Wednesday, June 1, 2011

ADHD in the Workplace

ADHD in the Workplace is a very important topic for adults with ADHD since most adults with ADHD are working or seeking work. It is well known that those with ADHD often are under-educated relative to their intellectual ability and under-employed in their occupations relative to their intelligence. They tend to get fired and change jobs more often than others do because of issues like boredom, work performance, and/or interpersonal problems at home that interfere with work or interpersonal problems with others at work. These employment issues can lead to increased family stress and loss of health and retirement benefits. In fact, there is a huge financial burden that accompanies ADHD. Individuals with ADHD on average earn approximately $8,000/yr less than those without ADHD. This translates into about $77 billion in combined lost income each year once the loss per individual is multiplied by the number of individuals with ADHD.

What are some of the potential problems at work? Time management and procrastination issues may lead to missed deadlines. Organizational issues may lead to lost work. Impulsivity may strain interpersonal relations. Difficulties sitting still that may make completing assignments more challenging. Difficultly with attending to details, managing long-term projects, and boredom may result in suboptimal work. These troubles at work can easily lead to depression, anxiety, panic and insomnia- symptoms that individuals often seek medical attention for. It is critical that your primary care or mental health provider recognizes that these symptoms may be secondary to the primary problem of ADHD and that treatment must be for the ADHD and not just for the secondary symptoms. If your provider treats only the secondary symptoms with anxiolytics, antidepressants, tranquilizers and hypnotics without addressing the core ADHD issues, treatment will probably not be effective.

How can ADHDers overcome problems at work? Individuals with ADHD are protected at work under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 however being diagnosed with ADHD does not automatically make someone eligible for protection or accommodations. In order to be eligible for protection under the Act, an employee must disclose their disability to the employer. However many individuals with ADHD are hesitant to disclose their ADHD to their employer since this disclosure can be a double edged sword. While on one hand the disclosure can provide legal protection, some worry that disclosure on the other hand may lead to discrimination because their employers may be skeptical that the condition even exists and have no idea about the various symptoms associated with ADHD and how debilitating these symptoms can be.

One thing people with ADHD can do in order to obtain accommodations at work without disclosing their diagnosis is to ask their employer for certain accommodations based on "a medical condition" without revealing to the employer the ADHD diagnosis. 
If you choose to ask your employer for medical accommodations, you should ask the doctor that treats your ADHD to write a letter to your employer supporting your request for these accommodations. This letter, as above, does not need to include any mention of your diagnosis. I have written many such letters for patients in my practice and they have found this to be very helpful. 

Another thing people with ADHD can do to maximize work performance is to hire an ADHD coach. Coaches can be helpful to those with ADHD by offering useful tools to get through the work day more efficiently and effectively. You can find a coach by checking which is the professional membership organization for ADHD coaches. Another option is to find a professional career counselor with experience in ADHD. This counselor, once they get to know you, can assist you in finding a suitable careers where your strengths are maximized and your weaknesses are minimized. These counselors can be located through resources such as the National Organization for Children and Adults with ADHD and the National Resource Center on ADHD.

If you would like to read and learn more about how the symptoms of ADHD lead to impairments at work I recommend reading a landmark book entitled  “ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says” by Russell Barkley PhD, a leading researcher on ADHD. Dr. Barkely reviews in this book groundbreaking scientific information stemming from the results of two major research investigations that shed light upon the significant impairments caused by symptoms of ADHD across major life activities such as work and relationships.

Other good books on this topic include:

Other websites to consider include: The Job Accommodation Network provides information about job accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act The United States Department of Labor Office of Disability and Employment Policy Resources to help employers hire and retain people with disabilities Tools to help job seekers, students, businesses and career professionals sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor

Wendy Woodard PsyD and I will be co-moderating our next Adult ADHD support group (free) on this very topic on Monday, June 6, 2011 from 6-7 PM at Seattle Healing Arts Center. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on how ADHD effects us in the workplace and how we can make our ADHD work in our favor in the workplace? Please use the comment form below and let me know. Hope to see you at the next group!