The “Over-Qualified Bias”: What does this mean to employers and candidates?


MP900443225[1]Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London,co-author  The No-Nonsense Guide to Workplace Inclusion

The topic of implicit bias has become increasingly popular in diversity and inclusion discussion circles.  Racial, gender, ability, age, cultural and other biases often play a part in deciding whether a  candidate is interviewed, offered, retained and promoted in a job.  Have you ever taken into account that an “over-qualified” label can also have serious ramifications for both your organization and the candidate?

With global unemployment as an epidemic, it naturally makes sense that many applicants may apply for work they have done before, with ease and for an extended period of time.  When these individuals then go to apply for a job which  is similar to what they have done before they are considered “over-qualified” and thus overlooked.  When employers go the “over-qualified” route, they believe that this is a nice way to let applicants down; telling them in a nutshell – “you are too good for this job”.

Next time you consider dismissing an applicant because they are “over-qualified’ it is worth reflecting on the following points:

  1.  The candidate applied for the job and this means they are interested just as any other.
  2.   You may think they are overqualified but they might feel otherwise.
  3.   They may be fine with lateral moves – not everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder.
  4.   They are looking for a less stressful job that they can balance more easily.
  5.   They have outside interests which they may want to devote more energy; and that is why they have chosen to apply for a job which they can perform easily.
  6.   An overqualified candidate can be your best asset. They can bring industry experience which can help your organization soar.
  7.   Do you want to eliminate a candidate from the pool because you fear they will take your job?
  8.   Different people approach work differently. This means that the candidate may find a new way of doing the work that will make it more stimulating and thus more inclined to stay.
  9.   You may be getting more value for their work.
  10.   Over-qualified is a label associated with mature workers. Could you be prejudicing the employment of mature workers?
  11.   Not all over-qualified people demand high salaries which is an assumption that is made all to often.

Before you think a candidate will be “bored in a second and gone in a minute” try some probing questions in the interview to determine whether the risk is high.

  1.   Where do you hope to be in 2 years?
  2.   What are you hoping to learn in this job?
  3.   What motivates you at work?
  4.   What is the ideal job for you?
  5.   What are you looking for in a job?

You may find the job is a perfect match for the candidate you have slotted as “over-qualified”.  There is no guarantee anymore that an employee is going to stay with a company for 10 years.  But realistically, job seekers are not doing a lot of job hopping when there are few options to go to.  If you are concerned their skills are not adequately being used asked them for suggestions.  With work experience under their belt they may make a fantastic mentor which is an exceptionally good way to recognize their value.

 

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The Guide to Workplace Inclusion


Preview and Purchase at www.yourdiversityatwork.com/ebook/

Read  below what others have said about our book:

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ENDORSEMENTS:

This is an important and timely book for those who want more inclusive workplaces. It moves seamlessly from concepts and terminology and translates them into practical and actionable ideas. All readers, no matter where they are on their diversity and inclusive journey, will find something valuable in this book. Evelina Silveira and Jill Walters have created an impressive resource that includes examples of promising practices from across the globe. This should be every HR professional’s companion!

~Ratna Omidvar, executive director, Global Diversity Exchange, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University

The No-Nonsense Guide to Workplace Inclusion provides a thorough and engaging roadmap of the journey toward organizational inclusion. The authors write from a position of rich, credible experience, with the result that this Guide can help companies capitalize on opportunities and skirt problems on the road to fuller inclusion of an increasingly diverse workplace. Filled with examples and evidence-based solutions, this Guide is a valuable tool for any organization working on building and strengthening its culture of inclusiveness.

~Alison Konrad, PhD, professor of organizational behaviour, Ivey Business School, London, Canada

Managing diversity and creating inclusive workplaces can seem like a daunting challenge for many organisations, but Evelina and Jill have produced a really accessible, highly practical guide to help organisations get going. What we particularly liked was that it was packed full of real examples and illustrations and lots of useful links and tools.

~Tracy Powley, director, Focal Point Training and Consultancy Ltd, United Kingdom

Because inclusion is one of the core values of the USTA, it is important for me to lead, motivate and work well with individuals of diverse backgrounds, capabilities and interests in order to achieve the outcomes we’ve set for ourselves. This book is a great resource for any organization looking to create a successful culture of inclusion.

~D.A. Abrams, chief diversity & inclusion officer, United States Tennis Association/ author, Diversity & Inclusion: The Big Six Formula for Success

This book goes a long way in addressing the systemic discrimination faced by the LGBTQ2 community in the workplace. It tells you what you need to do and gives you the resources to do it. It makes it easy for any workplace to become more inclusive in their hiring, recruitment and retention practices. I highly recommend it for every workplace.

~ Deb Al-Hamza, past president, Pride London Festival/ diversity social worker, Children’s Aid Society of London & Middlesex

I think this book is very comprehensive! There is very valuable information from ‘Foundations for creating an Inclusive Business Environment’ to ‘Best Practices in Diversity.’ I see the value for small to medium businesses that lack a dedicated human resources professional or lack the experience with implementing policies and procedures to promote an inclusive environment; however, larger businesses can also benefit greatly from the examples, detail and strategy offered. I will continue to visit many of the resources offered in the future and have made note of some of the examples.

~Lesley Oliver, diversity & accessibility coordinator, Equity & Human Rights Services, University of Western Ontario

The book is strategic, concrete and to the point. The various examples make it relevant to readers and practical. I also like the fact it is rooted in personal experiences and takes a holistic approach. The book makes one reflect on what is not obvious, helps avoid assumptions and discusses unconscious bias.

~Magali Toussaint, international career and cross-cultural coach/ diversity professional, Netherlands, http://about.me/magali.toussaint

 

 

 

 

Political Correctness: Haven’t We Gone Too Far?


By:  Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work

“Evelina, I don’t know how to say it, because I don’t want to sound bad or offend anyone but…”   “Just say it!”  I declare.   “You don’t have to be politically correct with me, if I don’t know what the problem is, I can’t help you!”  The tension automatically dissipates; and a looser more relaxed tone settles in and then the client begins to tell me an uncensored version of what is happening.

This happens regularly to me when I receive a call from a client. Usually they are stressed about a situation and they want answers but they don’t want to be judged.  They have learned they cannot criticize certain groups because they will have a label hurled at them or get slapped with a human rights complaint –-the biggest threat and silencer of all.

I am writing this article because I believe in truth and fairness. I believe in a balanced approach to diversity and workplace inclusion.  Political correctness is not always “correct” when it comes to truth and fairness.

Politically correct language is not a bad thing. I don’t want to be referred to as a “girl” “chick” or “bitch” but a woman.  Using the “right words” is positive.  It demonstrates the progress we have made in our understanding of the equality of human beings.  I like that!  Perhaps we should have left it at that.

Political correctness is responsible for:

  • Creating animosity amongst different groups and perpetuating all of the “isms” where none have existed.
  • Suppressing the truth.
  • Removing ourselves from our moral obligations to help marginalized groups.
  • Perpetuating a double-standard when it comes to acceptable  behaviour.
  • Preventing us from talking to one another.

 

How Political Correctness Creates Animosity Amongst Groups

The Christmas holidays are a prime example. I have never met a Jew or a Muslim in Canada who was “offended” by celebrating Christmas in the workplace.  Yet, each year there is a rush to plan a holiday festivity which sounds like a Christmas one – but  it isn’t supposed to be. Or the gathering is cancelled altogether because the organization has just hired a Jew or a Muslim, or any other non-Christian.  The end result: dislike for those of minority faiths and the cancellation of a celebration which would have otherwise brought employees together. In our effort to please everyone –we please no one. Instead, “well-meaning”, “religiously-sensitive”  gestures spring into micro-aggressions in the workplace where none has previously existed.

How Political Correctness Suppresses the Truth

It’s seems like it wasn’t that long ago when CBC’s Marketplace made a formal apology  for publishing inaccurate test results  about vitamin supplements.  But I am unaware of any such apology with the Fifth Estates’ problematic reporting of the incidents which lead to the death of little Aylan Kurdi.  His precious life could have been saved. Instead, they aired a report which infers that the Canadian government was responsible  for Aylan’s death since his family’s application  wasn’t approved in time to immigrate to Canada!   Around the same time, European and Turkish papers had reported about Aylan’s father’s disregard for his own son’s life (did not give him a life jacket but wore one himself) and that he was actually a human smuggler who was trying to get to Germany to get the State to pay for very expensive dental work. And to make matters worse, Aylan  wasn’t the only member of his family who perished as a result of his father’s negligence it was also his mother and siblings. The last I read his father was going to prison.  I don’t recall a correction notice on the Fifth Estate or any other media sources for that matter. It’s not politically correct and it certainly wouldn’t fit in with Liberal politics.

Canadians have been led to believe that we are saving thousands of people from Syrian refugee camps, but sadly we are not. According to the April 13, 2016 edition of Hill Times confirms that “very few are coming from refugee camps”.  Rushing to bring in thousands of people into the country without a good plan and then saying we are saving lives is deceptive. Stop leading Canadians to believe that we are helping more people than we actually are  — we are not!

My friends from former communist countries have noted that the CBC is no different than the propaganda they had to put up with back in their country of origin. It seems that our media on the whole has a disdain for simultaneously broadcasting opposing points of view.  There’s a name for that:  media bias.

Internationally and at home, journalists, police officers, and government officials are not allowed to report what is going on because they are afraid of an uprising and backlash against refugees and migrants. Since when is censorship a part of living in a democratic country?  I ask myself: What must it be like to be a muzzled journalist these days?

Yet the sexual abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests seems to be okay to broadcast around the world. Christian-bashing has becoming so acceptable in our modern society that we hardly notice it.  Rarely do you ever hear anyone sticking up for Christians. So who makes the decision of what truths can be disclosed and which will be suppressed? Political correctness does.

Political correctness slaps a “xenophobe” or “racist” label whenever you disagree with a leftist mentality. Very strong words, improperly used when citizens start asking questions about the politics of their country.  I would argue by using these words so regularly  actually takes away from the experiences of those who truly live them each day.

How Political Correctness Removes Us From Our Moral Responsibility

Where are the voices of Western feminists when it comes to advocating for the rights of women globally?   In some ways, today’s feminists haven’t evolved much from the 1960’s.  Female genital mutilation, child marriage and honour killings are off-bounds.  I would encourage any feminist who thinks it is culturally insensitive to challenge the violent practices of other cultures to meet the women who have endured them.  In my work with immigrant women, I have met those who have suffered these horrendous, traumatic practices and who have been marred physically and psychologically for the rest of their lives.  If we don’t try to help our sisters globally we are making the statement that their lives are less valuable.  Is the life of a Yemenite, Sudanese, Indian girl or other any less than a Western life?  Of course not. It is not racist to advocate for the rights of people who are often voiceless. It is the right thing to do!

How Political Correctness Makes Us Accept Intolerable Behaviour 

When we accept poor work performance or belligerent behaviour from a person of a designated group we are being unjust.   We are telling  ourselves that we cannot expect better behaviour because of “x” number of reasons and consequently we reduce them to a lower level of expectations. Translation:  we don’t feel they can attain our standards.  Isn’t this kind of like the “racism of lower expectations”?

What would happen if you walked naked down the street? There is a good chance the police would be called and you would be arrested for violating the public decency laws.  Most people I say don’t really care if there is a Pride Parade, but they do care if there is nudity involved.  Why do the Toronto police turn a blind eye to nudity at the Pride Parade when it is unlawful?  Since when does one group of people get to break the law without consequence and others can’t?  No one can argue that the LGBT community has a lot to celebrate and they have had a long history of oppression but that does not give them the right to be naked on the street.  One law for everyone, please! No exceptions.

Political Correctness Prevents Us From Talking To One Another

Many years ago, I had a wonderful opportunity to bring Jewish and Arab-Muslim women together for a dialogue group. These forward-thinking women through mutual learning wanted to “create a pocket of peace” in the city they lived in, by reducing hate and stereotypes.  It was one of the most difficult and rewarding groups I have ever facilitated as it  was so emotionally charged.  At the outset, these women denounced “terminal politeness”.  We all understood what it meant:  no phoniness and no political correctness.   Consequently, these women spent many weeks together, shared meals and prayers of peace.  As the facilitator, I can recount how the women expressed similar feelings about the impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It was interesting to know how each group felt the newspapers were biased against them.  Did long-lasting friendships happen?  Not really, but respect did.  These were bold woman who were willing to ask and speak without judgment and fear and consequently they got the answers they were seeking.  This wouldn’t have happened if they had been politically correct.

What can we do as individuals?

1. Accept diversity of opinion. With embracing diversity comes the expectation of accepting  differences of opinion, even when it doesn’t suit you. . You cannot have one without the other.

2. Don’t accept one truth only. There are different sides to every story. Challenge bias when you see it. Whether it’s the media,  the authors of your children’s textbooks, or institutions and even yourself.

3.  Stop the silence and take a chance and speak out against political correctness.  I can guarantee that you’ll be a hero.  You won’t be alone.

 

Hurray! It’s Hockey Night in Punjabi!


By:  Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work

What is more Canadian than hockey? Maple syrup or poutine? No, not even that!  So what do you get when you add our favourite symbol with a sprinkle of Indo-Pakistani culture? Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi!

You don’t have to understand Punjabi to appreciate the game. In fact, some of the enjoyment comes from listening to the broadcasters shout out a score.

The elation is magnified in Punjabi!

On the surface, Hockey Night in Punjabi may seem like just a hockey game moderated in another language, but its impact is far-reaching.

It’s a testament to:

  •  the “power of the buck”. It makes for great business. Punjabi is one of the most widely spoken of immigrant languages in Canada. This is a great way to expand the brand and sell! Market segmentation allows for new opportunities for growth.       Whoever thought of this was a genius!

 

  • from an integration point of view, it shows you can adapt and enjoy cultural aspects of a new country and make them your own.

 

  •  it tells us sport can bring people together whether you are an Indian-Punjabi speaker or a Pakistani one, cultural differences can be set aside to enjoy the game.

Not unlike the Punjabi spectators, when my parents came to Canada they had never seen a hockey game.  Football (soccer) was their sport of choice back home as ice rinks and snow were no where to be found.  However before long, they discovered the joys of watching Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday.  My mother could enthusiastically rhyme off the names of her favourite team — The Toronto Maple Leafs (this was the  70’s); complete with a Portuguese version of their name.  Before long, each trip to the corner store meant I had a new set of hockey cards with pictures of toothless Darryl Sittler and Eddy Shack!  I never really got into the game on TV, but did not want to break my mother’s heart. I accepted the hockey cards just the same appreciating them for the stick of bubble gum.

Integration into a new culture is not an easy thing to do, but every effort must be made to look at the brighter parts of what it can offer. Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi tells us while cricket may always be the beloved sport in India and Pakistan, cultural adaptation is possible and necessary.

From a business perspective, it shows us immigrants have spending power and taking a one-size-fits all model may mean missing out on economic opportunities.

So, hurrah for Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi!  You score on many levels!

 

 

 

 

English Language Pronunciation for Professionals


 

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Pickles on Pizza: Is Your Customer Service Up To Par?


canning-728269_640Written by:  Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work

It’s a weekday lunch hour and my  Russian friend Natasha and I, dart to Subway for our  repas.  Deviating from our regular sandwich choice, we go for the Pizza.

Now, time to build our pizza and the clerk asks us what we would like.  I look at the choices and say:  “Olives and peppers, please.”  Natasha follows me but adds “pickles.”  “Pickles?” the clerk asks.  “Yes, pickles” my friend replies.  With an odd look on her face the clerk replies:  “No, we can’t do that!”  “Why?” my friend asks.  “You have lots of pickles!”   The clerk said:  “I’m sorry we don’t serve pickles on pizza.”  While all of this was happening I was chuckling and my friend did not know why.  I did not realize that perhaps I was being insensitive.  But I was analyzing this experience from a cultural and a customer service lens.

A pizza consists of many ingredients we often find in sandwiches.  Bread, meat, cheese and sometimes vegetables.  In a way it is an open-faced sandwich (I’m sure my Italian readers will hate me for this!).  And Slavs like pickles especially on their sandwiches.  So if you analyze it from this perspective it makes a lot of sense about why Natasha would  want pickles on her pizza!  However, I was trying to tell my friend that perhaps one of the reasons why the clerk was not allowed to give her pickles on her pizza was because it would interfere with the profit margin. Probably the pizza had been priced based with only a few toppings?

In any case, this left a bad impression.  What would you have done?  I would have given her the pickles even if it costed more.  Each customer experience should have a happy ending.

Is there a pickle problem in your customer service delivery?  Are you creating unnecessary barriers or being too inflexible and thus missing out on much needed ethnic and niche market sales?  It could be a simple fix that could make a difference between acquiring a whole new group of customers or turning them off. Having various feedback mechanisms in place to see what is working and what needs improvement is a good place to start.

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How I Increased My Portuguese Fluency by Watching a Soap Opera


By:  Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.

It’s 9:00 pm and I have given up my regular date with Peter Mansbridge on the National News preferring to watch the Belmonte family:  Jose, Carlos, Lucas, Joao and Pedro navigate their business deals in the beautiful town of Estremoz, Portugal.  The Belmonte’s came into my life quite by chance one day when I was flipping channels, just wanting to relax.  Alas!  I heard a familiar language spoken on the television –Portuguese.  This was my first language that I have lost due to lack of practice.

Out of curiousity, and out of a deep appreciation for the visually appealing men I saw on the screen, I decided to give it a few minutes of my time.  Before long, I was fully engaged and not superficially either.  It became an intellectual exercise where I challenged myself to understand, by linking linguistic similarities to English.  When I started watching Belmonte about two months ago, I only understood about 60% of what I was hearing.

I have never studied Portuguese formally.  However, I had some exposure in my family of Portuguese immigrants. I decided some time ago that I wanted to learn it better but I am not someone who enjoys taking classes or listening to tapes.  I want it to be fun and not a lot of extra work.  Voila!  Belmonte to the rescue!

Sixty days later of watching 5 hours a week, I understand about 98% of what I am hearing and my vocabulary has expanded exponentially!  This isn’t your average run of the-mill American-style soap opera peppered with affairs botoxed beauties and beaus all living in their massive homes.  Albeit, the Belmonte’s do own a vineyard, a marble quarry, an olive oil business and a park, but not everyone in Estremoz is rich or perfect.

So what have I learned from this captivating, suspenseful, picturesque, award-winning soap opera?  A whole lot such as:

  • Some business vocabulary.
  • Slang expressions.
  • Many similar idioms like:  “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.
  • Vocabulary related to criminal investigations as one of the major plots has to do with “ o trafico de mulheres” or trafficking of women.
  • How Latin based words like “horrible”, “impossible” “incredible” etc are very similar to the Portuguese words but the “b” gets dropped for a “v”.
  • If you listen carefully many of the verbs have a Latin base and you can easily figure out what they are trying to say.
  • Portuguese is a very formal language and there are higher standards for politeness and respect for hierarchy and status.  Even the Police Sergeant uses formal titles to address suspects.  And when the characters are exchanging insults they still manage to add an:  “Desculpa”  (Sorry)  or “Boa Tarde’  (Good Afternoon)  Imagine that!
  • There are a lot of English words that have become part of the Portuguese lexicon.  For example in business:  “off-shore”; “dealer” (as in drug dealer); “okay”; “strippers” etc.

Besides increasing my vocabulary and comprehension, Belmonte has also given me a greater understanding of contemporary Portuguese issues.  For example, there are many references to how a few of the characters have lost their faith in God and don’t go to church anymore. Portugal has for centuries been one of the bastions of the Catholic faith and now it appears that even that is dying.  Poor Padre Arturo (Father Arthur) himself has decided to give up his vocation after his Italian son got killed in a motorcycle accident and the Bishop wouldn’t let him attend his funeral.  Padre Arturo is no longer counselling his parishioners about holding onto their faith but vice versa.

Then there is the issue of violence against women.  One of the plots has to do with the trafficking of women by a group of English and German investors who engage some of the business men in Estremoz in their dealings.  The show appears to want to highlight the epidemic of human trafficking in Europe but also the different aspects of violence against women.  In Sargento Susanna’s headquarters there are posters which focus on psychological abuse as a form of domestic violence.  You wouldn’t expect a poster like this in a police sergeant’s office but the producers are obviously trying to use these opportunities to disseminate important information.

On a less serious note you see how much the Portuguese love their food.  I swear Sofia Belmonte spends half of her life in front of the dining room table.  I don’t think I have ever seen so much eating in a television production outside the Food Channel!  The Portuguese use food as a cure for many ailments as you see in Belmonte. A chamomile tea is given at bed time for a sore tummy and to calm the nerves.  Victims are encouraged to eat after a trauma to gain their strength.  Sonia eats in the middle of the night to cure her insomnia. Rosario prepares a bountiful breakfast to show her love for Hugo.

Next time you are thinking of brushing up on a language don’t discount the value of actively and analytically watching a television program –even a soap opera.  You may be surprised at how it can be much more than entertainment. The key is to find an immersion activity you enjoy and stick with it.

Mature Workers: Staying Relevant


By: Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.

I hadn’t seen Jeff for over 30 years, since we had worked together as teenagers but somehow we recognized one another as he left the employment centre. Stopping to say hello, he recounted how he was recently laid off as a sales rep from a food manufacturer and was coming from a support group for mature workers. I hesitated for a moment and replied with: “ I can’t believe it Jeff, we are mature workers!”.   “Wow, that makes me feel old and I really don’t understand why we would need a special group!” We both agreed that at our age we were really at our prime, having gained so much knowledge and skills. Why would these assets present such a dilemma for employers?

I guess it has to do with how we perceive mature workers. Are all of those stereotypes really true? Cranky, bitter, burnt-out technology dinosaurs. This seems to be the basis for the majority of complaints. Are they really warranted? While working on an assignment with a call centre, I had a chance to test this out. I noticed first-hand why my client was unable to retain their mature workers. The rapid pace of the computer-training was too stressful and they quickly became disengaged, alienated and embarrassed by the younger trainees. I could see how it would have been beneficial to take more time in the training and “nesting phase” (time before you go live ).

Spending more time on the front end would have actually saved on training costs and protect their reputation as an employer. Having a separate training strategy for mature workers would yield better results : creating higher retention and loyalty. Consistently, I saw mature workers quit  before they were put on the chopping block.

With three generations now working together for the first time, we must find ways to integrate them all for the survival of our organizations. It is estimated that approximately 41% of the working population is between the ages of 45 and 64 (up from 29% in 1991), and this percentage will continue to increase over the coming years.   This is an astounding number we cannot ignore. It requires a new shift in workplace and societal attitudes challenging our perceptions regarding aging.

Given how common is ageism,  mature workers must also do their part to stay relevant and informed about the trends in the changing workplace:

Refrain from being overly judgemental about the younger generation’s work habits and expectations. Taking this approach will automatically distance you from them and this will only make you appear older and resistant to change.

Look for opportunities where you can work with younger employees. Many younger workers often lament a lack of mentors in the workplace. Keeping an open-mind may make you someone they can turn to for advice. Conversely, they may be able to help you acquire or understand some of the latest trends that can be beneficial to your work –including technology and social media.

Familiarize yourself with your rights and obligations as a mature worker. Recognize that in some types of jobs which require physical work you may notice a drop in your ability to perform. You may be asked to perform other work.

Avoid getting pre-screened out of a job interview. Only include the last 10-15 years of your work experience and leave out the dates of your education except for recent courses. If you have 30 years of work experience listed on your resume, the screener can easily do the math!

Be open to learning and taking any required professional development. It demonstrates engagement and your interest in staying with your job and being productive. Be honest about the kind of training you need and what approach works best for you. Many mature workers often benefit more from one-to-one or small group training over larger groups especially when it comes to learning technical skills.

Avoid the temptation to parent your co-workers. As you get older there is an increasing possibility that your supervisor will be younger than you. Taking this approach will only work against you as it undermines their talents as a boss.

Stay in touch with the language trends. If you don’t know what something means ask. Remember the language you use speaks volumes about your ability to adapt. Talking about the “good old days” creates exclusion.

Challenge your own biases about ageing and ageism.   Do you carry biases of your own that may prevent you from being your best at any age? Do you let biases about younger workers get in the way of promoting and hiring them?  Age is increasingly referred to “as just a number” and you can be the inspiration to others who decide to remain in the workplace longer.

Accommodating A.D.H.D. in the Workplace


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 evelina@yourdiversityatwork.com. 519-659-4777

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