Adult ADHD: How it manifests in the workplace

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is commonly understood to be a ‘childhood disorder’. But according to the South African Society of Psychiatrists, 6070% of symptoms continue into adulthood. This is what you need to know about ADHD in the workplace, including signs and tips for management.

ADHD is a neurological disorder that’s usually diagnosed in childhood. Some of the common symptoms of ADHD include being extremely forgetful, struggling with social situations and cues, being distracted and having difficulty focusing.

While these symptoms may be overlooked in a child, having adult ADHD becomes more challenging, as it interferes with the responsibilities an adult needs to uphold, including managing work.

ADHD and work performance

  • Sign: Frequently daydreaming or zoning out during conversations.
    What this looks like: Not paying attention or being disengaged during meetings.
  • Sign: Experiencing boredom often and seeking out more stimulating activities.
    What this could look like: Moving from one task to another, letting incomplete work pile up.
  • Sign: Overlooking details often.
    What this could look like: Frequently making errors and regularly missing deadlines.
  • Sign: Poor organisational skills.
    What this could look like: Struggling to cope with and complete tasks.
  • Symptom: Low self-esteem and hypersensitivity.
    What this could look like: Struggling to handle criticism even when it’s constructive.
  • Symptom: Becoming easily flustered and stressed out.
    What this could look like: Missing work regularly and using sick days often.

Adult ADHD in women

ADHD is underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed in women, with 50% fewer girls than boys being referred for treatment and evaluation. The condition often presents later in females, during puberty. This makes it even more difficult to diagnose, as teenagers naturally experience hormonal fluctuations, which affects their emotions.The social and cultural pressure that women face to perform well makes them more equipped to hide or manage their symptoms. As a result, ADHD may manifest differently in women at home, socially and at work.

Tips to manage ADHD at work

  • Create a supportive work environment by surrounding yourself with the right tools. This could mean taking notes during work or after social meetings, choosing work that motivates you and setting reminders on your phone for tasks.
  • Use your resources. Practise coping techniques as advised by your doctor and take your medication as prescribed. Reach out to support groups such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, reachable on their toll-free ADHD helpline.
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. This will provide you with the energy you need to focus better, complete your tasks and manage your commitments.
  • Lean on your safe people. If you find socialising difficult, try to keep your circle small. Maintain important connections, such as a close friend or colleague.
  • Conquer time management. Try to finish tasks you don’t enjoy immediately. Ask colleagues or a close friend to hold you accountable with a daily check-in.

Note: If you suspect you have ADHD, talk to your doctor, who can refer you to a mental health expert for an official diagnosis.

For more advice related to mental health, read these helpful articles:

For confidential assistance, contact Life EHS; SMS your name to 31581 and the Care Centre will call you back.

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.


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What is harassment?

According to the Employment Equity Act, no 55 of 1998, employees have the right to a safe working environment that does not facilitate harassment or allow harassment to take place. Read about how South African legislation protects you.

What behaviour constitutes harassment?

The Protection from Harassment Act, no 17 of 2011, describes harassment as direct or indirect behaviour that the harasser knows or ought to know will cause psychological, mental, physical or economic harm, or will lead someone to believe that they may be harmed. This includes sexual harassment.

Harassment could include:

  • Unreasonably following or watching someone, or accosting them
  • Unreasonably communicating with or attempting to communicate with someone, whether or not a conversation ensues
  • Unreasonably sending, delivering or leaving communication or packages in places where they will be found by someone. This includes digital channels of communication

Sexual harassment includes:

  • Unwelcome sexual attention that the harasser knows or ought to know is unwelcome
  • Sexual suggestions or behaviour intended to offend, embarrass or humiliate a person
  • The implied or expressed promise of a reward for complying with a sexual request
  • The implied or expressed promise of reprisal for not complying with a sexual request

According to The South African Labour Guide website, examples of both forms of harassment include but are not limited to:

  • Bullying
  • Spreading malicious rumours or insulting someone, particularly on gender, race or disability grounds
  • Ridiculing or degrading someone, picking on them or setting them up to fail
  • Exclusion or victimisation
  • Unfair treatment based on, for example, race, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, disability, religion, HIV status, etc.
  • Overbearing supervision or other misuses of power or position
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Making threats/comments about job security without foundation
  • Deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading them with work and constant criticism
  • Preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities

What can I do if someone is harassing me?

When it comes to sexual harassment in particular, an employee can choose to resolve the issue in one of 2 ways: informally or by means of a formal complaint. There should be no pressure to accept either option as a resolution.

It may be possible to take an informal approach as a first step and confront the harasser. Do this to explain that their behaviour is unwelcome, makes you feel uncomfortable and interferes with your work. After doing this, if the harassment continues, you should embark on a formal procedure.

The procedure for lodging a formal grievance differs from company to company, so it is important to familiarise yourself with your company’s policies. Note that as per legislation, employers and employees are required to make sure that all grievances investigated are conducted in a way that ensures the confidentiality of the persons involved. If evidence of misconduct is apparent, the employer will be required to take disciplinary steps against the accused, which may result in his or her dismissal.

Under the Protection From Harassment Act, it is also possible for victims to apply to a magistrate’s court for a protection order to be issued against the employer or colleague harassing them. The court will investigate the allegations and if it is satisfied that there is evidence of harassment, an interim protection order will be issued. Further investigation will then take place.

What if you didn’t know you were harassing someone?

In a 2018 sexual harassment case, the court explicitly stated that nowhere in the Code of Good Practice on Sexual Harassment does it require the accused employee to have been aware that their conduct was unwanted and offensive to the victim in order for the behaviour to be classified as sexual harassment. This means that the courts will no longer accept the claim that an alleged perpetrator ‘did not know’ they were harassing victims in question.

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a legal professional. E&OE.


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