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ADHD/ADD in the Workplace

By Sarah Doyle, LMSW, Outpatient Psychotherapy ServicesValeo Behavioral Health Care

In recent years American’s have been rapidly encountering what is known as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. This diagnosis directly impacts a person’s ability to concentrate, complete necessary tasks, and be present in the moment.

Scientists are still trying to determine why Americans are diagnosed with this disorder more than in any other modern country. While they try to figure this out, those of us who struggle with distractibility and or hyperactivity are often at the mercy of pharmaceutical intervention.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development, as characterized by one or two of the following symptoms persisting for at least six months that negatively impacts social, academic, or occupational activities.

  • Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in school work, at work or during other activities (e.g., overlooks or misses details, work is inaccurate).
  • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities (e.g., has difficulty remaining focused during lectures, conversations, or lengthy reading).
  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly (e.g., mind seems elsewhere even in the absence of any obvious distraction).
  • Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., starts tasks but quickly loses focus and is easily sidetracked).
  • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities (e.g., difficulty managing sequential tasks; difficulty keeping materials and belongings in order, messy, disorganized work, has poor time management; fails to meet deadlines).
  • Avoid, dislike, or reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (e.g., schoolwork or homework; for older adolescents and adults, preparing reports, completing forms, reviewing lengthy papers).
  • Loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, cell phone).
  • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (for older adolescents and adults, may include unrelated thoughts).
  • Forgetful in daily activities (e.g., doing chores, running errands; for older adolescents and adults, returning calls, paying bills, keeping appointments).

Symptoms of Hyperactivity and Impulsivity include:

  • Fidgeting, tapping hands or feet, or squirms in seat
  • Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected (leaves his or her place in classroom, the office, or other workplace, or in other situations that require remaining in place).
  • Runs about or climbs in situations where it is inappropriate
  • Unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly
  • Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor” (e.g., is unable to be or uncomfortable being still for extended time, as in restaurants, meetings; may be experienced by others as being restless or difficult to keep up with).
  • Excessive talking
  • Blurting an answer before a question has been completed (e.g., completes people’s sentences; cannot wait for turn in conversation).
  • Difficulty waiting his or her turn (e.g., while waiting in line).
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., conversations, games, activities)

What if you’re not interested in taking medications? What if the stigma of mental illness has impacted you so much that you are afraid to talk to your doctor about how much of a struggle a day at work can be? What can you do to be proactive in managing symptoms of ADD/ADHD?

Education is essential. The saying “knowledge is power” is absolutely the truth. Research ADD or ADHD—figure out what you are struggling with so you can be as effective as possible at managing your symptoms.

Second, exercise.  We all know exercise is important for a healthy mind and body.  Cardio type exercises like walking, running, biking, dancing, and swimming can help to release some of the excess energy or hyperactivity you may be experiencing.  Exercise also releases hormones which promote reduced depression and anxiety.  All of which have been known to reduce distractibility. Simple cardio can help reduce distractibility and hyperactivity. It is a well-known fact that exercises promotes good mood, so we can also conclude that exercise promotes good work. Instead of siting and staring at your computer during your lunch break get outside. Go for a walk. Take in nature and fresh air. Allow your mind a chance for a break so to speak. Getting this break might be what you need to be more productive and efficient at work. If you are an employer, encourage your employees to take brief walks during breaks or lunches, if able provide a break room with various mindful activities such as reading, coloring, word search. If you are able, ensure your employees have access to a window facing the outdoors.

Third, reduce your vulnerability to distractions. Distractions reduce productivity. To increase productivity an agency can make efforts to reduce distractions in the work place. Studies show interruption in data entry can cause a 15 minute delay in resuming data entry work. How can this be avoided? The beauty of technology lies in one solution. Using e-mail or instant messaging communication can be a great way to communicate in the work place because it can be saved and organized rather than simply taking a mental inventory, which if you struggle with being easily distracted may be a problem.

Fourth, plan ahead! Organization is key for people who struggle with hyperactivity, distractibility, and excess energy. Cope ahead by making sure you are as organized as possible. This will look different for everyone.  Keep your desk clear of paperwork or clutter as well as the rest of your office. Having an organized space reduces the chances that you will become lost in the chaos of disorganized paperwork and lost forms. Get creative. Make labels, use highlighters, have multiple calendars in various places in your office. Start each morning by looking at your schedule and having an idea of what is an appropriate time frame for completing each task; then break down those tasks even further.  The more you plan ahead the better prepared you are to manage your distractions!

Fifth, is the ancient concept of Mindfulness. It is the practice of being present in the current moment, focusing on life with intention and acceptance of feelings. Our culture promotes multitasking and fast tracking. Studies have shown that completing tasks by doing one thing at a time is much more effective than trying to multitask. For individuals who may struggle with ADHD/ADD, being mindful may pose a great challenge. You can practice this skill in your everyday life, for example when you take a shower use your 5 senses to connect with the moment. Coloring is an extremely effective way to practice mindfulness.  Repetitive tasks provide a wonderful chance at practicing mindfulness and harnessing attention.


Counseling services for Adult ADHD/ADD are available at Valeo Behavioral Health Care’s Outpatient Psychotherapy Services.

Sarah Doyle, LMSW, Outpatient PsycSarah Dhotherapy Services Valeo Behavioral Health Care

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