ADD (ADHD) in the Workplace
Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D.
If you are an adult with ADD (ADHD), some of the challenges
you face at work may be very similar to those you experienced
during school years. At work, just as during school years,
you must concentrate, listen and remember; you are often expected
to write reports, learn new skills, and plan projects. On
the other hand, when you're well-matched with your job, many
ADD (ADHD) traits that may have been a negative in school
can become an asset on the job. For example:
"Hyperactivity" in school can translate into
high energy and drive.
Those who "talk too much in class" may become
highly successful at networking, promotions, and sales.
Students who were "distractible" in class,
always looking around, may find that they "notice
everything" in a valuable way on the right job.
Many who "couldn't keep their mind on homework"
are very able to focus on the real world engaging in hands-on
An individual who "daydreamed" in class may
become an adult with valuable, creative ideas.
A teen with ADD (ADHD) who "wastes hours on computer
games" may become a talented computer scientist who
hyperfocuses for hours on his work.
This country was built by individuals who had many ADD (ADHD)-like
traits - they were high energy, impulsive, risk-taking, good
in a crisis, jump-in-with-both-feet and figure-it-out-as-they-went-along
people. These were the people who took a leap of faith to
come to the new world, then risked it again to leave the security
of the east coast states and forge out into the American wilderness.
They were the '49ers who bet their last dollar chasing the
promise of riches in California. They were the Thomas Edisons,
who had no sense of time and yet had endless ingenuity and
creativity. A study of successful business entrepreneurs today
will show a great over-representation of individuals with
ADD (ADHD). People in sales, inventors, politicians, comedians,
pilots, entertainers and all manner of other high profile
people have strong ADD (ADHD) characteristics.
Most of these pioneers, adventurers, and entrepreneurs fell
into the right job or career through good fortune. But you
don't have to rely on luck! You can make your good fortune
happen by making good choices. When a young adult entering
the world of work, a huge array of choices opens up. The key
to making a good career choice is to know yourself - your
strengths, your weaknesses, your values, your interests, and
By working with a career consultant our counselor who is
highly familiar with the gifts and challenges of ADD (ADHD),
you can chart a course that will take advantage of your gifts
and downplay areas that are most challenging for you.
When you find yourself in the wrong job
Many adults today weren't diagnosed with ADD (ADHD) as children.
Many of these adults struggled in school and didn't understand
what jobs might be a good match for them. You may find yourself
in a job that is very stressful, but don't feel that you have
many options. Changing jobs isn't always desirable or necessary.
There are often positive changes that you can make that will
improve your performance and satisfaction. Here are a few:
Request that you be allowed to work in a quiet conference
room or work from home when you have critical work that
requires intense concentration.
Request flex time so that you can arrive earlier or
work later - and concentrate better during times when
fewer co-workers are around.
If you feel restless in a sedentary job, look for constructive
ways to move around - walk down the hall instead of calling
a co-worker on the phone. Be sure to walk and exercise
on your breaks.
Take the initiative to request assignments that interest
you. Problems with distractibility and low motivation
usually diminish when you're doing something that interests
To reduce distractions, position your chair so that
it faces away from the door of your cubicle or office.
Set short-term goals and inform your supervisor of those
goals - this will help you be more productive and will
give your supervisor the message that you are highly motivated.
Make requests from a win-win perspective
One gifted computer specialist with ADD (ADHD) found himself
feeling restless and distracted in slow-moving meetings. He
asked his boss to only invite him to critical meetings, explaining
that his time could be much more productively used working
alone in his office. This flexible boss recognized the creative
brain-power of his employee, and realized that he would benefit
greatly from having a more productive employee. Although this
request was directly related to his ADD (ADHD) distractibility,
he did not disclose his diagnosis and made the request in
such a way that his boss realized that they would both benefit
from this change.
Changing Direction in Mid-Career
If you find yourself feeling unhappy, or under-performing
at work, first look for ways to improve your current situation.
Sometimes, such approaches don't work because the very nature
of the job is ADD-unfriendly, or there is an unfortunate mismatch
between employee and supervisor. What should you do if you
reach the conclusion that you need to leave your current job?
New Job/ Same Career
The most rapid, least costly change is to seek a different
job in the same field. It may be your job, not your career
that is the problem!
Work with a career counselor to identify the problem factors.
Which traits of yours make the job a poor match? Which aspects
of this particular job contribute to the problem?
A career counselor can also help you identify positive factors
on previous jobs. By identifying positives and negatives,
you develop a "template" for your ideal job. As
you go out into the job market you can't expect to find your
ideal job, but you'll have a much better chance of finding
a good match.
The most dramatic, expensive choice is a career change -
especially if it requires more training or education. But
for some, the benefits are well worth the high cost. You may
choose a new career is chosen to fulfill a lifelong dream
--something that seemed too risky or impractical when you
were younger. Some dreams are worth chasing. Working with
a good ADD (ADHD) career consultant gives you a better chance
of realizing your dream.
Getting the help you need
Whether you are a young adult choosing your career, an older
adult caught in a difficult job, or someone considering a
career change, working closely with an ADD (ADHD) specialist
can help guide you toward making good choices. When you put
yourself in an ADD-friendly work environment, partner with
the right people, and take on projects that interest and challenge
you, you may surprise yourself and everyone around you with
your job satisfaction and success!
Resources for ADD in the Workplace:
ADD in the
Workplace by Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D. is a ground-breaking
book about making ADD-friendly career choices and meeting
the challenges of ADD (ADHD) on the job.
Dr. Nadeau is a nationally recognized authority on ADD (ADHD)
workplace issues, offering workshops for employers and employees
across the country and as well as private consultations at
her clinic in Silver Spring, MD. Contact Kathleen Nadeau (www.chesapeakeadd.com)
about speaking engagements or career consultations.