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Old 08-24-03, 04:52 PM
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Post ADD in the Workplace

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ADD in the Workplace
by Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D.
Author of ADD in the Workplace

There is much talk these days about being "differently abled" rather than disabled - about the importance of reframing, in a positive manner, the set of strengths and weaknesses which characterize an individual with a "disability. " There is no more appropriate "disability" than attention deficit disorder for which to do this reframing. In our fast-paced, high-pressure late 20th century lifestyle, the deficit side of ADD is overemphasized. Few of us can remain focused, organized and efficient while bombarded with multiple demands of fast changing workplace environments, the multiple distractions of our workplace cubicle existence, and the need for constant updating and retraining, while simultaneously coping with the demands of dual career marriages and the concomitant complications of child rearing in such a high stress environment. In fact, there are those who say that our contemporary American lifestyle is "ADD inducing."

To really understand our overemphasis of the negative side of ADD, perhaps, for a moment, we should over-emphasize the negative, or underdeveloped side of those who are considered to be high functioning in other respects. For example, we could label many accountants as suffering from Imagination Deficit Disorder; we could label many hard-driving CEO's as having Empathy Deficit Disorder; and we could assign the label of Spontaneity Deficit Disorder to those who live a highly regulated 9 to 5 existence. In other words, by labeling an individual with attention deficit disorder we are only looking at an area of weakness, with little or no recognition of the cluster of strengths, and even giftedness that are often associated with individuals who may be distractible and less detail-focused.

Ironically, this country was built by individuals who share many traits of attention deficit disorder - they were high energy, impulsive, risk-taking, good in a crisis, jump-in-with-both-feet and figure-it-out-as-they-went-along people. These were the people who took a leap of faith to come to the new world, then risked it again to leave the security of the east coast states and forge out into the American wilderness. They were the '49ers who bet their last dollar chasing the promise of riches in California. They were the Thomas Edisons, who had no sense of time and yet had endless ingenuity and creativity. A study of successful business entrepreneurs today will show a great over-representation of individuals with ADD. People in sales, inventors, politicians, comedians, pilots, entertainers and all manner of other high profile people have strong ADD characteristics.

So why do some in the business community hold a largely negative view of people with ADD? Because of that "disability frame" which has been placed around them. Because so many work environments today - with windowless cubicles in noisy workspaces - are so intolerable to those who are more distractible or who are more sensitive to environmental stressors. Because we live more inactive, stressed, time-pressed lives these days. Because many managers don't know how to recognize the strengths of these often highly intelligent and creative employees, who may also have difficulty with time management or mundane, detailed paperwork.

Put an ADD employee in an appropriate ADD-friendly work environment, pair him or her with a more detail-oriented person, give him projects which interest and challenge him, and you may suddenly find that you have a highly motivated, top performing employee.

One ADD-savvy supervisor was very receptive to his employee's request to attend fewer meetings. This gifted computer specialist found himself feeling restless and distracted in slow-moving meetings. He asked his boss to only invite him to critical meetings, explaining that his time could be much more productively used working alone in his office. This flexible boss recognized the creative brain-power of his employee, and was flexible enough to rethink the standard operating procedure of the work environment.

Another ADD employee in a large accounting firm changed from a bored, restless, underfunctioning accountant to a top performing employee when his enlightened supervisor understood his discontent. He had little patience or tolerance for the predictable, routine paperwork of his first job assignment, but became a superstar when he was allowed to help develop specialized software, and to teach other accountants how to use it. Once again, his very real gifts were recognized and taken advantage of. A less enlightened firm might have let him go after poor performance reviews, as this accountant's previous firm had done.

A woman with ADD was functioning very poorly as an administrative assistant to an executive. She was frustrated with the many mundane tasks of the job, had difficulty arriving at work exactly on time, and sometimes handled problem inappropriately - jumping to a solution rather than conferring with her boss beforehand. Once again, her savvy boss recognized an intelligent, frustrated person who showed many ADD characteristics. A large fund-raising project had begun, in which she showed great interest. Her boss consulted with her, asking if she would rather work on this project instead of remaining in the front office job. She leapt at the chance for more autonomy and an opportunity to use her creativity and problem-solving ability. Her frequent lateness on the fund-raising project was more than compensated for by working long past normal working hours as she threw herself into the project. She was teamed up with a highly organized, detail-oriented person. This employee's organizational skills, paired with the ADD employee's creativity and dynamism, formed an unbeatable team which was highly successful in their fund raising mission.

The moral - which part of the elephant you're looking at determines how you'll describe it. If you only look at a tendency to be 10 minutes late, paired with disorganized paperwork, you will conclude you have a less than desirable employee. If you look at their energy, their willingness to work overtime, and their creative problem-solving, then you've got a superior employee. So, instead of bemoaning ADD employees who can't sit still for hours or fill out their time sheets in a timely manner, employers would do better to celebrate the untapped ingenuity, creativity and energy waiting to be mined by the savvy manager. The employer who creates an ADD-friendly work environment creates a win-win situation Put an ADD employee in the right job with the right supports and then stand back! You'll be amazed at the motivation and productivity that is unleashed.

About the author:
Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D. is a nationally recognized expert on Attention Deficit Disorder in adults, and the author of several books on adult ADD, including the recently released ADD in the Workplace, Choices, Changes and Challenges, published by Brunner/Mazel. She is a frequent lecturer and consultant on issues relating to ADD in the workplace. Dr. Nadeau is co-editor of ADDvance Magazine (go to Books and Webs page for the ADDvance website link)
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