may interrupt, “wander,” or find it difficult to stay present while others are talking. They may also have trouble remembering details about others, even if they have been told them many times.

While none of these things are done intentionally, they give the appearance of a bad conversation partner, or a partner in general, which often doesn’t appeal to someone who doesn’t understand the nuances of the ADHD. This can create conflict and cause friends or loved ones to distance themselves from the person.

This is only made worse by the emotional side of ADHD. People with ADHD are not as able to regulate their emotional responses. Anger, excitement, sadness – they come on and hit hard, and without the ability to deal with these feelings properly, they overwhelm a person, sometimes to the point that they act against their better judgment.

If someone with ADHD also suffers from what is called rejection sensitive dysphoria, or RSD, then going off on tangents or regulating anger is only a small piece of the cake. RSD occurs when a person constantly perceives rejection or criticism – real or imagined – from others. This perceived criticism isn’t just feeling blue about a B on a test. It can be physically painful and absolutely debilitating to an individual’s self-esteem.

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Social norms are a bigger part of our workplace than we think

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As if that weren’t impactful enough, the combination of perceived rejection or conflict with others, or the inability to process and understand information, very frequently leads to experiences of anxiety. social, likely to lead to the diagnosis of social anxiety disorder.

These factors are troublesome enough in any context.

However, listening and understanding others, speaking at the right time, managing frustration, accepting criticism, one can imagine that in many work environments these skills are not just the goal, they are the expectation.

Social Norms in the Workplace vs ADHD

Just as social difficulty can come from many different roots, it can come into play in many different areas of a job.

One such area is the interview process itself. Interviews are stressful enough, even with the right social tools, and are rich in unspoken protocols – how and what to talk about, what questions to ask, how to behave.

A person with ADHD with poor impulse control may therefore be more likely to say something they don’t mean. They can take off on a series of topics that make sense to them, but not to the interviewer in front of them. Or they may get restless, whether it’s because of nerves, difficulty controlling attention, or both.

Also say that a person with ADHD does not get the job they want? This real rejection would create the perception of failure or despair. It can even prevent someone from pursuing a certain career.

If an ADHD person lands the job, however, the social details in an everyday workplace leave them feeling like an actor with the wrong script. Say you’re working on a project with a team and you don’t know when everyone is speaking up or staying silent, especially after being chastised so many times for “hogging the discussion.” So you remain silent.

You may not even absorb the discussion at all, because trying to focus so hard to find a gap in the conversation means little or no mental energy can be devoted to understanding.

Not being able to process time properly — a symptom called “time blindness” — can cause someone to be often late for shifts or to spend more time than others on tasks.

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Bonding at work can be a challenge with ADHD

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Employers, as well as their colleagues, may find this irritating or perceive it as laziness or incompetence. This will undoubtedly affect the person’s interactions with others.

And it’s not just the working relationship that’s affected. Connecting with co-workers is an important part of making the workplace enjoyable, especially since many of us spend the vast majority of our days there.

From the interview process to daily interactions in the office, people with ADHD are engaged in career catching up, sometimes consciously and sometimes not. It is therefore important to understand the ways in which ADHD manifests itself, both in your work and in your relationships.

And just as important, as a professional with ADHD, it’s normal to recognize that social norms in and out of work may not come so easily. While it can be easy to feel less competent or qualified than neurotypical co-workers, ADHD just means dealing with the world differently and learning to adapt in a way that works for you.

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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