ADHD at Work   Frank Barnhill M.D.

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Every work place has one or more ADHD persons working, whether a company of thousands or one.  In fact, most self-employed persons are ADHD.  One of the ADHD personís most outstanding qualities is the ability to self-start, accept risk, and display the determination needed to start a new business.  In fact, a lot of corporate level consultants brought in to rescue a company are ADHD.  General public bias about persons with ADHD is probably related to lack of knowledge about the neurochemical trait.  When ADHD persons are highly successful, few attempt to analyze the unique behavioral make up that allowed them to become so successful.  Instead, they are labeled productive, creative or geniuses.  On the other hand, when an ADHD person fails, others are often quick to label him lazy, dumb, brain damaged or retarded.  We fail to associate this personís failure with the same level of Babe Ruth or Thomas Edison.  Both had fantastic failures and achieved great notoriety.  Babe Ruth struck out many more times than he scored.  Tom Edison found over 1000 different ways not to make a light bulb, before he finally saw the first sustained glow.  Neither gave up in their pursuit to achieve a dream.  But most importantly, they made sure those around them understood their abilities; limitations and the neural wiring that established their behavior patterns.  They sought support from those who could augment their creativity.  Tom Edison could often conceive and begin a project, but not carry it to its completion.  Almost every worker has one or several qualities of the ADHD mindset.  So, if you as an employer or co-worker wish to help improve productivity in your company, it is important for you to recognize your ADHD workers.

First of all, letís discuss the highly desirable characteristics of the ADHD worker.  Then weíll talk about those annoying characteristics that result in those labels of dumb and lazy, which were mentioned earlier.  ADHD workers are usually very devoted to their job and trustworthy.  Once they focus on a task, they can become relentless in solving a problem or completing a project.  They have the energy to stick it out when everyone else gives up.  They can think out of the box and provide solutions to problems that few can see.  They may be outwardly going and make great salesmen, athletes, entertainers, or teachers.  They may be inwardly focused, thus enhancing their creativity to become inventors, accountants, writers, project managers, or troubleshooters.  Itís obvious by now that these workers who just have a different mindset can really be a tremendous asset to your company.  Hey, if they help productivity go up, what happens to profits?  So lets explore ways to identify these workers and then weíll discuss methods to help them reach their full potential.

First of all, no one likes to be labeled.  So, itís best not to just walk up to your boss or co-worker and declare ďHey we finally figured out whatís wrong with you!Ē ďYouíve got ADHDĒ.  Well, that immediately puts them on the defensive.  They donít have ADHD.  Itís not a disease like AIDS or diabetes.  Itís a mindset that results from neurochemical differences from birth, which provide various mechanisms for processing input and displaying behavior.  A person is ADHD, just as a person is blue eyed and blonde of hair.  Most can be very sensitive to their environment and at times this sensitivity can be good or bad.  If you want to truly help this person, tell them you have noticed that they do things differently.  Point out that this difference can be used to their advantage and offer to help.

Letís take a look at a theoretical company called Alvin Shirt Manufacturing and a few of itís ADHD workers. Imagine how your work experience as a general manager at the Alvin Shirt Company could be improved if your co-worker and project manager, Tony could get those papers to you on time.  Iím talking about the very papers you need to make your presentation on those new lines of Christmas sports shirts to your boss on time.  Maybe without those papers, you would have to do all the preparation yourself and be late for that presentation.  Possibly, your being late will result in the decision not to accept the contract, costing Alvin millions.  If Tony is on time, then youíll be on time and both of you will look good to the boss.  Hey, when layoffs occur, maybe heíll remember just how good you looked.  Tony at least has started his paperwork, but everytime he gets about half way through, he remembers something else and starts over.

Ron in purchasing just forgets deadlines and never seems to get the supplies necessary to make those new linen weave cloth that goes to the mill to make those two hundred dollar shirts.  Sometimes he under orders and sometimes he over orders, but most of the time he just forgets to order.  Donít those shirts have to be in the stores before Christmas?  If Ronís orders are on time, then you wonít have to tell your boss that the fabric will be arriving three months late.  Then he wonít have to phone the shirt factory and explain why his company will be late delivering the goods.  Do you think heíll remember your name when he loses that million-dollar contract?  I bet he will.  Maybe youíll be the first lay off when it hits the fan.  What about all the workers laid off from the sewing plant, because of lack of material to sew?  Who are they going to be angry with?  Maybe a bunch of them will find new jobs and when you finally get the shirt material to the plant, guess what?  There arenít enough workers to complete the contract on time.  Itís called the domino effect.  And you may be one of the first to fall.

Now lets go ahead and discuss those aggravating characteristics of the ADHD worker.  Just as we discussed earlier with Tony and Ron, ADHD persons have a problem starting, staying and finishing on time.  This doesnít necessarily mean the work they do is shabby or inaccurate.  They just have problems with time management.  They just canít quite seem to stay focused on the task at hand.  If you interrupt to ask a question, it blows their concentration and they have to start all over.  Sybil was the perfect example of procrastination.  Every time you asked her to provide an analysis of last monthís inventory of white linen cloth and finished shirts versus profits and losses, she balked.  It wasnít that she didnít want to do it, didnít know how to do it or didnít care.  She just couldnít get started.  So, it was usually the day of your monthly meeting before she handed it in.  She was frustrated because you were frustrated, because it made you look bad.  If we over made those shirts, we would lose money.  Boy, I could see those lines at the unemployment office.

Tracy had a very bad habit of interrupting to discuss her vacation leave, when you were on the phone with your biggest shirt client.  Or she would catch you at the soda machine and want a detail discussion of her new benefits package.  Itís no surprise, as she forgot the meeting where everyone else learned about those new perks.  It was also impossible to conduct focused meetings, because she was constantly drumming her fingers on the table or tapping out a new tune with her foot.  Tracy was the epitome of the impulsive hyperactive person.  She was always constantly on the go.  She just couldnít seem to stay at her desk and finish the label and packaging designs for those new shirts.  Whoís going to buy a two hundred dollar shirt with no labels?  Hey, maybe you really want an unscheduled vacation.

Then there was Bob.  Bob just couldnít seem to do anything right.  Everything he touches turns into a disaster.  You could give him book after book on getting organized, but he just couldnít.  Bob evoked a lot of pity from the staff.  He had the lowest self-esteem ever seen at Alvin.  He even had his wife match his socks and lay out his work clothes.  No, Bob wasnít lazy.  If you left him alone, he would get his work done very well, eventually.  Bob was supposed to handle all the shipping of every product Alvin made.  Itís just that he seemed to lose all the tracking paperwork.  You canít ship t if you canít find it.  I wonder where the first shipment will be delivered?  I wonder, did Bob lose his car keys again?

Last but not least was Kaleigh.  She is our bubbly, always happy blonde.  Problem is, the staff has nick named her DB.  Yes, that stands for dumb blonde or maybe dumb bunny.  She is definitely not dumb.  Kay is one of the best telephone people weíve ever had.  She is super organized.  Just ask her where something is, and bang, she can point right to it.  She can show a sympathetic ear to almost any one with a problem.  In fact, she does for at least three hours every day, instead of sending statements for our goods and services.  Boy, our bottom line has been rough lately.  Who do you think is going to have to explain that to the boss?

We still need to deal with Howard in machine maintenance.  At least thatís what Bob said.  Bob blames Howard for everything.  Howard causes late shipments said Bob.  He causes problems with packaging, folding and sewing.  You ask how?  Bob will tell you that Howard is so picky with calibrating the sewing machines, that if the thread pull mechanism tension is off by .005 millimeters, he wonít let the seamstress use that machine until itís recalibrated.  Sarah J.  actually had a fight about this last week.  She explained to Howard that she had used this machine for ten years and it sewed well.  She also explained she couldnít use one of the newer machines.  She had no experience with them.  She lost the argument and left swearing to find a new job.  Howard picked up the machine and headed off to his workshop, humming a cranky tune.  Humpf, no one understood his dedication to quality.  If necessary, heíd recalibrate every sewing machine over the next three weeks.  One at a time.

Last but not least, Corky works in our out-sourcing company communications division.  Sheís supposed to coordinate other companyís services with yours.  Like the True Fold Company.  They actually fold and pin your shirts after your company finishes the sewing.  Last week, she forgot to tell them the latest shipment was coming in late and they had seventy five employees sitting around doing nothing for three hours.  Guess who they want to pay for that?  Corkyís the practical joker of the company.  Sheís great at organizing charity drives, parties, picnics, trips to your out of town plants, but she canít seem to get finished shirts to the folders on time.  Sheís never at her desk, as she just canít seem to sit still.  Talk about hyperactive.  Sheís constantly running to the production floor to check on progress.  Hmm, and you thought her assistant, Jeff was supposed to check production every two to three hours, and report to her.  Do you really know whatís going on at Alvin?  Oh, forget the hyperactivity, it probably helps her get her job done.  That is if you can get her back to her desk.  The water cooler is her hunting grounds.  No one can have a normal conversation with her around, since shes always butting in.  A lot of times she finally realizes she knows little about the topic at hand, and just buzzes off.  What was that, twenty minutes wasted?  Darn, that profit chart arrow just took another dive.

Ok, so now you can identify the problem.  Letís direct out attention to some solutions.  Boy, if we could just get your workers to direct their attention.  Whoops, thatís one of the ADHD traits, inattentiveness or the inability to focus at the task at hand.  Maybe if we teach your workers to focus, they will become more productive.  Hold on, donít start banking that raise just yet.  There are a lot of issues to still discuss. ADHD persons are sensitive to everything.  The room temperature, the clothes they have to wear at work, colors of walls, heights and contours of chairs, the manner in which they are spoken to, or even the fact that they werenít spoken to.  If you could learn to spot these sensitivities, then maybe you can help deal with those sensitivities and increase productivity in your workplace.  Hey, maybe everybody can get a raise.  Maybe just a few changes in that personís work environment will do it.

Letís now look at our workers from The Alvin Shirt Company. Since Tony just canít seem to get those statistics together on time, maybe you just need to have someone help him get started.  Once heís started, his focus will narrow, and he can easily push paper to completion.  It could be he starts but never finishes because he feels overwhelmed.  Ok, letís break his work into smaller less threatening mini papers.  Maybe he can be taught to break his reports down into four or five sections and give you each section as he finishes it.  After all, Tonyís work or lack of it can hold up the entire show. Maybe we need to do the same with Ron, so our cloth order will arrive timely enough for our mill to cut and sew those shirts.  Once Ron is shown how to order enough linen so the mill will not run out, be over stocked or worse, under stocked, he will not feel so stressed about small under-ages or overages.  He just needs a few written and verbal guidelines so he feels secure in knowing what you expect.  Ron may be a visual learner.  He may need for someone to show him once how to do it. Then, heíll stay on track. You have to be careful to warn Ron of changes in advance and explain them.  Otherwise he will lose that level of security and fall back into old safe routines of under or over ordering.  Youíll be surprised at how efficient Ron will become. What about general suggestions to help make your staff more productive? Let each have input into decorating their office.  The style of chair choice.  The type of organization aid.  Scheduled mini conferences each week.  Scheduled break and lunch periods.  How best to present reports to you.  Verbal or written or both?  Team up the appropriate persons.

Dr. Frank

These health tips are offered for your common sense use and are not intended to take the place of a visit to your doctor.  Your use of the materials implies your understanding that nothing herein contained represents individual medical advice.

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