For adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), work can become a continual cycle of challenges. Studies show they’re more likely to experience work-related problems, get dismissed and quit impulsively.
But your experiences don’t have to mirror these findings. With proper treatment, an awareness of your challenges and the right strategies, you can excel at work.
Here’s how to thrive, not just survive in the workplace.
A professional evaluation, whether it’s from a career counselor or therapist, is a significant step on the road to success. Wilma Fellman, a licensed career counselor who specializes in working with adolescents and adults with ADHD, assesses her clients’ strengths, interests, personality type, recreational and work values, focus pattern, work habits and special challenges.
Kathleen Nadeau, director of the Chesapeake ADHD Center of Maryland, begins by assessing clients’ biggest stressors in their jobs. The goal is “to cut down on distractions and add structure,” she said. Fellman uses an 80-20 rule comfort with 80 percent of the job, employer accommodations for the difficult 20 percent.
Sometimes the job simply is a bad match. Nadeau once counseled a social worker whose job exclusively required paperwork, making it a tremendous challenge. After she suggested he change jobs, he found work in an inpatient unit with minimal writing and maximum patient interaction. He went from being considered a poor employee to a successful one.
Also important is finding a niche “where you can be successful in spite of your ADHD and your talents can shine through,” said Russell Barkley, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the SUNY Upstate Medical University. For instance, in the performing and musical arts, your disorder might not interfere at all, he said.
“Extroverts with ADHD often do well in sales, politics and entertainment,” Nadeau said. “Emergency work of many kinds also seems to be a good fit for those with ADHD because of the intense involvement and activity.”
If a career change is necessary, do extensive research into that profession to make sure you can work in similar surroundings. Find out the essential tasks, get the inside scoop with an informational interview and observe the work environment, said Fellman.
“It’s very important for adults with ADHD to do some reality testing before they even get into the job or sign up for educational or training programs,” she said.
Being passionate about your profession makes a huge difference in your ability to succeed. “One of the most critical elements is to have a very powerful connection to the focus of the work, because people with ADHD are able to hyperfocus on things that are engaging and interesting to them,” Nadeau said. “I think people can overcome tremendous obstacles if there’s interest, passion and capability,” Fellman added.
So what are some of the strategies for being successful in the workplace and having attention deficit disorder, or ADHD traits? The next section covers workplace strategies for coping with ADHD.