For Employees With ADHD, Managing to Strengths Is Key

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Jeff Guardalabene
Image of man at desk.

While often only discussed in relation to children, ADHD is a complex, frequently misunderstood behavioral health condition that can also impact adults. Studies indicate that the overall prevalence of ADHD in adults is around 4 percent, and loss of productivity due to ADHD costs upward of $105 billion per year.1

Employees with ADHD face a number of challenges. But with a little understanding and some adjustments, the relationship between the employer and employee can be a mutually beneficial one.

Signs and Symptoms

Though symptoms vary, people diagnosed with ADHD tend to struggle in similar areas. These employees often have difficulties with organization and managing details. They can be distracted, and procrastination and time management can be a significant issue. Long-term, complex projects can present a problem. And, with many employees struggling with ADHD, emotions can be an obstacle at times. Bear in mind that many people diagnosed with ADHD have been running into frustrating roadblocks to success for as long as they can remember. In addition, an ADHD diagnosis is often accompanied by other behavioral health diagnoses such as depression or anxiety.

Creating a Supportive Workplace Environment

It isn’t the employer’s job to diagnose ADHD, of course, but awareness of these tendencies can bolster management’s success with employees who are diagnosed with ADHD, and many who aren’t. It’s thought that the actual prevalence of ADHD is much higher than the 4 percent noted above, as many people with ADHD go undiagnosed.

Managing to an employee’s strengths is nearly always a good idea, and with employees who have ADHD, it’s imperative. Here are some ideas:

  • Celebrate success. As I stated above, many people with ADHD have followed a difficult and frustrating path to get where they are today. They are vulnerable to seeing themselves as less capable or less valuable than others. Recognizing how far the employee has come and how well they’ve adapted can go a long way to ensuring their continued success and help reduce the frustrations that can lead to emotional issues.
  • Align duties with strengths and interests. Here’s where skilled management can really make a difference. Don’t just learn about your employee’s obstacles — employees with ADHD are often far more easily able to stay on task and on time when working on projects that pique their interest.
  • Keep the task list short. This accomplishes two things. First, the employee is less likely to stumble and stall out while trying to juggle a number of to-do items. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the employee is more likely to get tasks accomplished, adding to their sense of self-efficacy and their willingness to stick with projects in the future.
  • Check in frequently and nonjudgmentally. Many employees with ADHD are hypersensitive to criticism if presented in the wrong way. By working as a team, with frequent check-ins and small course corrections, the employer and employee can find a good working rhythm and catch the little things before they become big issues.

By recognizing the signs and understanding ways to manage around them, an employer can help an employee with ADHD (whether full-blown and diagnosed, or just troubled by some of these stumbling blocks) become a more productive, happy member of the work team.

 

1 Cost of ADHD, The National Resource on ADHD, chadd.org/about-adhd/data-and-statistics.