How to Work With Smart Mavericks


I think of atypical thinkers (people who identify as ADHD, dyslexic, or autistic) as having quietly disrupted the workplace for years. I know I did, even before I was diagnosed with ADHD. We are innovators and are deeply affected by our work environments – the more flexible, fair and supported I feel, the more productive I am. It makes sense that my sanity develops when I’m working on a project I’m passionate about. (Notice I didn’t say I thrive when everyone agrees with me or works like me). In fact, I don’t care much about workplace standards, which is confusing and frustrating for most managers.

Scientists like Dr. Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond, agree that they are dedicated to discovering what lights up our brains. Studying what helps less average people and how being more inclusive benefits everyone in the long run, experts say.

It’s a positive way to look at inclusion – something I wish I’d heard more people talk about. This allows leaders to ask an important question. How can people on the margins of work (outsiders and mavericks) help make work more productive for everyone?

“If you can speak positively about your position on inclusion and say it out loud, it will be much easier for job seekers and managers to navigate and understand what you, as a company, offer. to people who are different and exciting,” says Yvonne Cowser Yancy. , Director of Human Resources at She takes an equally positive approach to supporting and including neurodivergent thinkers.

This piece starts a conversation about how too many typical thoughts hold us back. I’ve chosen to highlight three of the most intractable issues, especially for ADHD minds like mine. These are health care, work flexibility and the prevention of burnout. If we can recognize how important it is to address these issues, we can help the talent we have and the 80% of workers with unapparent disabilities such as ADHD (and other neurodivergent talents) who are waiting to be hired. Let’s start:

1. The hidden search for help

Research shows that few workers self-identify or disclose a learning disability, ADHD, or mental health issue to an employer. Even after several years of the pandemic, employees are uncomfortable talking about mental health to their managers or supervisors and some worry that talking about it could get them fired or furloughed. (A separate but equally problematic issue: Many people either haven’t received an official diagnosis of ADHD or dyslexia or wouldn’t know how to get a diagnosis.)

Companies have made mental health a priority at the highest levels. Yet even when management says it’s a priority, people in lower-level positions see no change. People have told me in interviews that concerns about locating a mental health practitioner or ADHD expert are things peers discuss quietly, if at all. The problem does not happen to most managers. Left in the dark, it can cause a manager to double check and get no feedback on what they think. In the face of silence, trust begins to crumble and offers of flexible working hours are no longer on the table. The employee begins to feel threatened and the vicious cycle begins.

Neurodivergent at work In a situation like this where there is so much secrecy, who does an employee turn to to find out their rights? It is common for people who learn and think differently to say that they do not consider themselves disabled. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which could offer legal protections at work, is barely on their radar. I don’t know why, but I’m not the only one to think so. In a story I recommend reading, a Chicana academic mother from California who is a doctoral candidate explains this feeling: “I disclosed that I had ADHD long before I realized that I was disclosing a disability. It was on my list of “fun facts” on my first day of orientation. If you feel resistance to formally submitting an accommodation request at school or at work, you are right. Not only is it expensive to get a diagnosis, but it also requires endless paperwork and can even expose you to prejudice and veiled harassment from professors and colleagues.

The manager’s dilemma We must teach open-mindedness to overcome discriminatory practices. That’s the aim of THIS CAN HAPPEN, a UK-based conference and resource for those curious about inclusion who want to take action to create change. For real-life examples of how to talk to a housing employee in the United States, I suggest The site offers an A-Z resource guide and case studies that demystify dozens of common scenarios managers may encounter when supporting people with learning differences and ADHD. The Bowman Center for Workplace Equity and Mental Wellness is another resource for HR professionals.

2. The golden clock and flexible hours

In 2001, a Penn State Abington researcher found that more than 27% of workers had flexible work hours and that “the likelihood of a worker having such flexibility is reduced by being female, non-white and less educated. In 2016, Golden’s research found that when employees have autonomy over their time, i.e. when to make up for missed hours due to a doctor’s appointment, they are more productive. . The golden clock, as it has been dubbed, is particularly useful for the happiness of hourly workers.

Neurodivergent at work: A golden clock could really help people with learning and thinking differences. ADHD is complex and paradoxical. ADHD minds are notorious for hyper-focus and sometimes, complete lack of focus. We can be over-motivated and suffer from analytical or avoidance paralysis. Then there’s direct shame, like being embarrassed that my therapist is only available at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays or that the workouts that overload my brain – swimming and boxing – are only available during times path. Returning to work in an office could be hellish without these amenities. If I could stagger my schedule and arrive at 10 a.m., that would be my Golden Clock scenario. To be honest, a schedule that allows for daily exercise and weekly guidance or coaching is a good idea for all workers. But from my lived experience, I know it’s non-negotiable for peak performance for ADHD brains like mine.

The manager’s dilemma: “Flexible working is our norm” is the phrase of Lisa Kepinski and Tinna Nielsen, founders of the Inclusion Nudges initiative. This should be an organization-wide auto-standard text in all communications. This signals to employees that you trust them to make deliberate and independent choices about how, when, and where they spend their time. Building a culture of inclusion and flexibility starts in the recruitment process, write Kepinski and Nielsen, founders of the Inclusion Nudges Initiative. They suggest creating an inclusion boost in job applications. They also recommend designing online recruitment forms for hiring managers who have defaulted flexible working for the job format and advertising all jobs at all levels that explicitly promote flexible working in the job description. .

3. How to deal with hyperfocus and high performance

Burnout is a nationwide problem, but we rarely talk about the fact that people with ADHD and other hyperfocused neurodivergent talents are highly susceptible to burnout. People with ADHD often don’t know how to brake downhill. Many enjoy highly structured, excellent work in those positions where the rules are clear, the management is in top form, and the work keeps their minds at peak capacity. These demanding and stressful jobs often help people with ADHD reach their highest level. But the fear of being laid off or not staying on top of the job leads to serious overwork tendencies. Even when we want to relax, our brain is running at full speed.

ADHD at work Look closely and you may spot non-traditional workers who often willfully ignore your furry eyeball. They work as they prefer even when pushed back. I do. The tweaks I use help me consistently achieve success. If a job requires deep concentration, I work behind closed doors or skip large meetings and have a colleague take notes for me. (Yes, I return the favor when they feel overwhelmed). Other neurodivergent minds I know swear by color-coding files and putting sticky notes on anything that won’t catch fire. (Avoid lights, trust me.) Some people keep their cameras off during long video meetings so they can fidget or walk. I have been ridiculed for printing out documents or bringing a tablet or laptop to a meeting. It looks rude or seems unnecessary to some. It is essential for me. This way I can look at a document closely. (Make an extra copy if you are going to a meeting in person. Inevitably, the person next to you will say: Oooh, that’s so helpful. Do you have an additional impression?

The manager’s dilemma The best advice for managers who want to understand and accommodate different thinkers is to give people short breaks from work and longer periods (consecutive days off) to recuperate and relax. People like me tend to overwork and focus, so you may find yourself begging them to take time off. Studies of people who say they suffer from burnout often show that they experience many of the same symptoms as people with ADHD who have been pushed to their limits: brain fog, depression, and anxiety. Others say they feel locked in. Whether you are a more typical or atypical worker, the idea of ​​losing all of your individuality and difference is at the heart of burnout.

Now is it clear? This uniform treatment of employees is holding back too many companies. Finding ways to be more human, caring and flexible is a sure path to innovation.


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