Saturday, June 5, 2010

“What Happens to ADHD Kids When They Grow Up?” They Go to Work

by Professor Tony Wheeler
Associate Professor of Human Resource Management

I’m old enough to remember the days before the phrase ‘ADHD’ (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) became a permanent fixture in the consciousness of Americans. Ritalin anyone? Like many of you, I’ve always wondered what happens to kids diagnosed with this disorder when they leave school. To be honest, I do not know if any of my undergraduate or masters’ students suffer from the disorder, and I always assumed that kids either learned to adapt to it or outgrew it. I do, however, hear stories that student pass Ritalin around the dorms to achieve the same thing that us geezers used NoDoze for, which makes me think that students used it recreationally instead of for its intended purpose.

But I digress. Why am I writing about ADHD on the SLRC blog? It turns out that about 50% of ADHD cases persist into adulthood, with about 4% of the US workforce suffering from the adult version of ADHD. Adult version meaning that it’s ADHD just with the word ‘adult’ in front of it. Persistent inattention? Check. Inability to focus? Check. Poor time management and organizing skills? Check. Tendency to procrastinate? Check. That’s ADHD, and researchers estimate that ADHD in the workplace accounts for an average of 35 lost days of employee performance per ADHD employee, costing an estimated $19.5B in annual employee productivity. And, don’t forget that ADHD is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yes, my technocrat HRM friends, that means reasonable accommodation.

A colleague of mine and I just finished a research project that examined how ADHD impacts employee performance. Primarily, we looked at how ADHD interacted with employee engagement to predict job performance. Work engagement is “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption” (Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzalez-Roma, & Bakker, 2002, p. 74), and highly engaged employees have abundant emotional, psychological, and physical resources at their disposal to meet the demands of their job. Engagement positively relates to employee job performance and organizational citizenship (extra-role) behaviors. Which brings us to ADHD.

We collected data from 3 samples of full-time employed working adults (several hundred employees working across dozens of occupations and industries), and we found that ADHD is like a broken “resource governor.” That is, when you are engaged in your job and have all of the resources you need to excel at your job, ADHD impedes affected employees from properly allocating their energies to do their jobs as well as they could or should.

We admit it’s a simple finding. But it’s an important finding with simple solutions. First, companies need to know and be aware that ADHD affects a portion of their workforce. Second, employees need to know and be aware, too. There is a social stigma surrounding ADHD, which prevents affected employees from seeking help. This costs employees their dignity and companies their profits. Third, the solutions are simple. Aside from available health insurance to see doctors who can diagnose and treat ADHD, companies can provide simple accommodations to ADHD employees: a quiet and uncluttered workspace, time management seminars or training, and a supportive environment. The relative costs are minimal compared to the substantial benefits.

Schaufeli, W.B., Salanova, M., Gonzalez-Roma, V., Bakker, A.B. (2002). The measurement of engagement and burnout: a two simple confirmatory factor analytic approach. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3:.71-92.


  1. This is a very interesting article and study. I had never thought about this disorder until I began to see medicines, of course, advertised on TV for adults disorders of this type. I think that there are many people out there who suffer from ADHD well into adulthood. I also think that many people just didn't ever realize why they have problems with time management etc. as you describe. Have you had any feedback on your study?

  2. It’s very good post regarding education. I am also doing Post Graduate and I need my final project stuff that I get from here. Hope you continue adding such type of new informative post.

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  3. This is so true! I am a victome of All of these . Lawyers and arbirtrators should beaware if the employe is and has been diegnoiesd of one or more .