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Tips for managing ADHD at work

Many children with ADHD continue to experience symptoms when they become adults.

The adult ADHD organisation AADD-UK says as many as 3-4% of adults in the UK have ADHD.

Behavioural issues such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness can cause difficulties in the workplace.

Joining a self-help group or reputable web chat rooms for people with ADHD can help to share experiences and solutions to everyday problems.

If problems of ADHD at work are causing distress, ask a GP or ADHD specialist or organisation for help.

They may recommend a referral to a specialist community mental health team or counsellor.

ADHD at work and the law

ADHD is a disability covered by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). This is designed to protect people with disabilities from discrimination and disadvantage at work, and gives employers the responsibility to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to a person's job or workplace.

Picking the right job with ADHD

It can help to avoid situations that affect ADHD symptoms when making a career choice.

For example, if timekeeping and early mornings are a problem, jobs with an early start may not be the most appropriate. If working in a big open plan office would cause too many distractions, perhaps a job working alone or outside might be more suitable.

It may help to make a list of likes and dislikes and try to match these to potential jobs.

How does ADHD affect employment?

How significantly ADHD affects your job outlook depends on the severity of the condition. Some people with ADHD may just have trouble concentrating on the task, while others can't make it through the workday without getting into a huge argument with a boss or co-worker. Those who are more severely affected can lose their job, or end up bouncing from job to job or seeking disability benefits.

ADHD affects job performance in a number of ways. If you can't sit still and have trouble organising and focusing, you can find meetings excruciating, and keeping track of multiple projects and deadlines can be enormously challenging. One study showed that people with ADHD often had more difficulty with attention, working memory, mental processing and verbal fluency, executive-function abilities that are all important in the workplace. Those difficulties led to fewer employment prospects and lower incomes.

People with ADHD tend to have trouble with the following work-related areas:

  • Time management
  • Organisation
  • Listening and paying attention
  • Following directions
  • Completing assignments
  • Attention to detail
  • Getting to work on time
  • Speaking in turn
  • Sitting still
  • Controlling emotions
  • Anger

ADHD often leads to depression and low self-esteem. Constantly missing deadlines and being unable to complete your work on time can exacerbate these feelings.

ADHD workplace tips

Ask for help at work. An employer may be able to make allowances to help a person with ADHD. Working in a quiet space rather than an open plan area may help remove distractions for example.

  • Work with a manager or colleague who is well organised and can help guide you through projects from start to completion.
  • Keep a day planner with a calendar and list of things to do and update them often. Set up your PDA or computer to send you electronic reminders for meetings and due dates.
  • Take notes at meetings and during phone conversations, and add all new tasks to your to-do list.
  • Set aside specific periods of time each day for answering voice mails and e-mails so that they won't interrupt your other responsibilities.
  • Set realistic goals. Break up your days into a series of individual assignments, and only try to tackle one task at a time. Use a timer to let you know when to move on to the next task. Reward yourself for completing an assignment by going out for a special lunch or buying yourself something you've been wanting.
  • If you can, get an assistant to take care of the small details to free you up so you can focus on the big picture. To improve your concentration, practise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation. Get up once an hour and take a walk, get a drink of water or talk to a co-worker
  • Daily relaxation or meditation can also be helpful.
  • To help you adjust to your job, enlist the help of a career adviser or executive coach. They can offer you guidance on any issues you encounter, and can help you work through the job situations that you find most troublesome (for example role playing how to discuss a pay increase with your boss without the conversation becoming emotionally charged).

Finally, take advantage of the benefits - yes, there are benefits - that ADHD does confer. The restlessness, impulsiveness and constant desire to try new things can be great assets, especially if you have your own business. Studies have shown that about one-third of adults with ADHD become entrepreneurs. The trick to success is finding the career that best suits you, and then using your energy, creativity and other strengths to get the most out of your job.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 11, 2017

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