Louis Business Journal
ADD at Work
By Anna Navarro
- There are many adults in the
workplace today who struggle because they have Attention Deficit
Disorder (ADD) that has never been diagnosed. Sometimes
they are even mistakenly labeled stupid, lazy, unproductive
or morally deficient, when in reality they are dealing with
a neurological condition that can be treated.
Often individuals with ADD are very bright and have a good
work ethic. But their brains work differently than
most people's and they need help accommodating that difference.
The symptoms of ADD all have to do with managing attention. But
they are very varied and often appear contradictory, so it
can be hard for non-experts to recognize. They include:
- Inattention / Distractibility - can't concentrate on
one thing for any length of time.
- Hyperfocussing - focussing on one thing to the exclusion
of everything else.
- Hyperactivity / Restlessness - hard to sit still
- Need for Stimulation / Intolerance of Routine - bored
easily, bad at details
- Trouble Managing Time - often late
- Difficulty Organizing Things
What is perhaps most distressing about adults with undiagnosed
ADD is that if they understood their situation, they'd have
a much better chance of being happy and successful at work.
In fact, there are aspects of ADD that can actually be helpful
in some jobs.
For example: being distractible can translate into being
super-observant of minute changes in an environment - a useful
trait in a restaurant owner. Internal distraction can
translate into the rich imagination required of TV sitcom
writers. Hyperfocussing, with its enormous capacity
to concentrate, can be highly valued in a design engineer. Someone
in the media might channel impulsivity into the ability to
make quick responses. These strengths need to be balanced,
of course, with coping mechanisms such as time management
techniques, to deal with the downsides of ADD.
Seen from the eyes of someone with ADD, the rest of us might
seem to suffer from Attention Excess Disorder. Our
symptoms could be seen as an excessive need for routine,
low tolerance for change or risk, limited capacity to respond
quickly in a crisis, slow decision making and having a limited
capacity for innovation. It all depends on your perspective.
There are some activities that people with ADD should seek
out in their work. Depending on their pattern of symptoms,
they should look for opportunities that provide change and
variety, movement, big picture thinking, total immersion,
creativity and a high degree of independent functioning.
People with ADD should also try to avoid jobs that require
certain activities such as paperwork, detail (except if it
permits hyperfocussing), day-to-day management and long term
A good career match is important for everyone but it is
essential for people with ADD. Since the main issue
in ADD is the management of attention, it is nearly impossible
for adults with ADD to succeed in careers that don't interest
them. A good match will take advantage of their strengths
and minimize their weaknesses. It will be interesting
enough to "grab" their attention and will be a
good fit with the rest of their life.
In my work as a career strategist, I have helped people
with ADD get out of jobs where they were destined for failure
and into jobs where they could be successful. I've
helped a physician with a private practice become a commercial
real estate broker, and a classroom teacher become a public
relations consultant. Some clients have found they
prefer having several part-time jobs to one full-time job. Others
have become self-employed by teaming with partners whose
primary strength was detail work.
If you want to learn more about ADD, a good starting place
is an excellent book, ADD In the Workplace by Kathleen
Nadeau, available in paperback. The Attention Deficit
Disorder Association is a national organization that provides
information, resources and networking for adults (484-945-2101). And
the ADD Association of Missouri's Adult Support Groups can
provide referrals to local resources (314-963-4655).
The best way to deal with ADD involves a three-step strategy. First,
get a professional diagnosis and clarification of the specific
symptoms you manifest.
Second, find a career that plays to your strengths and minimizes
your weaknesses. Third, learn specific skills for coping
with the things you aren't good at, including how to partner
with those who have the strengths you lack. Come to think
of it, this is a very good overall strategy for everyone,
with or without ADD.
is the founder of Work Transitions, a nationwide career consulting
firm that trains independent career strategists and consults
with individual clients.
was originally published by the St. Louis Business Journal.
The actual title of the column and date in which it appeared
in the Business Journal may be slightly different from what
appears on WorkTransitions.com.