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ADD (ADHD) in the Workplace

Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D.


If you are an adult with ADD (ADHD), some of the challenges you face at work may be very similar to those you experienced during school years. At work, just as during school years, you must concentrate, listen and remember; you are often expected to write reports, learn new skills, and plan projects. On the other hand, when you're well-matched with your job, many ADD (ADHD) traits that may have been a negative in school can become an asset on the job. For example:

  • "Hyperactivity" in school can translate into high energy and drive.

  • Those who "talk too much in class" may become highly successful at networking, promotions, and sales.

  • Students who were "distractible" in class, always looking around, may find that they "notice everything" in a valuable way on the right job.

  • Many who "couldn't keep their mind on homework" are very able to focus on the real world engaging in hands-on activities.

  • An individual who "daydreamed" in class may become an adult with valuable, creative ideas.

  • A teen with ADD (ADHD) who "wastes hours on computer games" may become a talented computer scientist who hyperfocuses for hours on his work.

This country was built by individuals who had many ADD (ADHD)-like traits - they were high energy, impulsive, risk-taking, good in a crisis, jump-in-with-both-feet and figure-it-out-as-they-went-along people. These were the people who took a leap of faith to come to the new world, then risked it again to leave the security of the east coast states and forge out into the American wilderness. They were the '49ers who bet their last dollar chasing the promise of riches in California. They were the Thomas Edisons, who had no sense of time and yet had endless ingenuity and creativity. A study of successful business entrepreneurs today will show a great over-representation of individuals with ADD (ADHD). People in sales, inventors, politicians, comedians, pilots, entertainers and all manner of other high profile people have strong ADD (ADHD) characteristics.

Choosing a Career

Most of these pioneers, adventurers, and entrepreneurs fell into the right job or career through good fortune. But you don't have to rely on luck! You can make your good fortune happen by making good choices. When a young adult entering the world of work, a huge array of choices opens up. The key to making a good career choice is to know yourself - your strengths, your weaknesses, your values, your interests, and your preferences.

By working with a career consultant our counselor who is highly familiar with the gifts and challenges of ADD (ADHD), you can chart a course that will take advantage of your gifts and downplay areas that are most challenging for you.

When you find yourself in the wrong job

Many adults today weren't diagnosed with ADD (ADHD) as children. Many of these adults struggled in school and didn't understand what jobs might be a good match for them. You may find yourself in a job that is very stressful, but don't feel that you have many options. Changing jobs isn't always desirable or necessary. There are often positive changes that you can make that will improve your performance and satisfaction. Here are a few:

  • Request that you be allowed to work in a quiet conference room or work from home when you have critical work that requires intense concentration.

  • Request flex time so that you can arrive earlier or work later - and concentrate better during times when fewer co-workers are around.

  • If you feel restless in a sedentary job, look for constructive ways to move around - walk down the hall instead of calling a co-worker on the phone. Be sure to walk and exercise on your breaks.

  • Take the initiative to request assignments that interest you. Problems with distractibility and low motivation usually diminish when you're doing something that interests you.

  • To reduce distractions, position your chair so that it faces away from the door of your cubicle or office.

  • Set short-term goals and inform your supervisor of those goals - this will help you be more productive and will give your supervisor the message that you are highly motivated.

Make requests from a win-win perspective

One gifted computer specialist with ADD (ADHD) found himself feeling restless and distracted in slow-moving meetings. He asked his boss to only invite him to critical meetings, explaining that his time could be much more productively used working alone in his office. This flexible boss recognized the creative brain-power of his employee, and realized that he would benefit greatly from having a more productive employee. Although this request was directly related to his ADD (ADHD) distractibility, he did not disclose his diagnosis and made the request in such a way that his boss realized that they would both benefit from this change.

Changing Direction in Mid-Career

If you find yourself feeling unhappy, or under-performing at work, first look for ways to improve your current situation. Sometimes, such approaches don't work because the very nature of the job is ADD-unfriendly, or there is an unfortunate mismatch between employee and supervisor. What should you do if you reach the conclusion that you need to leave your current job?

New Job/ Same Career

The most rapid, least costly change is to seek a different job in the same field. It may be your job, not your career that is the problem!

Work with a career counselor to identify the problem factors. Which traits of yours make the job a poor match? Which aspects of this particular job contribute to the problem?

A career counselor can also help you identify positive factors on previous jobs. By identifying positives and negatives, you develop a "template" for your ideal job. As you go out into the job market you can't expect to find your ideal job, but you'll have a much better chance of finding a good match.

Changing Careers in Mid-life

The most dramatic, expensive choice is a career change - especially if it requires more training or education. But for some, the benefits are well worth the high cost. You may choose a new career is chosen to fulfill a lifelong dream --something that seemed too risky or impractical when you were younger. Some dreams are worth chasing. Working with a good ADD (ADHD) career consultant gives you a better chance of realizing your dream.

Getting the help you need

Whether you are a young adult choosing your career, an older adult caught in a difficult job, or someone considering a career change, working closely with an ADD (ADHD) specialist can help guide you toward making good choices. When you put yourself in an ADD-friendly work environment, partner with the right people, and take on projects that interest and challenge you, you may surprise yourself and everyone around you with your job satisfaction and success!

Resources for ADD in the Workplace:

ADD in the Workplace by Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D. is a ground-breaking book about making ADD-friendly career choices and meeting the challenges of ADD (ADHD) on the job.

Dr. Nadeau is a nationally recognized authority on ADD (ADHD) workplace issues, offering workshops for employers and employees across the country and as well as private consultations at her clinic in Silver Spring, MD. Contact Kathleen Nadeau ( about speaking engagements or career consultations.


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ADD in the Workplace

ADD in the Workplace

Kathleen Nadeau

224 pages; $29.95

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