Most adults with ADHD find their challenges most daunting in the workplace. This is not to say ADHD is not an issue in other areas of life, it certainly is, but work related problems often spill over into other domains. When you’re struggling to keep up with demands, working long hours and suffering anxiety because you know you’re not delivering up to your potential, you rarely have the time or energy left over to attend to other areas of your life that might be falling apart.
ADHD by the Numbers
If you feel that as an adult with ADHD, you face more challenges than your peers, you’re not imagining things. The University of Massachusetts Study on Adult ADHD1, known as the UMASS Study, which took place from 2000 to 2003, compared the experiences of adults with ADHD (“ADHDers”) to the experiences of adults without any medical or psychological illnesses (let’s call them “non-ADHDers”.) Workplace issues were a big part of the study and the findings are staggering:
Behavioral problem at work:
Been fired from a job:
Forced to quit due to hostility:
Quit due to boredom:
Disciplined by their bosses1:
We can see the impact adult ADHD has on adults in the workplace. Not surprisingly, over the course of a career these events tend to hit you in the pocketbook as well. Other studies have shown that adults with ADHD earn, on average, $5,000-10,000 less annually than their colleagues without ADHD2.
Another study revealed that when left untreated, adults with ADHD lost an average of 22 days of productivity per year3. This means you would be trying to accomplish a year’s worth of work in 11 months! It’s not much of a surprise that one study also shows that adults with ADHD are three to six times more likely to suffer one of multiple burnouts. A study found that between 24% and 56% of beneficiaries of long-term disability insurance for burnout have ADHD. 4
There’s no question these statistics are alarming, but they also serve to finally shed light on the very real negative impacts of ADHD in the workplace for those with ADHD, for their families, for employers and colleagues, and for the economy as a whole. Studying the problem lets us acknowledge its severity. Only 15 years ago, most physicians and psychologists didn’t even believe ADHD affected adults. This data proves how far-reaching the challenges of ADHD can be.
Unfortunately, still today, many people think the ADHD diagnosis is a conspiracy from “big pharma” to sell unnecessary medications, making it hard for ADHDers to find the support they need. Furthermore, adult ADHD is still a taboo subject in the workplace. Many adults who need help fear divulging their ADHD to their employers for fear of reprisals, and understandably so.
Going Beyond Knowledge
Research, education and advocacy have enabled great strides in what we know about ADHD in adults. For example, we now know that:
When adults with ADHD work mostly in their areas of strengths, they succeed;
With appropriate accommodations, adults with ADHD overcome many of their challenges at work;
With proper treatment (medications, ADHD coaching and therapy when necessary), adults with ADHD can be as productive as their non-ADHD colleagues.
While awareness about adult ADHD has certainly grown, we have a long way to go before we’re able to help ADHDers everywhere. One of the best ways we can extend the benefits of awareness is to equip ADHDers with resources to help themselves. When adults with ADHD are given the support and resources necessary to advocate for themselves and work cooperatively with employers to find solutions to ADHD obstacles in the workplace, everyone wins.
Employers, insurance companies and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) have a lot to gain by helping employees with ADHD overcome their challenges with ADHD at work. We need to inform and sensitize these stakeholders of the great cost of keeping adult ADHD in the dark. We must remove the stigma of ADHD in the workplace, so employers, insurance companies and EAPs recognize the return on investment of providing employees with accommodations, ADHD-friendly training and coaching to overcome ADHD challenges.
In the end, we all win when we empower adults with ADHD to tap into their strengths, talents and passions to contribute to the workplace and the world.
The New ADHD Workplace Committee
While there is still a lot that remains to be done in overcoming workplace issues for adults with ADHD, we’ve made a lot of progress and the steps we’ve taken, combined with the results of our research, have given us the confidence that we can keep working to make things even better.
With that in mind, I accepted the position of Chairperson for the Workplace Committee at ADDA. I know we can have an enormous positive impact, but I can’t do it alone. I’m recruiting a team of fellow volunteers to help ADDA provide resources and education to adults with ADHD and their employers, insurers and EAP’s to help create successful work environments for individuals with ADHD.
We’re looking for volunteers, so if you feel you have expertise or experience in professional training and education, human resources, government, insurance, ADHD advocacy and/or communication, or if you just feel inspired to help make a difference in the important area of ADHD in the Workplace, please contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barkley, R., Murphy, K., Fischer, M. (2008). ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says. New York, Guilford Press (UMASS Study p. 279)
Barkley, R., Murphy, K., Fischer, M. (2008). ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says. New York, Guilford Press (Milwaukee Study p. 351)
Hilton MF, et al. “The Association Between Mental Disorders and Productivity in Treated and Untreated Employees,” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (Sept. 2009): Vol. 51, No. 9, pp. 996–1003.
Brattberg G. (2006). PTSD and ADHD: underlying factors in many cases of burnout. Stress and Health 22: 305-313