By: Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London, co-author No-Nonsense Guide to Workplace Inclusion
Little is known about Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and it is not well understood. But for those who have this condition, it is the equivalent of experiencing an average person’s number of thoughts in one day all rolled up into two hours! Because one’s mind is so active it can get exhausting and breaks are needed after feeling the rush or flurry of ideas and intense energy boosts. However at the same time, these very active moments are ones in which you could easily solve a problem because you have considered it from many angles or you can design the most amazing piece of work! It has its positive and negative sides; and it is all a matter of perspective. The true test is how both employers and employees can work around it.
How does an employer leverage all of the good qualities associated with A.D.H.D. while trying to diminish some of the less desirable ones? Here are a few hints:
1. Be prepared to offer the employee a quiet place with as little distraction as possible. Hyperactive minds need subdued surroundings for balance. Writing reports, working with numbers etc. can be especially challenging for people with A.D.H.D. because they require a lot of details which involve concentration. Whatever you can do to help eliminate distractions from their work environment will be important. Working at home on some assignments can be a solution for self-disciplined employees.
2. Anticipate that employees with A.D.H.D. will have more breaks during the day. You can negotiate with them about breaking up their lunch hour over the course of the day. Even a few minutes away from their desk every couple of hours can make a big difference in their productivity. Or, they may prefer to work later when everyone has gone home or earlier in the morning when it is quieter.
3. Routine, monotonous work is not meant for these people. It is torture! If the task involves black and white thinking chances are they will be so bored, silly mistakes are more likely to occur. Details are not their strength because they are more big-picture thinkers. Leaving the details to people who like them and are good at them is a better strategy.
4. People with A.D.H.D. tend to like change and are flexible with it because it keeps them more focused and energized. Whether it is changing parts of their job, getting a new one, transitions are preferable rather than problematic. Remember people with A.D.H.D. get bored easily, so whatever you can do to make their work challenging that plays upon their strengths will make it a “win-win” for all. Look for opportunities where they can learn new creative tasks and get involved in work that allows them to put to good use their communication skills. If there is flexibility to move their desks, arrange or re-arrange pictures, filing cabinets etc., let them know. Changing things up every so often makes work feel new. Physically moving furniture gives them a much needed mental break where they can re-energize and re-focus when they return to their desk.
5. Don’t jump to conclusions. For example, just because someone forgets to put their dishes away in the kitchen lunch room isn’t a sign of disrespect or waiting for someone else to do it. They may have completely forgotten and when they remembered it was too late. People with learning disabilities and conditions like A.D.H.D. know that they sometimes “miss the mark” more often than you think. They can feel badly about it because it makes them look inconsiderate. What may come across as sloppiness because of simple errors is usually unintentional. Don’t assume they don’t take pride in their work; they probably did not notice. It is okay to let them know and you may need to keep reminding them to remind themselves. If the report they gave you was proof-read 10 times but each time they read it they did not see the mistakes you did, they are very likely to feel more upset than you. They will feel that they let themselves and you down. You may want to offer them special proof-reading software when applicable or suggest they give the report to another to read before submission.
6. Give as much notice as possible when it comes to deadlines. This gives the employee more opportunity to check their work before submitting it and they can plan their scheduled breaks more easily.
7. Provide the employee with items to help them organize their work. Filing cabinets, post-it notes, and others are good ideas. If you find their time management or organizational skills are bad, suggest some professional development. You may however, be pleasantly surprised to find many people in senior positions with A.D.H.D. who do not have these issues because they have worked on their executive functioning skills to offset some of the challenges associated with A.D.H.D.
8. Don’t make too many excuses. If your employee has a sloppy desk or is regularly forgetting their deadlines, their disability does not excuse them in this case. They have to take responsibility for following the office rules just as anyone.
If you have A.D.H.D and are currently employed, be mindful of the following:
1. Don’t talk too much. People with A.D.H.D. often love to talk but can easily forget they are hoarding the conversation or they are too hyper to listen to someone’s responses. Practice clearing your mind when someone is speaking with you and learn to be a more active listener, otherwise you will come across as self-centred. People with A.D.H.D. at times can display behaviours which isolate themselves from others such as: excessive talking, interrupting, not paying attention and missing social cues. Clearing you mind and active listening is key to building and maintaining friendships and understanding and delivering exceptional customer service.
2. S.T.P. Stop. Think. Predict. Remember, as adults we have to take responsibility for our actions. If you have a tendency to let the hyper part of you dominate, allow yourself to breath and take your time before you make a rushed decision because you are too impatient to wait. Before you hit the “send” button on your nasty email, think about what could be the consequence.
3. Play up your many strengths, which by the way are in big demand these days when it comes to qualifications employers are seeking. Let your talent for communications shine! Be the problem-solver and the empathetic ear to your customer. Demonstrate to your co-workers how well you have learned to multi-task! And most of all don’t be afraid to show your sensitive side.
4. Align yourself with people who are different from you. If you are on a team or you’re a leader, work with people who are detail oriented and they can learn from your big-picture thinking, while they can be your second set of eyes.
5. Organize and make your work as exciting and interesting as possible. In one of my very first jobs as a teenager, I was asked to do frequency counts on different medical procedures. Not an interesting task! I varied the task by using multi-coloured papers and markers. You can do this with highlighter marker, tabs, file-folders etc. Just because your brain seems like a mess sometimes doesn’t mean you have to project it! The only way to keep on task is to be organized. File frequently. Get rid of anything you don’t use on your desk or in your office. It will only be another distraction for you. Go for minimalist – it is also very chic these days!
6. Write down and store any contacts, special dates and deadlines in your calendar as soon as you get them, preventing you from losing them if your desk happens to get too messy or you misplace the paper. Computer back-ups are a great idea.
7. Make templates, checklists and to-do lists. Templates and checklists will help you to be more detail oriented and provide consistency in your work. Prepare a weekly and daily “To-Do-List” and record what you did each day. Doing so, will help you monitor your performance and productivity. Are there patterns you have noticed? What obstacles might be getting in the way of completing your tasks? What can you do about them?
8. Lastly, try not to beat yourself up too much. Some days will seem like all of your faults are on display to the whole world and you just feel embarrassed and want to crawl into a ball. Nobody’s perfect—really! This usually happens to me after I have spent a load of money on printing only to find I missed a typo. Have a short cry, dust yourself off and pick yourself up, because tomorrow you will dazzle with all of the gifts that A.D.H.D. has bestowed upon you!
If you are seeking a speaker on learning disabilities and A.D.H.D in the workplace, please contact Evelina Silveira at firstname.lastname@example.org. 519-659-4777