Supporting Your ADHD Employees with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD): A Guide for People Leaders

Navigating the workplace can be a challenging endeavor for anyone, but for employees with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), the journey often comes with an extra layer of complexity. One aspect of ADHD that doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD). In this article, we’ll explore what RSD looks like in the workplace, share real-life examples, and provide practical tips for People Leaders to support their ADHD employees effectively.

Understanding Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD)

RSD is a phenomenon often experienced by individuals with ADHD. It’s a heightened emotional response to the perception of being rejected, criticised, or even just falling short of their own expectations. This intense emotional reaction can be triggered by something as seemingly insignificant as constructive feedback or perceived disapproval.

RSD is not a diagnosable trait as part of the DSM-5, and researchers are not entirely sure of how it is developed. It is speculated that RSD is developed through the systemic rejection of neurodivergence in society as from an early age neurodivergent individuals are actively rejected for their natural state and encouraged to adjust to “fit in”.

What RSD Looks Like in the Workplace

RSD in the workplace can manifest in various ways. Here are a few common scenarios:

1. Intense Reaction to Constructive Feedback:

  • Example: An employee with ADHD receives constructive feedback on their project. They feel like they’ve let down their team and immediately become overwhelmed with intense self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy.

2. Avoidance of Social Situations:

  • Example: An employee with ADHD may avoid team meetings or networking events because they fear potential judgment or rejection by colleagues. This can hinder their professional growth and collaboration.

3. Fear of Advocating for Themselves:

  • Example: An employee may hesitate to discuss necessary workplace accommodations or request additional support due to a fear of being labeled as a “problem” or “different.”

Practical Tips for People Leaders

As a People Leader, you have a pivotal role in creating an inclusive and supportive work environment for all employees, including those with ADHD and RSD. Here are some practical tips to help your ADHD employees manage RSD:

1. Foster Open Communication:

  • Encourage open and transparent conversations. Let your employees know that they can discuss their concerns and difficulties without fear of judgment.

2. Provide Regular Positive Feedback:

  • Balance constructive criticism with positive feedback. Recognise and celebrate your employees’ achievements and contributions.

3. Offer Clear Expectations:

  • Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Ambiguity can lead to anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.

4. Accommodate Individual Needs:

  • Work with your ADHD employees to identify any necessary accommodations. These may include flexible schedules, task management tools, or workspace adjustments.

5. Promote a Growth Mindset:

  • Emphasise that mistakes are part of the learning process. Encourage your employees to view challenges as opportunities for growth rather than as failures.

6. Encourage Self-Care:

  • Highlight the importance of self-care, stress management, and work-life balance. These practices can help reduce the emotional intensity of RSD.

7. Sensitivity Training:

  • Consider offering sensitivity training for your team to increase awareness of RSD and foster a more empathetic workplace culture. Note this is NOT resilience training for your ADHD employee – this is for others to develop awareness of RSD.


RSD is a real and challenging aspect of ADHD, and understanding it is vital for People Leaders who aim to support their employees effectively. By following these practical tips and fostering a supportive work environment, you can help your ADHD employees manage RSD, allowing them to thrive and contribute their best to your organisation. Remember, a little empathy and accommodation can go a long way in making your workplace a safe and welcoming space for all.