Do you struggle with meeting deadlines, staying organized, and completing urgent tasks? Are you constantly fidgeting due to feelings of restlessness or struggling to sit still during long meetings? If so, you might have Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Although ADHD is typically diagnosed in childhood, symptoms of it often manifest well into adulthood. In fact, as many as one in 20 adults has ADHD, which can impact daily functioning and potentially interfere with academic, social, and occupational success.
Does having ADHD mean that you can’t keep a job? Not at all. While it’s true that some adults with ADHD experience lower occupational attainment with lower salaries, more job changes, and higher rates of absenteeism and unemployment, this doesn’t have to be the case. If you received an ADHD diagnosis and are scared about how it might affect you at work, know that workplaces that embrace neurodiversity (the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits) benefit in many ways. For instance, neurodivergent people often have strengths including a high level of creativity, innovation, and problem-solving skills.
In this article, learn how to manage common ADHD symptoms and challenges while putting ADHD’s sought-after attributes, such as enthusiasm and unique insights, to good use.
- ADHD is a common neurological issue characterized by trouble staying on task, focusing, prioritizing, and delaying gratification.
- Experts believe that the prevalence of adults with ADHD worldwide is between 2.5% and 5%. It’s much more common in males than females, with a male-to-female ratio of approximately 3:1.
- Employers commonly look for certain desirable qualities in employees that people with ADHD may struggle with, such as time management skills, the ability to handle conflicts, and adherence to long-term plans and milestones.
- Many people with ADHD have strengths that can benefit their workplaces, such as having a lot of energy and innovative ideas.
What Does Having ADHD at Work Look Like?
People with ADHD can experience a range of symptoms, all with different severities. For example, some are more hyperactive, while others predominately deal with a lack of focus and poor emotional regulation. Many people with ADHD experience a combination of hyperactivity and impulsivity, as well as other issues with poor executive functioning. According to experts, the neurological basis for ADHD is the dysregulation of neurotransmitters that govern our behaviors, including dopamine and noradrenaline.
The most common ADHD symptoms include:
- Inattention: Difficulty paying attention and being easily distracted.
- Hyperactivity: Fidgeting, restlessness, talking excessively, and the inability to sit still.
- Impulsivity: Acting without thinking, interrupting others, difficulty waiting for one’s turn, and engaging in risky behaviors.
- Forgetfulness: Losing track of time and tasks, failing to remember deadlines and important dates, generally having a poor memory about information that’s been shared, and “dropping the ball” on certain responsibilities.
- Disorganization: Losing and misplacing things.
- Poor time management: Not being able to prioritize tasks and stick to a schedule.
Due to dealing with the symptoms above, there are some unique challenges that people with ADHD in the workplace can face.
Here are some examples what ADHD may look like at work:
- Easily being distracted by coworkers, emails, and noise.
- Difficulty completing tasks on time, which might cause work to be submitted last minute.
- Trouble organizing projects, documents, and priorities.
- Lack of focus during meetings or when work is repetitive or boring.
- Making decisions without considering the consequences.
- Speaking out of turn, interrupting, or responding inappropriately.
- Being hyperactive and restless, which can appear unprofessional and be distracting to others.
- Forgetting important details, deadlines, and appointments.
- Procrastinating, especially when a project seems unclear or overwhelming.
- Difficulty with multitasking or switching between different roles.
- Trouble communicating, sometimes due to feeling insecure or sensitive to feedback.
Potential Benefits of ADHD at Work
Are you struggling with ADHD and worried about your performance at work? Here’s some reassuring news: According to experts, adults with ADHD are likely to be skilled in certain areas that can benefit their jobs, despite coping with other challenges.
There’s a growing body of research on the potential benefits of ADHD at work, suggesting that those with ADHD are often creative, innovative, energetic, and intuitive, plus they may be outgoing and contribute to a fun workplace environment. While some adults with ADHD can’t multitask well or work on a project until it’s complete, others can become very hyperfocused and productive at times, which can boost their performance.
Those with ADHD may have certain advantages at work and in other areas of life, such as:
- Creativity and innovation: Many people with ADHD have a rich and active imagination, which can lead to innovative thinking, unique solutions, and effective problem-solving. In one study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders, researchers found that individuals with combined-type ADHD generated the most creative work and reported themselves to be most creative among all participants.
- Hyperfocus: An intense concentration on a task or activity is common among those with ADHD, especially when a task is interesting and engaging. According to some studies, people with ADHD who experience hyperfocus are able to concentrate intensely on a particular task or project, boosting productivity. This can be beneficial in certain job roles, such as those that require deep focus and attention to detail.
- Spontaneity: ADHD can be associated with being open to new experiences and ideas and easily adapting and pivoting when needed.
- Energy and enthusiasm: It’s common for adults with ADHD to have a high level of energy, positivity, and engagement, which can be beneficial in creative pursuits or careers that involve socializing, such as sales.
- Multitasking: Some people with ADHD can manage multiple tasks and activities simultaneously, which takes a lot of energy.
- Entrepreneurship: Research has shown that individuals with ADHD are more likely to start their own businesses and become entrepreneurs. A study published in the Journal of Business Venturing found that those with ADHD had higher levels of risk-taking, increasing the likelihood of becoming entrepreneurs.
How to Manage ADHD at Work
It’s estimated that up to 80% of adults with ADHD never receive a proper diagnosis or help from a professional, which is unfortunate, considering how well some interventions can work to manage ADHD symptoms.
If you have ADHD or you’re looking to work better with someone who you suspect does, here are tips for alleviating some common ADHD workplace problems:
- Block out distractions and noise: Turn off TVs, music, or other distractions and use noise-blocking earphones if they’re helpful.
- Write things down: Utilize to-do lists and checklists to stay organized. Try different ways of doing this to see what works best, such as handwritten or digital lists.
- Set reminders: Add dates and appointments to an electronic calendar to receive notifications and alerts.
- Develop a routine: Establish a daily routine and stick to it as much as possible to stay organized.
- Take breaks: Take short breaks to help with restlessness and allow for better focus when returning to work.
- Prioritize tasks: Prioritize tasks to focus on what is most important and avoid becoming overwhelmed. Identify the most critical tasks for the day or week and focus on completing those first.
- Break tasks into smaller chunks: Break down large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks to decrease feelings of overwhelm. Start by creating a task list for the day and then break each task into smaller steps.
- Use visual aids: Incorporate visual aids to stay organized and focused. Try using color-coded labels, sticky notes, or a whiteboard to organize tasks and deadlines visually.
- Communicate with coworkers and managers: Let your boss and coworkers know about your ADHD and how it impacts your work so they can provide support.
How Leaders Can Accommodate ADHD in the Workplace
Leaders and managers can help accommodate those with ADHD by removing unnecessary distractions, communicating well, and playing into people’s strengths. Below are ADHD workplace adjustments for managers to consider making to boost collaboration and engagement:
- Consider a flexible schedule: Allow flexible scheduling, a quiet workspace, and assistive technology to help workers with ADHD manage their symptoms and be more productive.
- Seat them somewhere without distractions: Offer them a desk or place to work in a quiet place that helps them concentrate.
- Set realistic deadlines: Provide enough time for work to be done without rushing or needing to multitask, which can make the employee feel stressed.
- Provide clear instructions: Ensure all responsibilities, deadlines, protocols, and guidelines are clear and accessible. Communicate with employees with ADHD clearly and concisely. Use visual aids and concise language to aid their understanding and help avoid miscommunication.
- Put things in writing: Share information in the form of emails, texts, and notes to create a written log that can be easily referenced and recalled later, leading to less confusion.
- Utilize technology: Utilize assistive technologies such as time management apps or organizational calendars and tools to help employees with ADHD stay on top of their work.
- Give feedback and support: Provide regular check-ins, feedback, and positive reinforcement to help people stay on track and feel motivated.
- Offer training and resources: Incorporate resources related to time management, organization, and productivity to help people develop effective workplace success strategies.
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with ADHD. ADHD is considered a disability if it significantly restricts one or more major life activities, such as learning, concentrating, or working. Therefore, individuals with ADHD are entitled to the same protections and accommodations as those with other disabilities under the ADA.
How to Master Your Mental Health for Success
Having a mental health issue of any kind doesn’t have to derail you at work. Many people with ADHD are still highly productive and successful. For instance, celebrities and entrepreneurs, including Justin Timberlake, Richard Branson, and Michael Phelps, have all spoken out about having ADHD.
That said, ADHD often co-occurs with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders, meaning taking care of your mental health if you have this condition is crucial. Treatment options for ADHD can include medication, behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes such as exercise, sleep, and nutrition.
Whether you deal with ADHD, a different mood-related issue, or no specific mental health condition at all, certain lifestyle habits can help you learn how to focus better and perform your best at work.
Here are some examples:
- Get enough sleep and rest: To stay sharp and in a good mood during the workday, prioritize making time to relax after work, and get enough rest.
- Exercise: Try exercising before or after work to regulate neurotransmitters, plus build physical activity into your workday during breaks, such as walking around outside, taking the stairs to another office space, or stretching at your desk.
- Use relaxation techniques to clear your mind: Meditation, deep breathing, and sitting still to unwind can be hard for people who are hyperactive, but these all help improve focus, battle stress, and boost concentration. Mindfulness, for example, can help individuals with ADHD reduce stress, improve focus, and regulate emotions.
- Seek support: Managing ADHD at work can be challenging, so it is important to seek support from others when needed. Consider talking to a therapist, joining a support group, or discussing accommodations with your employer. A study published in Qualitative Health Research found that receiving an ADHD diagnosis and discussing it openly helped people become more confident and experience fewer negative emotions.
- Limit distractions (including social media use): Experts on mental health recommend limiting social media use, especially among people who struggle to stay on task at work. During your downtime, do something productive like talking to a coworker, taking a stroll, or straightening up your workspace, instead of aimlessly browsing social media, which can zap your energy.
Want to learn more about whether you have a mostly Type A or Type B personality and how this impacts your job performance? Check out these articles: “How to Find Balance With a Type A Personality” and “Do You Have a Type B Personality? How to Know.”
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