Everyone has strengths and weaknesses that show up at their job. However, for adults with ADHD, overcoming obstacles and personal weaknesses may present a greater challenge than their co-workers face. In the workplace, social skills and work production are highly scrutinized by employers. These can be areas of great difficulty for adults with ADHD.
ADHD symptoms displayed in the workplace can have a large impact on workplace productivity. Factors such as work environment, job task, coping skills, and workplace accommodations influence people’s chances for success. Every day, people must overcome these barriers to be effective in the work environment. Let’s look at some of the strategies proven effective in improving quality of work life.
Many organizations focus on improving individuals’ weaknesses while ignoring what they do well. One theory trying to change this focus is called positive psychology, which, according to Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi (2006), is a change in focus from trying to fix what is wrong with an individual to capitalizing on the best an individual may offer.
Buckingham and Clifton (2001) introduced positive psychology to popular culture with their book, Now, Discover Your Strengths. They developed the StrengthsFinder test, which has 34 different strengths as potential outcomes for participants (See Figure 1). When an individual purchases the book, they have an opportunity to take the test and discover their strengths.
Great deal of stamina and work hard.
Make things happen by turning thoughts into action.
Prefer to “go with the flow.”
Search for reasons and causes.
Can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability
People have certain core values that are unchanging.
They can take control of a situation and make decisions.
Generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words.
Measure their progress against the performance of others.
Have faith in the links between all things.
Keenly aware of the need to treat people the same.
Enjoy thinking about the past.
Serious care in making decisions.
Recognize and cultivate the potential in others
Enjoy routine and structure.
Sense the feelings of others by imagining themselves in others’ lives.
Can take direction, follow through, and make corrections to stay on track.
Inspired by the future and what could be.
Look for consensus.
Fascinated by ideas.
Accepting of others.
Intrigued with the unique qualities of each person.
Craving to know more.
Introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
Great desire to learn and want to continuously improve.
Focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence.
Have an enthusiasm that is contagious.
Enjoy close relationships with others.
Take psychological ownership of what they say they will do.
Good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
Feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives.
Want to be very important in the eyes of others.
Create alternative ways to proceed.
Love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over.
Figure 1. StrengthFinders Themes. Adapted from T. Rath and B. Conchie, 2008, Strengths Based Leadership, p. 101-235. New York, NY: Gallup Press
Buckingham and Clifton (2001) argued that great organizations allow their employees to work on their strengths every day. Moreover, they state that a person will never be able to turn a weakness into a strength, so individuals and organizations should focus on developing strengths – not trying to develop weaknesses – as this presents the greatest opportunity for growth.
The best way to re-design work to focus on strengths is to examine the job’s design. Job design explains how work, tasks, and roles are structured, enacted, and changed within an organization. Job design describes the way the work gets done, and defines how structures are established between individuals, groups, and the organization itself.
Most of the time, job design is done using a top-down approach. The organization creates positions and then hires people with the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform those duties. In a classical job redesign, a manager decides to change something about the work with little input from the individual (Grant, 2010). However, people have several strategies they can use to benefit more from their strengths at work.
One way individuals can change their job duties is called job crafting.Tims and Bakker (2010) describe job crafting as a form of behavior in which individuals consciously initiate changes in their job demands and job resources so as to make the job fit their own knowledge, skills, abilities, and long-term goals. Job crafting is achieved by having employees choose their job tasks, negotiate different job functions or change the meaning of the tasks they perform.
Tims and Bakker (2010) found that job crafting is most effective in the following conditions:
The employee may increase resources available for their job. This could be lobbying for new equipment, asking for training or having an assistant.
An employee can increase job demands for certain aspects of their work, or even make the work more challenging.
When the work performed is not reliant on the work of co-workers.
Employees could decrease demand for different parts of their position. In other words, they can just stop doing the work that they are weak at and see if anyone cares. This could happen for a number of reasons including that the person has reached their capacity, or that the person dislikes that aspect of their job. Eliminating non-essential duties for a job may increase an employee’s motivation and free up time and energy to increase duties that play to the person’s strengths.
Another way people can shape their role is to keep offering to do tasks that play to their strengths. This is also known as idiosyncratic deals, which occur when individuals openly negotiate personal arrangements for their job with their employer (Tims & Bakker, 2010, p. 13).
A person can try to find ways to use their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses. Role innovation can help the employee change their job by changing the mission or purpose of their work.
Next, the individual can try to pair his or her weakness with someone who has a strength in that area. One way to accomplish this is through cross-training, which allows work to be more interesting and also affects the way employees respond to their jobs. Cross-training provides opportunities for employees to experience a change in pace and activities.
Finally, the person can change jobs to one that is more ADHD-friendly. Weiss, Hechtman, & Weiss (1999) discovered that jobs that were flexible in their daily routine or where the person was self-employed seemed to be good fit. However, positions that were more oriented toward production and were repetitive in nature were not a good match.
A Culture of Empowerment Makes All the Difference
The culture in the workplace can have a great effect on a person’s ability to thrive or perish. Firms that see employees as a strategic partner and not a cost of doing business are successful in outmaneuvering their competitors. This means that a company has to work with people and not replace them or limit their ability to do their jobs in the most effective way possible. Employee empowerment in which information is shared freely helps to encourage independent decision-making. It allows employees to participate and have control in their own job designs.
Michelle Geiman is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources with over fifteen years’ experience in employee relations, performance management and organizational development, and human resource information systems in both public and corporate organizations with more than 50,000 employees. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Organizational and Leadership Change.
Buckingham, M., & Clifton, O. (2001). Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Inc.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Csikszentmihalyi, I. (2006). Life Worth Living: Contributions to Positive Psychology. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press
Grant, P. (2010). Job design and ability as determinants of employee motivation: Developing the mathematics of human motivation via the law of escalating marginal sacrifice. Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics, 8(1), 1-13. Retrieved from ABI/INFORM Complete database.
Rath, T. and Barry C. (2008) Strengths Based Leadership. New York, NY: Gallup Press. P. 101-235.
Tims, M., & Bakker, A. B. (2010). Job crafting: Towards a new model of individual job redesign. South African Journal of Industrial Psychology, 36, 1–9.
Weiss, M., Hechtman, L., & Weiss, G. (1999). ADHD in adulthood: A guide to current theory, diagnosis, and treatment. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.