How executive function challenges impact teens and young adults in the workplace

By Peg Rosen

How executive functioning issues impact teens and young adults in the workplace, teen at work using a microscope

At a glance

  • Executive function challenges can affect your child’s performance at work.

  • Jobs may call for different coping strategies than school.

  • Organization is a key job skill that people with executive function challenges can struggle with.

Handling the demands of work can be tough for teens and young adults with . With every job, they face new people, new routines, and new responsibilities. And their old coping strategies may not work with the new tasks.

Here are some areas where weak executive function skills might cause trouble at work for your teen or young adult child:

On-the-job efficiency

Weak spots: Planning, prioritization, time management

Workplace reality: Employers may provide specific job training. But they assume employees know how to plan their time and get their tasks done.

How problems play out: Teens and young adults who struggle with executive function may not know how to attack projects. They may lose track of time — while working or on a break — and miss deadlines. They may also have a hard time figuring out which tasks should come before others.

For example, your child may be expected to update the company’s email list. But your child may not realize that this task should take a backseat to more urgent ones, like printing out reports for the day’s big meeting.

Flexibility and adaptability

Weak spots: Transitioning, organization, short-term memory

Workplace reality: Work isn’t always predictable. Responsibilities change. Workstations move. Schedules shift.

How problems play out: Your child may not be able to adapt easily to changes at work. For instance, a kitchen worker may have trouble moving from the salad prep station to the appetizer station, even if both positions use similar skills. In a fast-paced workplace, supervisors might not have the time or patience to help.

Diligence and detail

Weak spots: Attention, short-term memory, organization

Workplace reality: Employees are paid to be responsible and dependable. They’re expected to be on time, prepared, and equipped to do their job.

How problems play out: Parents and teachers may cut some slack for “goof-ups” like losing a book or forgetting to bring a pencil. But a boss will probably be less tolerant. Leaving an important flash drive at home or forgetting about a meeting can make your child look bad. It can also reflect badly on the entire team.

On-the-job diplomacy

Weak spots: Impulse control, self-monitoring

Workplace reality: Work can be frustrating. A boss may be difficult. Things can be rough at home. Still, employees are expected to control their emotions and check their private issues at the door.

How problems play out: Teens and young adults might think they’re doing just great on the job. They may become angry or defensive if a supervisor or boss disagrees. Sharing too much or not filtering comments can also be a problem.

For example, they may tell other employees what their therapist said at their last session. Or they might be too blunt. That could mean telling a co-worker, “The way you’re stacking those shelves looks ugly. You should do it my way.”

You can’t advocate for your child at work the way you did at school. But there’s still a lot you can do to help.

Take steps to help ease the transition to work. Help your child adjust the organizational skills used for school to a new job. And encourage your child to make a list of supervisors and co-workers to turn to for help.

You may also want to talk about the pros and cons of disclosing executive function challenges at work. The employer may be able to provide accommodations that can help your child succeed.

Key takeaways

  • Talk to your child about the pros and cons of disclosing executive function challenges to employers.

  • Your child may not know how to approach or prioritize tasks at work.

  • You can help your child develop strategies that make it easier to do the job.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.