Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric disorder that involves symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. ADHD was previously considered as a transient disorder occurring in children until they entered their teens. Although many children outgrow the disorder, individuals who do not receive treatment for ADHD early can continue to show symptoms of ADHD in adulthood. Adults with ADHD continue to show symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness, but these symptoms are often more subtle relative to what was experienced during their childhood.
ADHD in adulthood is characterized by inattention that is associated with forgetfulness, lack of organization and distractibility. Other symptoms may include mood instability and procrastination. These symptoms of adult ADHD tend to have an adverse effect on workplace performance. However, simple coping strategies and accommodations in the workplace can help individuals fulfill their work-related obligations.
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How Does ADHD Affect Employment?
The symptoms of adult ADHD can adversely impact the chances of getting a job and remaining employed. Individuals with ADHD are 60% more likely to be fired from their job and three times more likely to quit their job relative to individuals without ADHD. Some additional job-related challenges encountered by individuals with ADHD include:
- Trouble staying focused: Individuals with ADHD have difficulty focusing and are easily distracted. For example, they may be easily distracted by noises in their work environment. They may also find it difficult to concentrate while reading as they may start thinking about a completely different topic. This results in decreased productivity, difficulty finishing tasks, forgetfulness, misplacing of files or objects and an increased number of errors.
- Procrastination: Adults with ADHD have trouble getting started on work, especially if they don’t find the work interesting. This challenge causes adults with ADHD to put off work, leaving it until the last moment so they may submit work just before the deadline or late. If they manage to finish the work on time, the quality of their work may suffer due to starting at the last minute. In a team environment, their tendency to procrastinate may burden their colleagues with additional work and pressure. Individuals with ADHD also tend to have poor organizational skills, get easily distracted and have a poor sense of time.
- Hyperactivity: Hyperactivity in adults with ADHD is characterized by restlessness and experiencing difficulty relaxing. Individuals with ADHD may have difficulty sitting through meetings and may struggle with sedentary jobs.
- Lack of interpersonal skills: Adults with ADHD tend to be impatient and impulsive. They often have poor interpersonal skills due to their poor listening skills, fidgeting and tendency to intervene while other people are talking. Adults with ADHD often exhibit mood instability characterized by a tendency to get frustrated, irritability and a hot temper. These tendencies may also negatively impact social and professional relationships.
ADHD Job Rights and Accommodations
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, along with the more recently added ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), individuals with disabilities are protected from being discriminated against at work. According to the ADA, the employer must provide special accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Individuals diagnosed with ADHD may or may not qualify for special accommodations under this law. Under the provisions of the ADA, for a condition to be considered a disability, it should impair the person’s ability to perform a major life activity such as work.
If the symptoms of ADHD are severe enough to impair the ability of an individual to perform their job, then their ADHD may qualify as a disability. In such circumstances, the employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to allow the individual to fulfill essential obligations. For example, it is within the rights of the individual with ADHD to request accommodations that can reduce distractions due to noise. The employer may provide accommodation in the form of higher cubicle walls or allowing the individual to wear headphones. However, the employer is not required to provide accommodations such as a private office that may cause undue hardship.
Individuals with ADHD are required to still fulfill essential functions at work. For example, individuals with ADHD may struggle with time management and may have difficulty coming to work early in the morning. However, certain jobs like teaching may require the individual to be at the school by a specific time. In such cases, arriving on time is an essential function and the employer is not required to make any accommodations. However, arriving at a specific time may not be an essential function for an office job. In such cases, the employer is expected to accommodate the individual’s request to arrive an hour late, as long as they work the prerequisite hours.
Additional reasonable accommodations may include:
- Computer aids to help with scheduling tasks
- Extra time to learn a task or finish work
- Permission to record instructions
- Instructions being provided verbally and as notes
Best Jobs for People with ADHD
Individuals with ADHD have certain traits that may interfere with their ability to succeed at certain jobs, especially if they are repetitive and require considerable organizational skills. However, individuals with ADHD often enjoy and excel in creative and fast-paced jobs. Since individuals with ADHD are often creative, they may excel at a career as an artist, musician, inventor, chef or designer.
Individuals with ADHD may also enjoy fast-paced jobs since they get bored and distracted easily. This option may involve working as a firefighter, a police officer or an emergency room nurse. Some individuals with ADHD may enjoy fast-paced jobs in a social setting such as a salesperson, journalist, teacher, hairstylist or public relations professional. Individuals with ADHD may also consider starting their own business since it allows flexible hours and involves taking risks and being creative.
Tips for Working With ADHD
The symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity and inattention, may interfere with the ability of an individual to fulfill their duties at work. However, individuals with ADHD can cope with these symptoms by using simple strategies and accommodations at the workplace. Some strategies include:
- Use headphones to block out distractions: Individuals with ADHD tend to get easily distracted by noises in their surroundings. Using headphones to play white noise or soothing music can be useful in drowning out noises.
- Maintain an organized space: Maintaining a clutter-free workspace by having designated spots for office products can help minimize distractions.
- Keep notes: Individuals with ADHD are prone to forgetfulness and maintaining a notepad can help individuals remember important details. Keeping notes during a meeting can also be an outlet for restlessness.
- Avoid over-scheduling: Individuals with ADHD tend to show deficits in time management. Strategies such as developing schedules with the help of a co-worker or supervisor and avoiding over-scheduling can help individuals to cope with these deficits.
- Take frequent breaks: Taking frequent breaks can provide an outlet for the symptoms of hyperactivity. Taking a walk during a lunch break and taking the stairs instead of the elevator can also provide respite from symptoms of hyperactivity.
- Reward yourself: Since individuals with ADHD struggle with finishing tasks, giving oneself small rewards can provide an incentive for completing projects.
Adamou, Marios; et al. “Occupational issues of adults with ADHD.” BMC Psychiatry, December 2013. Accessed September 20, 2019.
Cornell University. “Working Effectively with People with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder.” July 2000. Accessed September 20, 2019.
Attention Deficit Disorder Association. “Impact of ADHD at Work.” Accessed September 26, 2019.