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Adults with ADHD in the workforce: Non-scientific insights and practical considerations to enhance job retention and career satisfaction

by Rob Crawford, of the Life Development Institute

Adults with ADHD should feel great satisfaction in successfully competing for employment, realizing the fulfillment of starting careers, or making the transition to a new job or company. The difficulty of obtaining and sustaining employment for many adults with ADHD makes the success of those who do accomplish this very inspiring.

There is little in the way of current research to draw on that would explain the uneven occupational/career functional performance that characterizes many adults in this population. Workplace settings present a wide variety of diverse occupational research challenges. Because the impact of the condition will vary from setting to setting, obtaining a consistent and reliable picture of adaptive or maladaptive functional performance directly attributable to ADHD is difficult.

There are frequently observed characteristics that seem to show up on a regular basis for many adults struggling to cope and survive the workplace that would include:

  • Lack of social maturity and understanding of the demands of the workplace
  • Limited sense of self-not aware of personal limitations which sets them up for failure
  • When failure seems imminent, motivation dies, use of circular logic and rationalizing away personal responsibility dominates
  • Tend to retreat when successful and might fall apart
  • Difficulty to job train because of inability to perform or catch on to multi-step/multi-task which results in what employers refer to "hand holding".
  • Can't distinguish what are and are not controllable environmental phenomena that affects how they focus time and energy
There are some key factors that can contribute to the adult with ADHD achieving successful standards of workplace behavioral and performance expectations from coworkers and supervisors.

A good starting point is for the individual to have a clear understanding of what matters most to them in a job or career and not immediately consider how they will achieve it. It is essential that they can define the meaning, nature, and importance of work to be able to sustain themselves through the functional challenges they will face as a result of having ADHD. For many, getting a job is easy- it is keeping the job that is the difficult part. Sustaining consistency means maintaining the perspective and internal focus of finding meaning in life through work, with work, or in spite of work.

Some of the reflections in this search for meaning and satisfaction would include finding answers to:

  1. What priority values can I live out through this job?
  2. What working conditions do I need to feel happy?
  3. What tradeoffs and consequences am I willing to accept to determine if this is a good choice?
  4. What level of risk am I or should I be willing to take to be successful?

The last question in particular becomes relevant if one chooses to disclose the ADHD for consideration of receiving accommodations or adjustments to the work environment.

Disclosure considerations to remember:

  1. Employers are not well informed on ADHD
  2. Many individuals with ADHD are not prepared to be effective self-advocates
  3. Adults with the condition have not been taught how to determine accommodations based on job tasks
  4. Employers are ill-equipped to determine accommodations
  5. Adults with ADHD usually are unaware of what their job competencies are
Whether an applicant discloses in the interview or for a talented employee offered a choice promotion that carries responsibilities that will be directly affected by ADHD-associated functional limitations, they open themselves up to additional employer scrutiny and must be prepared to answer such questions as:

  • What exactly is your disability?
  • What kind of modifications do you need in your work environment?
  • How will your ADHD interfere with your performance?
  • Why should I hire you when there are other applicants that don’t have ADHD?
  • How will you be able to lead a team and get the work done?

By keeping in mind that the employer really just wants to know what you can do, how you will do it, and what results they can expect, the person with ADHD can focus on breaking down the condition into aspects of functional assets and limitations that are relative to the environment and not obsess or have anxiety over what their intentions are in asking questions or voicing concerns.

– WHAT CAN DO (skills, knowledge, education, experience) – WHAT WILL DO ( motivations, interests) – HOW WILL YOU FIT (work style)
This focus and balance can be achieved by deciding on a position, career, or promotion after looking at what is required both during training and on the job. Avoid job searches that are too narrowly or broadly focused. Resist the impulse to go after employment because of primarily financial motivations (i.e. "earn $10,000 a week from home no experience necessary".), instead concentrate on the opportunities to do what matters most are inherent in the position itself.

Assess the workplace culture and environment to determine if it is "ADHD-user friendly". Ascertain disclosure receptivity, tolerance for personal work habits (i.e. messy work space, need for quiet work area, tendency to walk around and visit) to determine compatibility and anticipate no-win situations to be avoided. Relate the functional requirements of the position and company back to what is known about the personal characteristics of the job seeker to determine if there is a compatible fit between what is necessary to successful.

This would involve analyzing and comparing technical performance factors such as how personal skills, abilities, training, education, and experience relate to specific position within the company. There will also be a need to identify essential functions & environmental considerations of job and anticipate potential functional assets & limitations related to ADHD that could affect the expected levels of job performance. The last step would include determining what compensations, accommodations, modifications or strategies for ADHD are practical & reasonable for this employer.

Plot out a long term career ladder that estimates time, experience, continuing education requirements to move up to higher levels of responsibilities. Find out how many and how often potential openings occur. Strive to focus on companies that offer in-house training and continuing education programs. This allows for a person to demonstrate and establish their job-related and personal competency, capabilities, and capacities which usually results in greater flexibility on the part of the employer to handle adjustment problems with the new tasks.

When offered a promotion or position, obtain specific time lines for performance evaluations, and gain an understanding of when and how performance will be evaluated. If there is a need for accommodations, propose and develop a process through which the employee and employer can review the effectiveness of the interventions and need for adjustments.

Job Performance Evaluations Components

  • Ability to get along with co-workers/staff
  • Ability to follow directions
  • Ability to learn new tasks
  • Speed of work
  • Accuracy of work
  • Frustration tolerance
  • Safety
  • Motivation
  • Ability to follow complex directions
While there seems to be evidence of many success stories of adults with ADHD who are self-employed and have found a controllable "niche" that they flourish in, most of those seeking entry or upward mobility in the workplace have to live and play by the rules of a world that has little understanding or sensitivity of the emotional impacts of having this hidden disability and the costs to the individual trying to "keep it together".

Long term satisfaction and a sense of personal accomplishment, competency, and value for these adults with ADHD will happen in response to reframing personal and employment experiences into positive aspects of life and growth. Recognizing and building on individual assets and managing functional limitations puts a person in charge of their own future by developing strategies for situational problem solving.

Utilizing these strategies and pragmatic approaches can lead the adult with ADHD to increased personal competency by helping to identify and find what success or satisfaction in both life and works means to them. References
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Rob Crawford Rob is the co-founder of the Life Development Institute, starting it out of his home in 1982. He has authored numerous books and articles on topics such as career planning, employment issues, and adult advocacy as well as speaking at many conferences and workshops on these areas. He can be reached at: www.lifedevelopmentinstitute.org or by phone in Glendale, AZ at:623.773.2774



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