CAW Worldwide, LLC
Copyright © 2008 CAW Worldwide, LLC All Rights Reserved.
|Supervising the Attention –Deficit Hyperactive Employee
By: Cheryl Weldon, MA, LMFT
Copyright © 2008 CAW Worldwide, LLC All Rights Reserved.
not caring about their work or even their job; having no dedication or positive work ethic.
Supervisors may believe that this employee doesn’t meet a deadline due to laziness or
incompetence. For most employees with ADHD this is simply not true. It is not the desire to do a
good job that is lacking; rather it is the ability of the brain to attend to tasks. It is important that a
supervisor understand the signs and symptoms of an employee who either is already diagnosed
with ADHD; or at the very least displays the symptoms. The work life will become much more
tolerable and less stressful in supervising this employee when there is a clear understanding of the
First and foremost, ADHD is a disorder of the brain. It is not an issue of willpower. Though with
treatment the disorder can be managed; it is not cured and the employee lacks the ability to
control the disorder without some type of treatment. Symptoms that were seen in the individual as
a child may have changed now that the individual is an adult. Most often in adults hyperactivity is
displayed as an inability to relax, restless nervous energy and talking excessively. Adults with
ADHD show their impulsiveness in volatile moods, often interrupting others, and blurting out rude
or insulting remarks. The ADHD adult’s inattentiveness is evidenced by unintentionally tuning
out, consistently losing or forgetting things, and the inability to focus on tasks. One might find it
helpful to picture the world from the ADHD brain.
Imagine standing on the racetrack during the Daytona 500. Each race car that goes by is a thought
in the mind of the ADHD employee. Try to catch each thought and track it around the entire oval
for 500 laps to the finish line; all the while ignoring the screaming of the fans and whine of the
engines and screech of the tires. Ignore the ambulance rushing out to a crashed car; but, don’t
ignore the yellow flag signaling your thoughts to slow down. Don’t forget to watch the board in
the pit area so you know when to come in for a moment. While in the pit stop don’t get distracted
by the changing of tires or the other race cars zooming by you. Keep your eyes on the thought
that is ahead of the others and will make it to the checkered flag first.
Dr. Thomas Brown of Yale University School of Medicine states that “ADHD is essentially a
name for developmental impairment of executive function.” Executive function includes impulse
control, motivation, planning, organizing and selective attention. Taking into consideration Dr.
Brown’s definition it is easy to look at the employee with ADHD and understand where the
problem areas will occur. This employee will have problems in organizing, prioritizing, and in
starting tasks. This employee will have problems staying on task; will be easily distracted; will
have difficulty being persistent. This employee may appear “moody,” and have difficulty
managing stressful situations. This employee will be impulsive in actions and will have impairment
in retrieving information from short-term memory. The employee is often chronically late, misses
or entirely forgets deadlines and/or important meetings, and works many hours without
accomplishing much. Relationships for the ADHD employee are most often strained.
All of these somewhat negative characteristics would lead one to believe that there is little hope in
adequately supervising an employee with ADHD. One might wonder if the employee is even
appropriate for the job. While it is true that the employee with ADHD has many challenges and
struggles; there are many positive characteristics that make the employee worth the effort. The
ADHD employee usually is highly creative with a quick mind. This employee tends to be
enthusiastic and spontaneous with a high energy level; and is able to hyper-focus for long periods
of time on tasks that are found interesting. This can be a great asset for an organization.
So what are the keys to harnessing this potential? While the ADHD employee can pursue legal
accommodations; often the ADHD employee will not reveal the disorder, and thus will not pursue
legal accommodations. It is in the best interest of the supervisor to review various techniques to
assist this employee in reaching full potential; therefore becoming a bigger asset for the
organization; and possibly less headache for the supervisor. This is accomplished without the
employee being “accused” of having the disorder if it has not been revealed. Other employees
with diagnosed ADHD will not hesitate to tell their employers, and co-workers, and anyone else
who will listen. At times, it may seem like it is used as an excuse, but be assured, it is not. These
employees are seeking understanding and insight into their worlds. It is important to sit down with
the employee and have a conversation about the issues at hand. This does not have to wait for
performance review time. Many issues need to be addressed immediately.
Techniques that will be beneficial for the ADHD employee include assisting in organizing the
environment and prioritizing tasks. The ADHD employee will benefit from “ticklers” regarding
deadlines. It is important to remember that this employee will most likely need additional time and
therefore, the deadline needs to reflect this. For instance, if a report is required on the fifth day of
the month, require this employee to turn it in on the third day with a reminder on the first day by
email, or memo. Visuals are always helpful; make a monthly calendar with deadlines inserted,
remembering to use the above formula of extra days. Meet with the employee often and review a
“to do list” for the week. It may require a daily prioritizing until the employee can “get into a
routine.” Routines are important for the ADHD employee. Transitions can be distracting. Again,
the focus is lost and it may take some time for the employee to get back on track. As with
children, have the employee tackle tasks in small increments. This will accommodate several
areas: motivation, staying on task, completing tasks, and time management. Assist the employee
with self-control by agreeing on a signal, either verbal or visual, that can be given during meetings
or conversations that will deter interruptions. When asking for information, be clear in
expectations; when giving directions, give them clearly and concisely. Whenever possible, use
audio, visual equipment as aids; computers with voice activated software; extra clerical support;
and flexible schedules.
Understandably some of these accommodations will not work for every organization. However, if
available, these will assist the ADHD employee in achieving full potential. ADHD employees, as
with employees who do not have ADHD, need to hear how they are performing. It is important to
give frequent feedback; it will be received well as long as it is given in a respectful constructive
manner. The employee needs to hear when a job is well done; needs to be recognized for
creativity and “good ideas.” Remember, the ADHD employee will be creative and intuitive if
given the opportunities. Give them the boundaries and they will fill the void. Above all, never
imply that the ADHD employee is not intelligent or dedicated. And most important: BE
PATIENT! Tap into the rich resource of their talents and abilities, the ADHD employees will
… “Understanding ADHD- Myths and Misunderstandings.” www.CHADD.org.
… “ADHD in Adults.” www.Helpguide.org.
… Hallowell, Edward M., M.D. & Ratey, John J., M.D. “50Tips on the Management of Adult
Attention Deficit Disorder.” www.acbr.com. Faslink. Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society, Research,
Information, Support and Communication.