ADHD in the workplace is a big deal. According to a report done by the World Health Organization in 2006, approximately 8 million adults have ADHD (4-6% of the adult population). These 8 million individuals are 18-times more likely to be disciplined for a behavioral issue, on average have 22 days of lost productivity each year (to the tune of up to a cost of $266 billion to the U.S. economy) , and are 60% more likely to lose their job. What’s more, of this population, 85-90% don’t know they have ADHD!
Yikes! What is a manager to do? Unless someone self-identifies, how do you know if someone is wrangling with ADHD? What can you do to help those people succeed?
A pile of papers and unfinished tasks
So, what does ADHD look like in the workplace? Frankly, it can manifest differently for everyone – they’re not all going to look like Dennis the Menace. And it may present differently in women than in men (girls are far less likely to be diagnosed in childhood because more often than not females have inattentive ADHD). If you’ve looked into ADHD at all, you know there is a laundry list of symptoms. To make things simple, here are the five most common manifestations that sap productivity.
Disorganization/Details. Have an employee with stacks of papers and files on their desk? Maybe they’re apt to lose or misplace things? Paperwork is sloppy and incomplete? Those with ADHD are notoriously disorganized, especially those who haven’t been diagnosed.
Distraction/Inattention/Boredom. Do you catch your employee daydreaming? Giving half-hearted effort on certain tasks? These will be common outcomes if someone with ADHD is assigned work duties that tend to be monotonous and highly systematized. ADHD is fed by novelty and deep interest.
Procrastination/Time Management. Is your employee constantly showing up late for work? Missing deadlines or scrambling to get things done consistently? An ADHD coach once said that it takes someone with ADHD twice as long to get things done versus a “normie”. Strange as it might sound, this rule is true almost 100% of the time. Time management is definitely an issue.
Managing Complex/Long-Term Projects. There are a lot of details to manage and keep straight within a long-term project. There is plenty of opportunity to combine disorganization, procrastination, and forgetfulness. Not a good recipe.
Impulsivity/Emotionalism. Impulsivity is a key characteristic of ADHD that is fueled by emotion. Generally, people with ADHD are prone to unedited outbursts, become frustrated easily, and otherwise speaking bluntly in a way that can create division and hurt feelings.
Certainly an employee can display one of these behaviors and not have ADHD – but, most ADHDers will display a combination of these (and others). While it is not your job to diagnose, being aware of how ADHD presents and connecting the dots can help you turn a person who is an unproductive liability into a star performer.
What can you do? Be aware and strategic!
So, here’s the truth – an employee with ADHD will challenge you. If you want your employee to succeed you’ll need to get out of your comfort zone. If you make that decision, you’ll be glad you did. While a person with ADHD presents many difficulties, they also are capable of amazing accomplishment.
Studies have shown that people with ADHD tend to be highly intelligent and highly creative (White and Shah, University of Memphis). With business titans like Sir Richard Branson, Ingvar Kamprad (Ikea founder), and David Neeleman (Jet Blue founder) all having ADHD or Dyslexia (related to ADHD), researchers are studying the linkages between ADHD and entrepreneurship. For good measure, throw in journalist Lisa Ling, and entertainers like Justin Timberlake and Adam Levine, you can see that ADHD doesn’t have to be a detriment – but can be an essential ingredient to success.
Imagine, the same trait that would make someone a really lousy administrative assistant, is also the same trait that could make them a billionaire creator of businesses. Isn’t that something you, as a manager, would want to harness? You’d be negligent if you didn’t!
So, if you can identify (through your observations or the employee self-identification) an employee with ADHD, here are some ways you can help them be all they can be (and produce great results for you).
Align their duties with their strengths and interests. What you don’t want is an employee with ADHD super-powers to become bored. ADHDers thrive on novelty – and will be relentless in pursuing to the nth degree the details of subjects for which they have passion.
Working together, set realistic, attainable goals with clear expectations. The more specific the goal, the better. Tangibility is important – and concrete goals your employee can “see” will create a better results. Set a few boundaries – expectations that you both can agree upon. This gives you leverage if you need to modify their behavior
Keep their To-Do list short. The best strategy to undertake to help an ADHDer stay on target is to break their goal-path into smaller objectives. Not doing so could become overwhelming. Keep the To-Do list to no more than 3-4 items. Also, ADHDers will get distracted by shiny objects. Keeping the list short reduces the chances of being distracted and running down rabbit trails to nowhere.
Pair them with a non-ADHDer who is highly organized. Free the ADHDer from as much administrative detail as possible. Quite often teaming them with someone who is a linear thinker and doer will yield great results. You’ll receive the benefit of more creative, innovative output – and have someone who’ll keep your speeding bullet moving straight ahead (and have the paperwork done correctly)!
Do not micro-manage! If the employee feels your leash, they’ll lay down. ADHDers value freedom and, to a certain degree, autonomy (keep in mind that many ADHDers are resistant to authority – so, be their partner not the “boss”). If you get too much into their details you’ll stifle productivity. If you’ve paired them with the right person you won’t need to go micro.
Check in weekly. So, you are the boss. Have weekly team meetings to monitor progress, discuss challenges, give insights, etc. This creates accountability and provides necessary direction.
Celebrate success. Think about this: throughout their lives, a person with ADHD typically did not get great grades, may have faced disciplinary issues growing up, was labeled as being lazy and/or stupid. Typically their self-esteem will be lower than others (even those who are far less talented than themselves). Celebrating their success in small and large ways is like providing sunshine to a flower – they’ll bloom brighter the more they receive.
Yep, it’s a little more work. And worth it. Think about this – if you have a team of 10 people, 1 or 2 of them will have ADHD. If you don’t invest in them, chances are they may disrupt the rest of your team. But, if you take the time to set them up for success, you’ll make the entire team successful.
That’s a big deal.