Managing a Person With ADHD

Working With Energetic but Frustrating People

Managing a Person With ADHD - Working With Energetic but Frustrating People

© iStockphoto
webguzs

People with ADHD can bring tremendous energy to your team.

Have you ever felt frustrated by a team member who was smart and hardworking, but who was disorganized and easily distracted? You might have assumed he or she was lazy, had a poor attitude, or just didn't care. But it's also possible that he had ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

In this article, we explain what ADHD is, and we suggest strategies to help you manage someone with ADHD, so she can be a successful and productive member of your team. We also explore the challenges it can present for you and your team, and we highlight some of the benefits that can come with ADHD, such as the energy and creativity that is often displayed by people with the condition.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD covers a range of behavioral symptoms that includes inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Most people with ADHD have a combination of these symptoms.

Some people have a milder version, called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which affects their ability to concentrate, but they do not experience hyperactivity or impulsiveness. ADD can go unnoticed because the symptoms can be less obvious than those of ADHD. The American Psychiatric Association uses the term ADHD whether a person experiences hyperactivity or not.

ADHD usually appears in childhood, but may not be diagnosed until adulthood. It appears equally in men and women, although it is more commonly diagnosed in boys.

According to ADHD expert Dr Edward Hallowell, author of the 2005 book, Delivered From Distraction, and founder of the Hallowell Centers, the criteria for adult ADHD include:

  • Physical or cognitive restlessness and mood instability.
  • A frequent search for high stimulation, and a low tolerance of boredom and frustration.
  • Trouble with getting organized, planning, managing time and money, and completing tasks.
  • A tendency to worry needlessly and endlessly.
  • A tendency toward addictive behavior, impulsive decision making, and impulsive behavior.
  • Chronic procrastination and inconsistent mental focus, at times super-focused, at other times totally distracted.
  • Chronic problems with self-esteem.
  • Unexplained underachievement, and not fulfilling his potential.
  • A lack of awareness of her behavior, or how it impacts people around her.
  • Family history of ADHD or other impulse control or mood disorders.

Note 1:

Employees with ADHD are often protected by law from discrimination. It's important to be familiar with the appropriate legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, in the U.S., and the Equality Act 2010, in the U.K. This will ensure that you're treating your team members fairly, and in accordance with the law in your particular region, state or country. Talk to your HR department if you have any questions or concerns about managing someone with ADHD.

Note 2:

Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to ADHD, so your team member may not disclose his condition to you – and he's not obliged to. If you manage someone who demonstrates any of these behaviors, it's important that you do not attempt to diagnose him yourself, but you can make suggestions to help him, as you would any other member of your team.

Managing a Team Member With ADHD

The key to managing a team member with ADHD successfully is to support her as she overcomes her own challenges, but also to get the best from her for your team and organization.

If a team member tells you that he has ADHD and asks for some extra support, arrange a time to talk to him to find out what he'd find helpful. Then, talk to your HR department to make sure that you comply with relevant disability legislation.

Most ADHD accommodations are simple, inexpensive and beneficial to everyone in your team. Here are some strategies you can use to tackle some key areas where people with ADHD can struggle in the workplace, according to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN):

Adapting your approach: talk to your team member and discover what style of learning or training works best for her, much as you would with anyone else on your team. Someone with ADHD may have trouble remembering tasks or activities, so you can help by providing her with written instructions and notes as reminders, allowing her extra training time for new activities, and offering her refresher training.

Making workplace adjustments: providing a quiet, or even a private, workspace can reduce disruption to your team and benefit the individual with ADHD. He may find it hard to concentrate and can be easily distracted by office noise and activity. You can provide him with noise-canceling headphones or move him to a quieter part of the office.

Your team member may exhibit signs of hyperactivity or impulsive behavior, such as tapping, humming and fidgeting, which could disturb her colleagues and perhaps affect their performance. Scheduling regular breaks can create an outlet for physical activity. Providing her with a private workspace can reduce the disruption to other team members.

Gaining the support of colleagues: some of the behaviors of someone with ADHD, and some of the measures needed to accommodate them, could impact the rest of your team. But there are steps you can take to build good working relationships among your team members.

You can provide training for them, so they get a better understanding of the disorder. Appointing a mentor or "buddy" can help a team member with ADHD to cope with any social or communication difficulties, and help him to feel part of the team. For example, he may not fully understand body language or innuendo, so a mentor can help him understand social cues.

Focusing on strengths: A team member with ADHD can be creative and energetic, but may have difficulty with prioritization and managing her time. So, you can help her to concentrate on what she's good at by helping her to be more organized. A simple timer can give her a clear idea of when she needs to complete a task. Providing a written list of assignments and deadlines may be useful.

Using a time management tool like The Pomodoro Technique® can also help, as it breaks tasks up into manageable chunks. Our article, The 5S System, has tips for improving office organization.

Giving feedback and setting boundaries: You may be willing and committed to helping a team member with ADHD as much as you can, but that does not mean "bending over backwards" to such an extent that you cannot get your own job done.

Finding This Article Useful?

You can learn another 292 team management skills, like this, by joining the Mind Tools Club.

Join the Mind Tools Club Today!

So, be sure to provide clear instructions about deadlines and the standard of work you expect, and offer specific feedback on areas where he can improve. It's also important to be clear about your organization's conduct policy, and review it in a way that helps him understand what standards of behavior are expected.

Note:

While a manager should show compassion and understanding, and provide a supportive environment, your team member must also be made aware of what is acceptable behavior. You should contact your HR department if you need help and advice to do this.

And consult HR before instigating any disciplinary procedures against anyone whose behavior may be linked to ADHD, to ensure you do not unwittingly fall foul of any anti-discrimination legislation.

The Benefits of Managing a Team Member With ADHD

People with ADHD can bring energy, enthusiasm and new perspectives to your team. For example, when they are engaged in work that is interesting to them, their energy can provide them with an ability to "hyperfocus." While people with ADHD may find it hard to concentrate on some activities, they can also focus intently on tasks or subjects that interest them.

They are often bright, energetic and creative people who have found innovative ways to overcome a lifetime of challenges. This also means that they are aware that people are different and need different things to succeed. Consequently, they can be very compassionate and generous individuals.

Key Points

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioral symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness, or a combination of these. ADHD usually appears in childhood, but some people may not be diagnosed until they are adults.

People with this condition often struggle with time management, organization, memory, concentration, and hyperactivity. Their creativity, energy and ability to hyperfocus on particular tasks, however, can make them valuable members of a team.

You can help a team member with ADHD succeed with a few simple accommodations in the workplace, and by thinking about your approach as a manager. For example, you could find a quiet or private area for him to work in, and talk to him to find out what kind of learning or training works best for him.

If you have any concerns about her behaviors or standards of work, talk to your HR department.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

Rate this resource

Comments (15)
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi olli9,

    Welcome to the Club. As one of the Mind Tools team, I’m here to help you here and in the forums, and to get the very most from the club.

    I appreciate your feedback on the article, and it's great to hear from someone who is not only living, but succeeding with, ADHD. Your comment regarding the stigma around any type of mental health condition can of itself be debilitating.

    This would be a great conversation starter in the forums, where we discuss all types of current topics. We look forward to seeing you there.
  • Over a month ago olli9 wrote
    Great article and I am impressed you have a separate one focusing on this condition and the issues it may cause. Speaking from a perspective of a manager with ADHD, I can surely relate to and understand employees with ADHD. But, unfortunately due to the stigma , many people are too afraid to disclose their condition and suffer from misunderstandings at the workplace or seen as weird or strange.
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi Fahad,
    It is good that you can identify yourself with some of what is written in the article. This means that you can now take action to deal with things and develop strategies to help.

    If you think you might exhibit some of the signs and symptoms of ADHD, you might consider consulting your medical practitioner for their advice. They are generally better placed to refer you to an appropriate person to undertake an assessment. You can then learn some strategies to better manage yourself and your attention.

    If you think it might simply be a case of you distracting yourself and avoiding doing work that you have to do, yet are not that interested in, have a look at some of our resources on time management, distraction and priorities. There are many ideas and strategies that can help to become more effective and efficient.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
View All Comments