A day in the life of an employee with ADHD

By Margie DeSantis

Expert reviewed by Andrew Kahn, PsyD

Meet Tim, a car salesman with ADHD. He often has trouble with organization, focus, and remembering information. His ADHD symptoms cause different challenges during his day, and Tim worries they may give him a bad reputation. But he knows he has strengths, too.

Take a look at a typical workday for Tim to see how ADHD can impact people at work.

Graphic of Tim in a car. A road closed sign is in front of him.

7:45 a.m.

Tim is leaving his house for work. He’s on his usual driving route when he runs into a roadblock. He has to come up with a new way to get there. His first instinct is to panic. He fears he won’t be able to figure out a new way to get to work. But after a few wrong turns, he finds a new way around the closure. He’s five minutes late and stressed.

Challenges related to ADHD:

  • Flexible thinking
  • Trouble managing emotions

Ways employers can help:

  • Allow for commuting delays.
  • Use employee surveys to monitor stress levels.
Graphic of Tim standing in front of a door. One of his hands is on his head while the other is reaching into his pants pocket.

8:11 a.m.

As he approaches the front door to the dealership, Tim checks his pocket to find he forgot his key, even though he thought he double-checked everything this morning. Thankfully, his co-worker was just inside the door and let him in.

Challenges related to ADHD:

  • Trouble with organization/planning
  • Forgetfulness

Ways employers can help:

  • Provide plans for unexpected emergencies (locked out, lost key, etc.).
Graphic of an overhead view of a desk with a checklist, laptop, and calculator. A memo is being written on a sheet of paper.

10:39 a.m.

Tim is at his desk, struggling to write the memo his manager asked him to do as soon as possible. He can’t figure out where to begin. So, he keeps taking out other work that’s less urgent. It feels like there’s a wall between him and getting this particular assignment done.

Challenges related to ADHD:

  • Difficulty prioritizing and planning
  • Trouble starting and finishing tasks

Ways employers can help:

  • Provide an outline or template, and/or give clear and specific direction for how to format the memo.
  • Ask the employee what might help make the task easier.
Graphic of Tim talking to a customer. There is a question mark above his head.

1:36 p.m.

While on the floor of the car dealership, Tim is talking to a customer about a used car. The customer asks him how many owners the vehicle has had, and Tim goes into the back to check. Somewhere on his walk from the customer to his desk, he forgets the information. He has to go back to the customer and ask what the question was.

Challenges related to ADHD:

  • Working memory
  • Organization

Ways employers can help:

  • Make sure employees have easy access to tools they need to complete their work, like pens and notepads.
  • Keep important information in a convenient spot so employees can quickly find it.
Graphic of Tim in a meeting with his manager and co-workers. Two overlapping speech bubbles are shown. One is his, the other is his manager's.

4:32 p.m. 

During a meeting with his manager and the rest of his co-workers, Tim is really invested in what they’re discussing. He feels like he’s brimming with great ideas. His boss is still speaking when Tim blurts out his thoughts, interrupting her. He felt like if he didn’t say it right then, he wouldn’t have found the time to say anything at all.

Challenges related to ADHD:

  • Impulsivity
  • Working memory

Ways employers can help:

  • Outline a meeting agenda at the beginning of meetings.
  • Provide a clear time for discussion, that employees know will occur.
  • Provide a notepad for employees to jot down their ideas so they can remember their thoughts for sharing later in the meeting.
Graphic of Tim sitting at a desk on his laptop. One hand is on his head, the other on his laptop.

9:00 p.m.

Tim is going over notes he took at the sales meeting that morning. He realizes he missed an important point his manager made but can’t remember what it was. So, he emails the manager right then to ask what she said — and regrets it immediately. He gets an email back saying, “this can wait until tomorrow.”

Challenges related to ADHD:

  • Impulsivity
  • Working memory

What the employer can do:

  • Give a written recap of the meeting.
  • Allow the employee to record the meeting to go over again later.

About ADHD

ADHD is a common condition that affects attention, focus, organization and more. People with ADHD have trouble with skills known as executive function.

ADHD is a lifelong condition, and adults with ADHD often face challenges in their daily lives. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have strengths, abilities, and talents to bring to their jobs. Providing support so employees can thrive is important, because people with ADHD have a lot to offer.

Here are a few ways to help employees with ADHD and other disabilities:

  • Communicate your company’s disability inclusion plan to all employees.
  • Have regular check-ins between employees and their managers.
  • Highlight employee strengths.
  • Offer and talk about accommodations and strategies that can help employees in their job.

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