Career Masterclass: How to manage ADHD in the workplace

Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell offers advice on how to identify and support employees with ADHD

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The hallmark symptom of adult attention deficit disorder (AADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in an adult is unexplained underachievement. The person is talented, but can’t seem to achieve at the level their talent should warrant. Typically, a lack of effort or discipline is thought to be the cause – the so-called ‘moral diagnosis’ – when in fact it is down to brain wiring. Other symptoms include: poor organisational skills, lateness, procrastination, social inappropriateness, a tendency to be impulsive and restless, trouble focusing on tasks and being easily distracted.

This isn’t to say that adults with ADHD – the preferred abbreviation in the UK for both disorders – won’t make highly productive and enthusiastic employees. ADHD occurs on a spectrum, and many highly successful people fall under it, including Sir Richard Branson, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad and Justin Timberlake. These people tend to be creative, visionary, groundbreaking, innovative, tenacious, uncannily intuitive and resilient. They are often very smart, although their academic record may not reflect it because school is a tough place for people with the disorder.

Proper treatment can turn an underachieving employee into a superstar. If the signs are there, think ADHD, and encourage the employee to seek help from a qualified professional. Provide workplace support for people with poor organisational skills, such as reminder systems, time deadlines and managerial coaching. There are various apps and tools that support organisational skills and executive functioning (see below).

Whatever benefits people with ADHD will ultimately benefit everyone in the workplace and, if managed properly, ADHD can be a great asset both to the individual and the organisation. These are the pioneers and visionaries of the future.

Edward Hallowell is a psychiatrist who specialises in ADD and ADHD. He is co-author of the books Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction.

For your information:

  • Read The ADHD Guide to Career Success: Harness Your Strengths, Manage Your Challenges by Kathleen G Nadeau
  • Use the Attention Control app as a starting point to improve concentration, focus and attentiveness
  • Visit the UKAAN (UK Adult ADHD Network) Congress in London in April 
  • Read ‘How to Manage Employees with ADD/ADHD’, from Forbes magazine 

This article was first published in People Management magazine (March 2016 edition).

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