Recognizing ADHD at Work

ADHD tends to hide in plain sight and you may not be aware of its effect on your job performance.  ADHD is not an indication of one’s intelligence, values or work ethic. In fact many people with ADHD are highly intelligent and exceptionally talented. The symptoms of ADHD are caused by an impairment of executive function due to failure of the delivery of the neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine to the frontal lobe of the brain.  Simply defined, executive function (EF) is the ability to manage focus, attention, impulses, behavior and emotional responses. Although all people at times display a weakness in these areas, those with ADHD consistently display symptoms which are chronic and significantly impair not only their performance at work but all other facets of life.

It’s All About Executive Functions (EF)

Symptoms tend to be present more frequently when one is bored, stressed or under-stimulated. In contrast, when a person is stimulated and engaged, executive gaps tend to disappear as interest, excitement, challenge, risk and urgency will generate a rush of feel-good, focusing neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine which the brain perceives as a reward. To recognize ADHD is to see how one’s executive functions, which is the brain’s ability to manage a wide variety of background skills and emotions, are impaired by ADHD.

Become a Detective

To discover gaps in one’s executive functions, it can help to adopt a ‘detective’ mindset to pick up clues as they appear. Ask yourself questions like: Do I get to work on time? Do I stay at work too late? Do I rush? Am I prepared? Do I delegate? Do I manage when others delegate too much to me? Do I argue or collapse from feedback from my boss and coworkers? How well do I communicate? How well do I pay attention to detail, too much or too little? Can I advocate for myself about the workload and deadlines? Do I initiate action? Do I follow through on what I propose? How well do I estimate time, prioritize and sequence? How is my emotional control? Do I remember what I need to? Do I have systems in place to compensate for when I forget? Do I impulsively quit a project or quit a job? Am I resilient? Most importantly, as your review your answers, ask yourself how they impact your life.

ADHD Affects Performance, One Way or Another

Attentional issues blend seamlessly into the fabric of one’s life. Impaired executive function is frequently dismissed, misattributed, and too often denied. Ned Hallowell MD, a doctor with ADHD and an expert in the field says that what brings most adults into his office is they recognize their performance is off compared to their peers of similar education. Executive impairments have a direct impact on one’s performance.

When You’ve Met One Employee with ADHD, You’ve Met One Employee with ADHD

Living with ADHD at work can look like succeeding or failing and everything in between. Some people with ADHD are creative geniuses, others have perfected the art of the deal. Living with ADHD at work can resemble self-medicating where work is a stimulant that provides gratification, structure, affiliation, money and purpose and hides the fact that a person may actually have ADHD. A person with ADHD may be an introvert or an extrovert, an overachiever or an underachiever. They may be a capable employee or ill-tempered and oppositional, generous to a fault or consistently late and a poor team player. One’s job performance can be top-notch or a source of shame and embarrassment.

Once You Recognize ADHD, You Can Create Strategies for Success at Work

Regardless of where a person with ADHD falls on the spectrum, recognizing how ADHD shows up will provide much needed insight to help develop strategies to achieve success at work. Eventually if you persist you will see signposts that reflect your progress. There is a sweet taste of victory when the detective cracks the mystery and discovers the mechanism of impaired executive function and its relationship to brain chemistry and learns how to adjust. Now that is good news!

Tools and Resources

Visit ADHD Facts  to find out about symptoms, diagnosis, treatment on ADHD in adults
Model of Executive Function by Dr. Thomas E. Brown
The Self Assessment Symptom Inventory (SASI)

This is an inventory of symptoms Women with ADHD tend to have. This particular version allows you to fill it online and then print, fax it or email it.