Article: More workplaces in Australia embracing cognitive diversity

Employee Engagement

More workplaces in Australia embracing cognitive diversity

While people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle more in the workplace in comparison to neurotypical peers, new research shows the recent spike in ADHD awareness and diagnosis is having a positive impact in the workplace.
More workplaces in Australia embracing cognitive diversity

Traditionally, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle more in the workplace in comparison to their neurotypical peers.

New research from ADHD Australia, a not-for-profit committed to removing barriers to well-being for Australians living with ADHD, reveals that three-quarters (72%) of workforce-age Australians with ADHD feel that it has held them back in their career. 

However, while ADHD (one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders) has been historically misunderstood, the research found the recent spike in ADHD awareness and diagnosis was having a positive impact in the workplace.

The survey of 1,059 Australian employees with ADHD and employers found significant progress was being made with more workplaces embracing cognitive diversity and providing supportive environments that encourage open dialogue.

Three in five respondents (60%) with ADHD have told their workplace about their diagnosis with the remaining 40% citing concerns about being treated differently or not seeing it as relevant for their employer to know.

In addition, most employers (88%) responded that they would accommodate staff who report their ADHD and almost two-thirds (62%) confirmed that they already have formal or informal policies in place to support them.

“Historically, ADHD has been misconceived as bad behaviour or seen as something that limits what a person can and can’t do. But really, people with ADHD just have a different way of seeing the world and when they're accommodated, and motivated, there's nothing that they cannot do,” said Michael Kohn, chair of ADHD Australia.

“With better understanding and management of ADHD in the workplace and more open conversations between employers and employees, individuals with ADHD can excel in their careers. In today’s competitive talent market, the opportunity for employers that can unlock the potential of divergent thinking is vast.”

A 2019 report by Deloitte found the social and economic costs of ADHD cost the Australian economy around $20 billion a year through lost productivity and the demand on the health system. Improvements to communication, understanding and management of ADHD in the workplace could help businesses to maximise the potential of their employees, in turn greatly benefitting Australia’s economic output.

The research illustrates that many characteristics of having ADHD are an asset in the workplace with 82% of respondents saying it is their ability to think differently that improves performance at work. Creativity (78%), hyperfocus (72%), interpersonal skills (59%), and resilience (54%) were the other top responses from employees with ADHD.

However, existing research shows that people diagnosed with ADHD often struggle with executive brain function, which can significantly impact their productivity in the workplace. This includes:

  • Activation: Difficulty in organising and starting tasks.
  • Focusing: Difficulty staying focused because of external distractions
  • Regulating alertness, sustaining effort, effort and processing speed: Losing energy and alertness working on mundane tasks.
  • Managing frustration and modulating emotions: Low frustration tolerance and inappropriate expression of emotions
  • Utilising working memory and accessing recall: Difficulty to process information quickly (particularly verbal), resulting in poor understanding
  • Monitoring and self-regulating behaviour: Difficulty in identifying appropriate social cues in a stimulating environment

“Around one in twenty Australians live with ADHD and as a community, one of most impactful things we can do is to normalise it through conversation. In recent years, a number of high-profile and successful Australians have been very open about their ADHD diagnosis, and their willingness to talk about their own experience sends a powerful public message of awareness and acceptance,” said Angela Byron, non-executive director, ADHD Australia.

“As these important conversations are amplified through other stories of life with ADHD and people feel safe to disclose their diagnosis to their workplace, I hope that we continue to see an emergence of role models as well as a reduction in ADHD-related stigma.”

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, Diversity, #DEIB

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