ADD in the Workplace

Written by Harold Robert Meyer Susan Karyn Lasky, M.S., BCC, SCAC

ADD in the Workplace

Excerpts from a presentation by Susan Karyn Lasky on “ADHD in the Workplace,” given before a Labor-Industry Council’s National Conference on Disability in the Workplace.

Research studies (Hagner, Rogen & Murphy, 1992) have shown that as many as 90% of persons fired from businesses, labor unions and educational institutions, were discharged due to poor attitude, inappropriate behavior and difficulties with interpersonal relationships; not due to deficient job skills.

Myth: “Reasonable Accommodations are Expensive”

Accommodations are not necessarily expensive.  In fact, studies show show that almost one-third of all accommodations cost nothing.

According to a study by the Bank of America, the average costs for accommodations break down as the following:

28%   cost $0

20%   between $1- $50

20%   between $51 – $500

20%   between $501 – $1000

11%   between $1,000 – $5000

1%    more than $5000

And, as we improve our understanding of what types of accommodations are needed and effective for employees with ADHD, we’re finding that more accommodations cost nothing!  In fact, many “accommodations” are simply a question of instituting better management practices! These include putting things in writing (or allowing tape recording of instructions), clear prioritization of projects, deadlines and budgets, progress-checks (accountability), arranging “distraction-free” work periods, etc.  Some assistive aids (computers, voice technology, ‘white noise’ machines) come at a price, but the savings gained by more productive time make them well worth the cost. It is wonderful to see that more and more companies are recognizing the special needs of employees with attentional and learning differences, and hiring ADD-specialists to educate staff and employees!

Rights In The Workplace: Adults with ADHD are entitled to appropriate accommodations (help).  However, this applies only if:

The employer has 15 or more employees (fewer in NY).

The employee is otherwise qualified to successfully fulfill the main requirements of the job.

The employee has disclosed the disability to his or her employer and can prove an actual diagnosis.

The requested accommodation is reasonable, tied to the disability and employment related.

What does this mean?  Take a medium-sized company with a super salesperson who more than meets quota, but who is on probation for failure to adequately complete call and expense reports.  The major job function is sales, and no one disputes the salesperson’s ability to generate sales.  The problem area (dysfunction) is administrative; preparing and submitting reports on a timely basis.

First, the salesperson should try to get some help in these areas by simply requesting it (without the need to “reveal” the ADHD).  If that fails, the next step is to inform his (or her) superior and/or the human resource department that he has a diagnosis of ADHD.  At the same time, he should point out that, while ADHD is one factor that contributes to his excellent sales ability, the downside is some difficulty with paperwork.

Note: The idea is to present ADHD in a positive way and to explain that failure to comply with requirements isn’t due to lack of interest, willfulness, etc., but to a disability that doesn’t affect his ability to do the primary job, and that this problem can be overcome with appropriate intervention.

In this case, the company would save money and keep an excellent salesperson by assigning an administrative person to sit with the salesperson for two hours a week to review and process expense accounts and other reports.  In addition, instead of having to stop selling and make the uncomfortable transition to updating sales reports (which also makes re-entering the “sales” mode more difficult), the salesperson can be given a tape recorder to dictate the information.  This can then be keyboarded by the administrative person or entered into a computer via voice recognition software.  Both of these strategies, assigning help and permitting use of  technological tools, are in keeping with appropriate accommodations.

The good news is that employers are beginning to recognize the need to become more aware of ADHD in the workplace, and the unique contributions these employees can make to their organization – despite their challenges!

Susan Karyn Lasky, MA, SCAC, is a Productivity Coach, Senior Certified ADHD Coach and Professional Organizer ( These excerpts are from her presentation on ADHD in the Workplace, given before a Labor-Industry Council’s National Conference on Disability in the Workplace.  Following the Conference, several human resource management publications followed up with articles about ADHD, and accommodating the needs of employees.



Susan Lasky is a both Board Certified and Senior Certified ADHD Coach.

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Fine Print

ADD and ADHD are used interchangeably for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

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