ADHD at Work

Job Layoffs: Avoiding the Cut

When the economy worsens, are adults with ADHD at greater risk for losing their jobs? Here’s how you can

Woman with ADHD carrying box of things out of office after being fired
Woman with ADHD carrying box of things out of office after being fired

As layoffs increase, are adults with ADHD at greater risk?

Most of the 1.2 million people who lost their jobs during the first 10 months of the great recession never expected to be unemployed, but statistics from the Department of Labor show just how quickly the economic landscape can change.

Employees are faced with less job security and more pressure to justify their position in the workplace. Adults with ADHD, who are often on the verge of being fired even in the best of times, may feel especially at risk. Might an employer be tempted to use the economy as an excuse to clean house?

“I honestly don’t think it’s about employers taking advantage of the situation and ‘cleaning house,’ says Wilma Fellman, career counselor and author of Finding a Career That Works for You. “The bottom line is always true: the most valuable employees are most always kept. Employees need to concentrate on what they can do to be a most valued employee. This is true when cuts are being made left and right. It remains true when times are good.”

“We, as ADD adults, need to learn how to find ourselves the career position that will nurture our strengths, require the least number of modifications and accommodations, and reflect that strength in our being the best employee for the position we hold,” advises Fellman. “If we accomplish that and are still eliminated in the economic ‘sweep,’ then at least we have been on an even playing field with everybody else.”

“They never even told me there was a problem!”

As Michele Novotni discusses in her book on social skills, What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t?, sometimes people with ADHD are not as aware of the social and workplace cues that are given off that would indicate that things are not going well. This lack of awareness makes the layoff or termination even more shocking when it happens.

Chances are there were signs of trouble even if there was no verbal communication. “Many of my clients with ADHD tell me that life would be much, much easier if everyone would just stop playing these games and be clear about what they really want,” says Novotni. “I agree, but it’s not going to happen.” Instead of complaining about how the game is played, Novotni encourages people to learn to play the game better, by learning to read between the lines, take clues from body language, and being more aware of the work environment.

Other than coming back from lunch to find all your stuff in a box, how can you tell that there might be a problem?

  • Lack of eye-contact from supervisors and bosses
  • Less conversation
  • Less discussion about upcoming planning for the job
  • Sudden attempts to identify and “document” employee failures
  • Sudden increase in critical comments
  • Increased general discussion on difficulties company is having

Hanging On

Try not to be paranoid about losing your job. Fear only distracts you and creates even more problems. Don’t think yourself out of a job with self-fulfilling prophecies of failure. If you suspect there may be a problem, Fellman recommends the following:

1. Talk

Ask for a private meeting with the supervisor or boss. Prepare to ask for feedback on your work performance, and offer what you think to be your strengths.

Also, offer (if necessary) to focus on improving performance on your own… but state it clearly for the “higher ups” to acknowledge that you will be attempting to work with a mentor or coach to improve performance. Ask for a follow up meeting to be sure your efforts are being noticed, and are being effective.

2. Stay calm

Work with a career counselor or coach to identify those areas of weakness and strategies to offset it as a challenge. Some people make the mistake of thinking that career counseling ends when you get a job. Not true! Career counselors can help you improve your job performance and show you how to advance in your career. A counselor may even be able to show you how to keep from losing your job.

3. Do more than you need to do

Look for ways to make yourself an indispensable part of the company team. Contributing your ideas and energy in productive ways may not only save your job, but may help to save the company.

4. Note your own work habits

People with ADHD tend to have “productive peaks” when they are operating at their best. Do an energy log to isolate those peak periods. When you are particularly “plugged in” and efficient, do more than what’s being expected.

Going Forward

Although you do have control over your own job performance, you may not have a lot of control over the overall performance of the company – just ask the employees of Enron who watched their life savings plummet regardless of their own personal performance reviews. Sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, sales still slump, orders go down, and management is forced to make some tough decisions. What do you do then?

“Emotionally, losing a job can be so distracting that focusing on another job may seem totally impossible. Self-esteem, already an issue for ADDers, goes to an all time low. It’s doubly hard to be “up” for interviews and putting your best foot forward.”

Here are some suggestions:

Acknowledge your feelings. “Accept that this is a form of death and allow yourself to grieve,” counsels Fellman. Being unemployed can be financially devastating and personally debilitating, especially for those whose sense of self-identity is closely tied to their job. It is perfectly natural to feel anger, sadness, and loss. The sooner you deal with these feelings, the sooner you can devote your time and energy to getting a new job.

Make a plan for the future. Rather than seeing a layoff as an ending, try to see it as a beginning and an opportunity for change. Fellman, who has been helping people find jobs for nearly 19 years, encourages her clients to use a systematic approach for reassessing their interests, aptitudes, strengths, values, personality traits, energy patterns, accomplishments, previous job history. “I’m really big on the pre-job, career-development piece,” she said, “on finding a career that really works for you! If we take the time to assess and match ourselves to an appropriate position, we are locating a job in which we can shine! What a joy that is!”

Build your team. Once new decisions are made, be sure to have someone in “your corner.” Get a coach, or a mentor to help you decide on the possible “gotcha” spots, and identify strategies or accommodations that will offset them. “Do as much of this as you can from behind the scenes, allowing yourself to shine in the foreground,” says Fellman. “Remember, these are very competitive times, and the less we indicate “problems” the more likely it will be that we’ll be hired above others.”

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Be ready to continue the self-assessment and life improvement strategies even after you get a new job. “We should always be striving to improve our skills, our performance and our ability to be the best employee in the position. When we falter, we can learn from it, work with someone to offset the problematic areas, and move on to improve, improve, improve!”