AD/HD: THE WORKPLACE
Presented by Harold R. Meyer and Anne Ford, notes by Susan K. Lasky
AD/HD is real. It is precisely the strengths of those with AD/HD that brought about the internet, today’s personal computers, airlines such as jetBlue, which began and flourished at a time when other airlines were failing left and right. When you purchase stock in a company you probably purchase it through a discount brokerage firm, the idea of someone with AD/HD.
Einstein, Edison, Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others achieved great things not in spite of their AD/HD but because of it. I fear that in an unenlightened corporation their very attributes which made them successful would not be allowed to flourish because they didn’t fit into today’s corporate mold.
Typical symptoms of AD/HD may include:
- Difficulty in remaining seated and participating in meetings.
- Time management. Getting to work and meetings on time.
- Easily distracted by internal thoughts or external stimuli.
- Difficulty maintaining attention and waiting for a turn in tasks or group situations.
- Difficulty following through on instructions.
- Failing to give close attention to detail.
- Blurting out answers or interrupting others while they are speaking.
- Shifting from one uncompleted task to another.
- Not being able to set priorities.
However, when AD/HD is accommodated it can turn the employee you would like to see disappear off the face of the earth into one who can be an extraordinary asset to your organization. Many people with AD/HD can, and do, accomplish great things. Under the right circumstances they are amongst the most creative, resourceful and productive. Many are counted amongst the most successful business entrepreneurs, inventors, politicians, comedians, etc.
So why do we hold a largely negative view of people with AD/HD? The answer to this could be the subject of an all day presentation. For today, just be aware that many managers don’t know how to work with – or utilize the strengths of, these highly creative and intelligent employees who have difficulty with organization, time management, mundane and detailed work, etc. and therefore are unable to use their strengths to the company’s advantage. The company and the employee can quickly be at odds.
Put an under-performing employee with AD/HD in an AD/HD friendly environment and you may suddenly find that person to be highly motivated and a top performing employee. Many times though, the easy way out is to fire, demote or underutilize that employee, no matter what your investment in hiring and training has been.
This country was built by individuals who share many traits of AD/HD; high energy, impulsive, risk-taking, good in crisis, jump in with both feet and figure it out as you go along. The very assets that made this country great, and allowed for the success of the American economy and political system of the past seem to be the very traits that some of us now look at with disdain.
Attention/Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is characterized by
- Inability to pay attention
- And in some cases, Hyperactivity.
It is considered a Neurobiological Disorder.
Studies have shown differences in the brains of people with AD/HD, including under activity of cerebral blood flow and glucose metabolism in the prefrontal areas. Yes, AD/HD is real. It is not the product of poor parenting. It is not an adult who is considered lazy, crazy or stupid. It is not a moral defect. It is a neurobiological disorder.
Individuals with AD/HD can be, and most often are, highly intelligent, creative and personable. They can be very successful in life.
However, without identification, understanding and proper treatment, AD/HD can (and often does) have consequences, including:
- school failure
- conduct disorder
- legal problems
- financial difficulties
- failed relationships
- under-employment AND
- substance abuse.
Because everyone shows signs of AD/HD-related behaviors at one time or another, diagnostic guidelines are very specific.
Symptoms arise in early childhood, are long-lasting and evident for at least six months before age seven.
The problematic nature of the symptoms may not become obvious until life requirements conflict with the ability to function appropriately – such as when a child is required to sit at a desk all day, or an adolescent is required to self-motivate on assignments they dislike, or an adult or young adult is forced to juggle multiple priorities.
- The symptoms in children must be more frequent or severe than in other children of the same age.
- The symptoms in adults must affect their ability to function in daily life.
- The behaviors must create significant difficulty in at least two areas of life, such as home, social settings, school or work.
50% of adults with AD/HD may have one or more other disorders, including:
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- Anger Management
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Therapy for the employee and those who care for them, coaching, social and organizational skills training, workplace accommodations and medication often produce miraculous results, with at least 80% of patients responding dramatically to these interventions. Most can and will lead productive and successful lives. Many will go on to upper management and even succeed where others have failed. Look at your sales staff. I venture a guess that the vast majority of your top performers have AD/HD. While the underperforming employee is the one who stands out, the greatest numbers of people with AD/HD in your organization are possibly at the top.
What can we as employers do? We can better educate managers that these employees are not willfully coming in late, letting deadlines skip by, etc. This is not willful – it is part of the problem.
We can look for the Islands of Competency of each employee and make use of them. We must not dwell on the weaknesses; we must utilize and offer support and encouragement for the strengths. Does it really make sense to not promote your best salesperson because she or he can’t get their expense reports in on time? I have seen this happen. What a shame for the company.
One AD/HD savvy supervisor was very receptive to his employee’s request to attend fewer meetings. This gifted computer specialist 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 better utilized working alone in his office. The flexible boss recognized the creative brain power of his employee, and was flexible enough to rethink the standard operating procedure of the work environment.
Another AD/HD employee in a large accounting firm changed from a bored, restless, under functioning accountant to a top performing employee when his enlightened supervisor understood the discontent. He had little patience or tolerance for the predictable, routine paperwork of his first job assignment but became a superstar when he was allowed to develop specialized software, and to teach other accountants how to use it. Once again, his very real gifts were recognized and taken advantage of. A less enlightened supervisor might have let him go after poor performance reviews, as this accountant’s previous firm had.
We can make workplace accommodations. Most cost little or nothing. For example: moving a person’s office or cubicle away from a high traffic area where each sound is a disturbance and major distraction. We can allow a person to close their door to block out disturbing sounds when they must do something requiring high concentration.
We can try to remove the things the employee is not good at, such as expense reports, certain group meetings, etc.
Voice recognition software for report writing has helped. We can buddy up the employee with another to make sure deadlines are met and instructions and directives are understood.
We can help an employee set priorities and we can make sure that the instructions given on a project are clear.
AD/HD gone right is a wonderful thing and an asset to your corporation.