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To all Managers: How does ADHD affect your workplace?

Tent caterpillars create a cocoon for an entire colony. Within one colony there are two types of caterpillar. One type, pioneers, weave long threads forming the skeleton of the tent. The others, the workers, weave cross threads filling in the structure. If there are too many pioneers, the tent is too big and collapses. If there are not enough pioneers, the tent is too dense and the colony suffocates. Viva la difference.

Within the colony of human beings we can find similar differences. Some are explorers, entrepreneurs extending the boundaries of our environment in art, science, or business. The rest fill in the details as accountants or managers.

As a manager you know that creativity is the quality which enables your company to expand and improve products, services and processes. The best salespeople, strategic planners and inventors are creative people who generate a steady flow of ideas. However, creativity may come with other features which are not so desirable such as impulsiveness, lack of organization of ideas, paper, and time, and social problems in communication and relationships at work or at home.

Sam was the best salesman the company had ever seen, but his boss was about to fire him because he couldn't get the paper work done.
Mary was a very successful strategic planner at work, but at home she couldn't clear up after dinner, her husband had to teach her how to put things away.
Andrew was an expert in his field, but in his head he felt like a fraud. The dissonance between his expert status and his mental image of himself led him to a severe depression and two years of lost work.
Or maybe you had to fire Michel. He was just too argumentative. He was always antagonizing someone. No one would work with him in a team. Too bad because his work was excellent.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)* is a neurological difference in the brain which causes difficulties with the executive functions of planning, prioritizing, decision making, organizing, time management and more. It touches from 3 to 5% of the adult population ( Kevin Murphy, associate professor of psychiatry and chief adult :ADHD clinician at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester) and appears frequently in the fields where creativity is required. To state this another way: the positive asset of creativity and the negative problems are two sides of one coin.

We all feel disorganized, forgetful, or at odds with the world some of the time, but for those affected, ADD is a quality of life issue which is of long duration. One of their most common complaints is a feeling of being out of joint with their surroundings. They may feel frustrated by their own failure to achieve and deceived because they can't make effective use of their potential. They have great difficulty harnessing their many ideas and bringing them to completion.

From your point of view, as a manager, ADD can be a question of lost productivity and accidents. You probably hired them because they were passionate, intelligent, full of ideas, and had great energy (all typical qualities of ADD), but once on the job the difficulties appear. Now you may consider them lazy or irresponsible due to frequent absenteeism, lateness, below average productivity, missed deadlines, or senseless conflict.

Or you may see another picture, a person whose work is excellent, but is working exceptionally long hours for the work done, seems overly sensitive to comments, may be having difficulty in his private life due to poorly managed finances or friction with his spouse, or appears to have a problem with alcohol or even drugs.

The first step for such a person (and it may be you, the manager) is a medical diagnoses by a doctor who is knowledgeable in ADD. If the diagnoses is for ADD, the doctor will prescribe one of several medications. Medication helps the brain to function effectively, but it may not be sufficient. The second step is to seek the help of a coach trained in ADD who can help him see where and how ADD is affecting his life and guide him in developing strategies for managing the issues and using his strengths.

Here are some tips for dealing with employees who may be affected by ADD.

  • Recognize that the problem is not willful disobedience or moral failure but of neurological origin.
  • Provide lots of positive encouragement and guidance; negative criticism they give themselves.
  • Help them adapt their working environment to their personal needs.
  • Provide support systems to help with the paper work and other detail tasks which are stifling for people with ADD.
  • Provide a coach knowledgeable in the problems of ADD. Coaching for ADD focuses on understanding how ADD affects the client and on building structures to manage daily tasks.

To conclude, Mr. or Ms. Manager, if you are concerned about your productivity level or bottom line, look for your employees' strengths and help each one to do what he/she is good at and they will reward you richly.

* Attention Deficit Disorder(ADD) is not a helpful name. It is not about a deficit of attention but about an inconsistency of attention. A person with ADD can pay attention very well to things that are interesting and therefore stimulating, but they have difficulty controlling their attention in situations in which they find no stimulation.

Attention Deficit and/or Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) is the current term as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) of the American Psychiatric Association. The current understanding of researchers is that there are two different problems, attention deficit and hyperactivity which may occur together or separately. Hyperactivity is well known as a problem in boys, but it usually subsides in adolescence; problems of attention tend to persist in adults.

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