The Next Frontier: ADHD and Individualized Working

More adults, particularly those 50 and older, are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Dr. David Goodman, Johns Hopkins University, writes, “There’s a new topic in ADHD, and it’s likely to be the next clinical frontier, and that is ADHD in adults over the age of 50.” [1] They are employees in the primes of their careers. And now they are realizing that there’s a diagnosable reason for why they work differently from their peers.

Finding a name for one’s restlessness, impulsivity and distractibility can be such a relief. But the realization can also cause new stress. Do I need to take medication? Should I tell my boss or colleagues? Only you can answer those questions for yourself.

For my Gen X cohort and those older than us, we were labeled as risky hires if we changed jobs too often. It’s now the norm for younger generations to frequently change jobs and even change careers over the course of their lifetimes. Still, remnants remain of the old attitude that everyone has to fit into the same behavior mold at work: sit at your desk from 8:00 to 4:30 with two short breaks and a lunch, otherwise you might not really be working. Thankfully, that’s all changing as younger employees who grew up in the age of ADHD awareness begin to move into formal leadership roles. They know that one size doesn’t fit all at work (or anywhere, for that matter.)

How to support employees with ADHD

Finding the right job fit can be a challenge when you have ADHD. The right fit means a job that will keep you interested and give you opportunities to explore new things. It also means a work culture that supports your differences and allows for accommodations, preferably without having to make a formal request for them through Human Resources. Older generations aren’t always comfortable asking for help, so employers who are proactive in supporting all types of work styles and varying employee needs will ultimately retain more employees.

Some of the common workplace options that should be made available to all employees with ADHD, as well as to those without, are:

  • standing desks,
  • exercise ball chairs,
  • laptops for mobile work,
  • quiet workspaces with doors,
  • noise-canceling headphones,
  • flexible work schedules,
  • opportunities to try new tasks, and
  • plenty of learning experiences.

Government can be slow to change. Resistance to providing these types of options may occur because of increased costs and public perception about wasted taxpayer dollars. However, ensuring that employees have the tools they need to work at their optimum capacity is much less costly than high employee turnover, which is bound to happen without them.

Individualized working

Education systems are great models for proactive integration of a spectrum of strategies being used to address various learning styles and needs. Individualized learning recognizes that we all have something that makes our daily needs different from one another. “Individualized working” should be the next employment frontier where employers fully embrace their employees’ differences and proactively support their unique needs.

Kimberly Nuckles is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

[1] https://apsard.org/adhd-in-adults-over-the-age-of-50/

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

Awesome piece, Kim! I’ve learned that my ADHD has the potential to enhance my work instead of detract from it like I’d previously assumed, and its due in part to several of the common workplace options you listed above. Having the privilege to try new tasks and immerse myself in learning opportunities has made me a better employee because I’m now more educated on topics I wouldn’t have previously been exposed to. Thank you for sharing this for those of us who have different working styles, ADHD or not.

Kimberly Nuckles

Thank you Blake! It’s so important to focus on the strengths it can bring to one’s work and then actively seek out an employer who values those strengths. It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of feeling inferior because you can’t meet someone else’s expectations about how you should do your work.