ADHD in the workplace

"In the workplace, people with untreated ADHD confront a variety of challenges. Interpersonal conflict, tardiness, high absenteeism, a high error rate, an inability to change, and a lack of reliability are some examples. Reprimands, suspensions, demotions, pay loss, and termination may be imposed as a result of these actions.Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects about 4% of adults in the United States, although only about 20% of them have been identified or treated. What does this mean for HR professionals and employers?

Belynda L. Gauthier is the board president of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), a nationwide nonprofit organization that supports children and adults with ADHD. She claims that the condition has a substantial impact on employee productivity and even more so on how those employees are perceived. "While many individuals with ADHD have successful professions, others face a range of difficulties, including poor communication skills, distractibility, poor memory, time management concerns, interpersonal skills deficits, procrastination, hyperactivity, and trouble managing complicated tasks."

We all have trouble sitting still, paying attention, or regulating impulsive behavior, according to Gauthier. "However, for other people, the issues are so prevalent and persistent that they affect all element of their lives: home, school, social life, and employment."

She stated that if ADHD symptoms are not effectively treated and accommodated, it might cause problems for teams. "Their disorganization, their issues with planning and managing work, and their poor prediction of the time required to complete various tasks all lead to submitting work at the last minute," she explained about employees with ADHD. When working in a group, this can cause turmoil because other members may be forced to hustle at the last minute to do their jobs due to late assignments."

Employers may face higher expenditures owing to lost productivity, absenteeism, and increased health-care costs, according to CHADD's CEO, Bob Cattoi. "In the workplace, people with untreated ADHD confront a variety of challenges. Interpersonal conflict, tardiness, high absenteeism, a high error rate, an inability to change, and a lack of reliability are some examples. Reprimands, suspensions, demotions, pay loss, and termination may be imposed as a result of these actions. Untreated ADHD patients have a greater rate of unemployment and frequent job changes, and they are frequently passed over for higher-paying professions.

"However, many successful, high-level workers with ADHD exist, including many lawyers and doctors." ADHD sufferers also bring a certain set of skills to the table. Many people with ADHD are imaginative, think outside the box, take strategic risks, and are hyperfocused. There are a lot of successful CEOs that have these qualities."

Over the course of her career, Colleen McManus, SHRM-SCP, an HR executive and consultant headquartered in Arizona, has worked extensively with ADHD concerns. "One of the things I've noticed is that many individuals believe they understand it, perhaps because of personal or family experiences, but they don't have a complete understanding of the variety of ADHD symptoms, contemporary therapies, and feasible accommodations."

"A manager who came to me after an employee disclosed that she had ADHD was an example of old-school thinking. 'I suppose I'll have to give her a private office and treat her with child gloves now,' replied one manager.

"I stated that before we made any assumptions, we needed to participate in an interactive process with that employee to see how, if at all, her ADHD was affecting her ability to execute the fundamental responsibilities of her work. I stated that we would act and make decisions based on the employee's health care provider's medical advice, just as we would if the employee required surgery or physical treatment. For this manager, this simple contrast seemed to take some of the uncertainty out of the situation and provide a road plan for how we would proceed to address it."

According to Gauthier, there is also a lack of understanding regarding whether ADHD can be accommodated. "The most common question I get from people with ADHD is whether or not they should tell their boss about their condition. Many of these people have informed me that they tried to get help from their HR department, only to discover that many HR experts believe that ADHD isn't severe enough to warrant adjustments."

Failure to explore accommodations for employees with ADHD, according to Michael O'Brien, an employment law attorney in Salt Lake City, is "a significant mistake that generates serious litigation issues." "ADHD can be a handicap protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act or an equivalent state legislation, or it can be a serious health condition that triggers Family and Medical Leave Act entitlements," he explained. Often, it is preferable for an employer to engage the employee and provide appropriate assistance rather than risk a legal infringement."

Adapting to ADHD

The good news, according to Cattoi, is that with adequate treatment and accommodations, nearly all symptoms of ADHD may be relieved, allowing employees to function at their best. Simple work aids for adults with treated ADHD include a quiet workspace or white-noise earphones to reduce distractions; calendars and notes to keep track of deadlines; work tasks that are divided into smaller, manageable sizes; short breaks; timers to stay on task; and, for those with hyperactivity, intermittent breaks to get up and do other tasks.

Gauthier described a young man who worked in a warehouse facility away from the main offices. He arrived at the main building every morning, received his daily instructions from his supervisor, and then went for the other worksite.

Within a few weeks, his boss intended to fire him for repeatedly failing to accomplish tasks that were orally assigned to him. Instead, Gauthier collaborated with his boss to create a daily checklist that included all of the day's assignments as well as places for the chores that needed to be completed that day. When the employee logged in each morning, he took this with him, checked off the items as he accomplished them, and turned the document in to the supervisor when he clocked out.

He never failed to complete another task. "He proved to be such a terrific employee that he moved up the ladder multiple times," Gauthier says. And the use of a comparable checklist extended to other employees, some of whom required or desired the reminders regardless of whether they had ADHD."

McManus mentioned a quieter work environment, more time to complete work, a second-check system for peer review of more detailed work, changed work hours to better accommodate peak periods of focus and attention, and written directions, instructions, and training materials for future reference as examples of accommodations she's helped make for people with ADHD.

She did say, though, that it's vital to be realistic about what can and can't be done in the workplace to accommodate ADHD. "For example, I've worked with public-safety agencies for many years, and many public-safety functions can't always give a quiet work space, additional time to focus or respond, an alternate work schedule, or thorough written instructions, especially in the event of an emergency."

HR recommendations

HR professionals should promote an environment in which workers feel comfortable talking about their problems and asking for help or accommodations. They should educate themselves on invisible disabilities, such as behavioral and learning problems, and seek help from organizations like CHADD and JAN, the Job Accommodation Network.

Gauthier encouraged HR workers to keep in mind that ADHD frequently coexists with other illnesses. "If an employee requests a dyslexia accommodation, keep in mind that the person may also benefit from adjustments that are often provided for people with ADHD."

When placed in the right work with the right procedures in place, people with ADHD can be outstanding and even inspired employees. McManus advises being very explicit about performance objectives from the start and checking in with the employee on a regular basis to ensure understanding and growth. "If we want to find the ideal fit for the employee with ADHD so that [the worker] may be productive and successful, communication and understanding in the interactive process are crucial."