How ADHD can affect your working life, both for good and for bad


Those with ADHD usually find it difficult to absorb all the new information they will be bombarded with in a new job. Therefore, they are advised to make notes and memorise the three most important things of the day (and no more!) after work every day for that initial familiarisation period. — Photos: dpa

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often diagnosed during a person’s schooldays, and the symptoms can continue into adulthood and manifest themselves at the workplace.

“There are basic problems that repeatedly crop up,” says Dr Johannes Streif, deputy chairman of ADHD Germany, a non-profit, self-help organisation for people with the condition.

Among them he lists heightened impulsivity, which makes ADHD sufferers act inappropriately in situations of stress or conflict.

Another is difficulty concentrating, which can be exacerbated by working in an open-plan office.

A third is difficulty remaining seated for extended periods of time, so having a desk job is particularly challenging for them.

There’s a positive side to the disorder though, according to Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Heiner Lachenmeier, author of a book whose German title translates as Success at Your Job with ADHD: How to Turn Supposed Weaknesses into Strengths.

“In fields they’re very familiar with, ADHD sufferers are generally more innovative than non-sufferers,” he remarks.

Many of them can devote themselves with extreme intensity and persistence to tasks involving things that particularly interest them, says Dr Lachenmeiner, so their choice of occupation is very important.

“ADHD sufferers should choose an occupation that really appeals to them – and not just in theory.

“Ideally, they should try out the occupation in practice, so as not to fall for a romantic notion of it.”

Dr Streif also recommends a line of work that plays to their strengths and interests.

For many ADHD sufferers, he says, it’s better not to be too tightly integrated in a team and have to hew to a work rhythm dictated by others, although some external structure can be helpful.

Flexible, changing tasks involving plenty of physical movement are often a good fit for them, he says.

A frequent hurdle faced by ADHD sufferers at a new job is the break-in period, when they’re bombarded with lots of new information – names, data, impressions – which can lead to sensory overload.

“This means they need longer to get their bearings and figure out what’s important and what isn’t,” Dr Lachenmeier says, so time and patience are required.

“I advise them to write everything down, including the names of their superiors.

“Every evening they should look at what they’ve written and make a mental note of the three most important things, no more.

“Then they’ll have a good idea of everything fairly quickly.”

Communication is helpful as well.

Dr Lachenmeier generally discourages ADHD sufferers from bringing up their condition at work, since it’s still widely stigmatised.

But he says it’s advisable to let your superiors know “how you function”.

It can also be helpful to tell them the form of criticism you’re best able to deal with, or that you need extra time to get your feet under the table.

This will avert most misunderstandings, he says.

“Many ADHD sufferers don’t know exactly how they function, however,” Dr Lachenmeier points out, and recommends consulting your psychotherapist to find out.

In some larger companies in certain countries, you can first turn – confidentially – to the works council or company health service, since it’s up to you whether or not to tell anyone you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD.

If you’re unsure what to do, the Cologne-based Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) advises consulting your doctor or psychotherapist.

Taking a broader perspective, Dr Streif says it’s important that society at large recognise ADHD sufferers to be no less productive than non-sufferers.

All they need are the proper working conditions. – By Anke Dankers/dpa

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