Saturday, February 4, 2023 Feb 4, 2023
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ADHD in the Workplace

Whether it’s the CEO or an employee who has the condition, harnessing the energy of trendsetting, out-of-the-box thinkers can boost productivity and job satisfaction.
By Karen Nielsen |
photography by James Bland

For entrepreneur Kevin Lofgren, 41, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has been both a blessing and a curse.

Although he got along just fine socially by being entertaining and the life of the party, he wasn’t well respected for his intellect or performance in school. He got a job after college, then later founded Farstar, a technology-based creative marketing firm in Frisco.

“What I found was when I was employed I could get away with doing things half-assed, but when I [started Farstar] and was not quite focused, I was cheating myself,” he says. “I made up for my lack of focus by working more. It would take me eight hours when it should have taken me two, so I worked 80 to 90 hours a week.”

He also remembers drifting off during meetings and not remembering when he promised clients he’d do something.

“It looked like I had a memory problem, but it was a listening problem,” he says. “It shows up like you don’t care or don’t respect them.”

About 9 million adults have ADD or ADHD, but nearly 90 percent don’t even know it.

Sports heroes like Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler and Olympic medalist Michael Phelps have spoken openly about their ADHD diagnoses, as have businessmen Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, and David Neeleman, founder and CEO of JetBlue Airways.

Clearly, they’ve found ways to successfully channel their ADHD, and their message is that others can, too.

Kinsler isn’t concerned about the public perception that often comes with the diagnosis. In eighth grade he began taking Adderall, a medication that helped him focus better, and he hasn’t looked back.

“I think if it’s affecting the people around you and they notice it, you need to check yourself out and look in the mirror,” he says. “It’s absolutely OK to get help and no one is going to make fun of you.”

But getting help and speaking openly in the workplace about the disorder are two very different situations.

“There is a stigma to it and even though people joke about it, ADHD can be unpredictable and unproductive,” says Plano psychologist Susan Fletcher, Ph.D., author of Working in the Smart Zone, which addresses ADHD issues at work. “Adults in the workplace want to be seen as a professional and taken seriously. I heard [Dallas media personality] Kidd Kraddick on the radio today, and he joked that he hadn’t taken his Adderall. In that format it’s entertaining, but in the classic business setting, it’s not something that’s typically disclosed or made light of.”

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that affects the parts of the brain that control attention and activity. Despite the name, ADHD is not just about hyperactivity; it’s more about struggling to stay focused.

Most ADHD people are highly intelligent, creative, and innovative, and once they learn to manage their symptoms, their “unlimited energy and laser focus on important goals can be a secret weapon that most ordinary folks” can only envy, says Koy Roberts, Ph.D., a child, adolescent, and family psychologist in Coppell.

Those who come out on top typically pick a profession or career they’re passionate about to channel all of their good qualities. Many are attracted to sales or creative jobs because of the variety of the work. Those with ADHD are easily bored, so a job where they’re sitting in a cubicle all day isn’t a good career choice.

Entrepreneurs who are trendsetters, impulsive, and willing to take risks are more apt to have ADHD, Fletcher says. She points to Kinko’s founder Orfalea and television host Ty Pennington of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition as examples of how creative thinkers have changed industries or introduced new markets. “To be an entrepreneur, you need to be able to have some of those skills,” she says. “If they think about it too much, they might talk themselves out of it.”

Typically the high-level CEO with ADHD functions well in the workplace and isn’t bothered by his or her ADHD. But it’s the people who work with him or her who suffer the most and will be most bothered by it, Fletcher says.

These executives need to have good people and systems surrounding them to compensate for their deficiencies; otherwise, they can expect frequent turnover and conflicts.

“It can be a nightmare for some people who desire structure and predictability, but it also can be wonderful if that person enjoys the creativity and spontaneity of an ADHD person,” she says.

Most of us have joked one time or another about having ADHD. Being tired or stressed out from overscheduled lives, too little sleep, and lack of exercise can trigger ADHD-like symptoms. But those don’t hold a candle to the real deal.

Although not every person has all of the symptoms, the disorder is characterized by hyperactivity and difficulties following directions, concentrating, organizing tasks, remembering information, and controlling behavior. A failure to address these difficulties can lead to problems at work or with relationships, addiction issues, and underachieving.

Dave R. (not his real name) knows that story well. In 1999, he left a 17-year unfulfilling career in accounting to launch a Johnson County furniture store. He says he was tired of the detail work and wanted to focus on the sales and marketing aspects of the business. He has since opened a second store in the Fort Worth area, but is realizing he needs a competent office manager to keep him organized.

The paperwork struggles he faced at his accounting job followed him to his new venture, and now he’s facing decade-old income tax issues.

“Overall I’m happier than I was before, but it’s still very frustrating that I don’t have everything organized the way it should be,” he says. “That part is a constant struggle and stress, and the income tax issue is serious business. It’s not like I don’t know the importance of that. I’m getting better with meeting deadlines of all the different reports, but I am real lax when it comes to deadlines.”

The entrepreneur says he didn’t notice the ADHD symptoms until after college, but family members and peers often call him on it. He struggles with chronic lateness, time management, and procrastination, and is easily distracted—all of which have negatively affected his work and home life.