ADHD in the Workplace
ADHD can be a challenge for adults whose school days are long behind them—most notably in the workplace. Distractibility, difficulty prioritizing tasks, and ineffective time management can lead to poor work performance or the inability to meet deadlines, while emotional dysregulation or the frequent interrupting of others can lead to conflicts with coworkers.
While many people with ADHD are highly capable, some with the condition may find it difficult to hold down a job or complete their work to the best of their ability. On the other hand, seeking support and developing coping strategies for work-related challenges can help someone with ADHD overcome symptoms and be successful in their chosen career.
On This Page
- Should I share that I have ADHD?
- I’m having trouble focusing at work. What strategies can help?
- Are certain jobs better for people with ADHD?
- What jobs should someone with ADHD avoid?
- Is ADHD considered a disability at work?
- Can ADHD help me work faster?
- Can ADHD help me multitask?
- Are entrepreneurs more likely to have ADHD?
- Are people with ADHD more creative?
- What famous or successful people have ADHD?
- How can I leverage my ADHD strengths at work?
Whether or not to disclose ADHD to an employer is a personal decision. Unfortunately, due to lingering stigma about mental health conditions, some employers may respond poorly or assume that ADHD will render the employee unable to succeed in their current role. However, if a boss is understanding, he or she may be willing to make reasonable accommodations that allow the individual to perform more effectively at their job. If the employee has been formally diagnosed with ADHD and can prove that it is causing substantial problems at work, they may be able to seek accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act; however, this course of action is not without risk.
Adults with ADHD may be able to improve focus by planning out their day beforehand, breaking complex tasks into more manageable chunks, building movement into the workday, and taking frequent short breaks. Minimizing potential distractions—by wearing noise-canceling headphones, for instance, or turning off email notifications—may also help someone with ADHD stay focused on the task at hand.
People with ADHD may find that they gravitate more toward jobs with a creative element, those that incorporate a substantial amount of movement, or those with very little busywork or tedious repetitive tasks. Many with ADHD report that careers in the arts, education, healthcare, or the food industry allow them to play to their strengths and minimize their ADHD-related challenges. But ultimately, people with ADHD can succeed or fail at any job, as the ideal career for an individual is often based on a unique mix of personality, strengths, weaknesses, and interests.
ADHD does not preclude someone from succeeding in any particular field, especially if they are interested in the work and have found strategies to cope with any ADHD-related deficits. However, depending on their specific symptoms, someone with ADHD may be more likely to struggle at a job that requires long-term planning, consists of unvarying or repetitive tasks, demands precision, or sets hard deadlines that must be met consistently.
It depends. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ADHD can be legally considered a disability in some cases. But smaller companies may not be required to provide workplace accommodations under the ADA—and even at companies that are required to comply, a diagnosis alone isn’t enough to qualify for protection under the law. In addition to a formal diagnosis, the individual must also establish that symptoms substantially limit functioning on the job and that they could perform their essential job duties if given reasonable accommodations. If such limitations can be adequately documented, those “reasonable accommodations” must be provided by the employer—though the employee and employer may disagree about what “reasonable” means in a specific case.
In some cases, yes. Though ADHD is often characterized by distraction, many people with ADHD find that they are able to focus intensely for certain periods, particularly if the task at hand is of great interest to them. This is called “hyperfocus.” During a period of hyperfocus, the person may find that they are more productive or able to work much more efficiently than usual. While hyperfocus can be difficult to predict, some with ADHD find that they are able to deliberately harness it in certain instances—by turning a boring task into a game, for instance, or by rewarding themselves for completing each smaller chunk of a larger project.
People with ADHD may be particularly prone to jumping between several tasks at once. But regardless of one’s ADHD status, research consistently shows that trying to focus on several different tasks at once can negatively affect performance, particularly when those tasks are cognitively demanding. Though focusing on one task at a time can feel challenging or boring, it may help someone—with or without ADHD—increase their productivity on the job or at home.
There is some evidence that entrepreneurship and ADHD are likely to go hand-in-hand, and many prominent entrepreneurs have credited their success to their ADHD-related strengths. Indeed, many ADHD traits have been linked to the skills necessary to succeed as an independent businessperson. The ability to hyperfocus on a project, for instance, may help an entrepreneur get their venture off the ground, while high energy may help someone work long hours or take on a wide variety of tasks. Many with ADHD may also struggle with the confines and expectations of traditional workplaces; working for themselves is an effective way to tailor their work environment to maximize their unique skillset while minimizing their challenges.
Anecdotal evidence has long tied ADHD to artistic talent and imaginative thought, but the actual association between the disorder and heightened creativity remains under investigation. ADHD is not necessarily synonymous with creativity, but some small studies do suggest that in general, those with ADHD tend to perform better on creative thinking tasks than those without ADHD. People with ADHD may also be more likely to take risks, which can lead to greater success in artistic or entrepreneurial endeavors. The challenge for many with ADHD, however, may be in following through with their creative ideas; adequate treatment and social support can help them put their creativity into action.
A significant number of famous people—successful in arts, sports, business, and other domains—have come out publicly as having been diagnosed with ADHD. Some of these include Michael Phelps and Simone Biles, two highly decorated Olympic athletes; American businessmen Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, and David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue Airways; singers Solange Knowles and Adam Levine; journalist Lisa Ling; and political analyst James Carville. Since disclosing their diagnosis, many famous people with ADHD now advocate for heightened awareness, decreased stigma, and more accurate diagnostic practices for children and adults struggling with the condition.
The first step to making the most of your ADHD-related strengths is to pinpoint the positive aspects of your symptoms. Are you able to hyperfocus for long periods of time? Identify the conditions (such as a quiet office, music in the background, or a particular type of project) that are associated with your periods of productivity and use that information to trigger hyperfocus when you need to get a lot done. Do you excel at thinking creatively? Pursue a career that allows you to express your ideas and rewards risk-taking. Do you have high energy or feel a constant need to fidget? Schedule walking meetings with colleagues in order to move while you work—they're associated with stronger decision-making, improved well-being, and better team spirit. However your ADHD presents, there are steps you can take to leverage your strengths and find greater success.