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Keeping a job in today's competitive environment can be particularly difficult for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In addition to having talent and drive, people are required to show excellent focus, attention to detail, speed, and organization. These crucial workplace skills may be challenging for the estimated 8-9 million American adults with ADHD.

Job prospects can suffer as a result of the restlessness and inability to focus that are hallmarks of ADHD. One national survey showed that only half of adults with ADHD were able to hold down a full-time job, compared to 72% of adults without the disorder. When they were able to secure a job, they tended to earn less than their peers without ADHD. Those employment problems translate into nearly $77 billion in lost income each year.

How Does ADHD Affect Employment?

How significantly ADHD affects your job outlook depends on the severity of the condition. Some people with ADHD may just have trouble staying on-task, while others can't make it through the workday without getting into a huge blow-up with a boss or co-worker. Those who are more severely affected can lose their job, or wind up bouncing from job to job, or seeking disability benefits.

ADHD affects job performance in a number of ways. If you can't sit still and have trouble organizing and focusing, you may find meetings excruciating, and keeping track of multiple projects and deadlines enormously challenging. One study showed that people with ADHD often had more difficulty with attention, working memory, mental processing, and verbal fluency -- executive-function abilities that are all important in the workplace. Those difficulties led to fewer employment prospects and lower incomes.

People with ADHD tend to have trouble with the following work-related areas:

  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Listening and paying attention
  • Following directions
  • Procrastination
  • Completing assignments
  • Attending to details
  • Getting to work on time
  • Speaking in turn
  • Sitting still
  • Controlling emotions
  • Anger

ADHD often leads to depression and low self-esteem. Constantly missing deadlines and being unable to complete your work on schedule can exacerbate these feelings.

How Can You Improve Your Odds of Getting and Keeping a Job?

Many adults who experience symptoms such as restlessness and inability to concentrate have never been formally diagnosed with ADHD. If you have any of the problems listed above, the first step toward improving your job outlook is to see a doctor who specializes in the treatment of adult ADHD and get diagnosed so that you can get started on the proper treatment. Treatment for adult ADHD includes talk therapy and medication. The FDA has approved the stimulant drugs Adderall XR, Concerta, Focalin XR, and Vyvanse, and the nonstimulant drug Strattera, for the treatment of ADHD in adults.

When you're starting your job search, work with a career counselor to find a job that is most appropriate to your interests, needs, and abilities. That might mean finding a more fast-paced job with flexible hours and a less-rigid structure, or starting your own business so that you can design your own work environment and hours.

Once you have a job, follow these tips to help keep it:

  • Ask to work in a quiet space, such as an office, rather than in a cubicle where you might be easily distracted.
  • Work with a manager or colleague who is well-organized and can help guide you through projects from start to completion.
  • Keep a day planner with a calendar and list of things-to-do and update them often. Set up your PDA or computer to send you electronic reminders for meetings and due dates.
  • Take notes at meetings and during phone conversations, and add all new tasks to your to-do list.
  • Set aside specific periods of time each day for answering voice mail and email so that they won't interrupt your other responsibilities.
  • Set realistic goals. Break up your days into a series of individual assignments, and only try to tackle one task at a time. Use a timer to let you know when to move on to the next task. Reward yourself for completing an assignment by going out for a special lunch or buying yourself something you've been wanting.
  • If you can, get an assistant or intern to take care of the small details to free you up so you can focus on the big picture.To improve your concentration, practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation. Get up once an hour and take a walk, get a drink of water, or talk to a co-worker.
  • Daily relaxation or meditation can also be helpful.

To help you adjust to your job, enlist the help of a career counselor or executive coach. He or she can offer you guidance on any issues you encounter, and can help you work through the job situations that you find most troublesome (for example, role playing how to discuss a pay raise with your boss without the conversation becoming emotionally charged).

Because ADHD is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your company can't discriminate against you on the basis of your condition. The Act also requires your company to accommodate your needs, provided that you are comfortable enough to let your employer know that you have ADHD.

Finally, take advantage of the benefits -- yes, there are benefits -- that ADHD confers. The restlessness, impulsiveness, and constant desire to try new things can be great assets, especially if you have your own business. Studies have shown that  many adults with ADHD wind up becoming entrepreneurs. The trick to success is finding the career that best suits you, and then using your energy, creativity, and other strengths to get the most out of your job.

WebMD Medical Reference

View Article Sources Sources

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on April 03, 2014

© 2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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