Leading the ADD Construction Employee

These 10 tips can help leaders provide a work environment that will bring out the best in workers who struggle with Attention Deficit Disorder

Contractors should treat leading workers with ADD as opportunity to keep your workers focused, safe and productive.
Contractors should treat leading workers with ADD as opportunity to keep your workers focused, safe and productive.

Attention Deficit Disorder, also known simply as ADD, is a real challenge for both construction worker and leader. The number of working adults who have some form of ADD, or ADHD, appears to range from 8% to as much as 20%.   With so many workers, one out of five to eight workers, ADD in the construction industry should come as no surprise. In short, construction is a “microcosm” of our general population at large.

What we will not explore in this article are all of the many variations of ADD, including some of the alternative names and behavior related, and more importantly, the psychological and medical treatment of this disorder. What we will dive into, however, is how to lead these workers, keeping them focused and on task. 

Let’s first extinguish the myth that a worker, no matter their level of responsibility, who has a form of ADD, will not be productive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask the many owners and senior leaders in some of the best construction companies in America who also just happen to be diagnosed with ADD. 

While ADHD can be difficult to diagnose, consider just some of the behavior of those with the disorder: 

  • Focus during the day can be short term
  • Some individuals will get bored performing same tasks
  • Individual might be overwhelmed if there is lack of clarity
  • Individual might also be overwhelmed if there is lack of organization or planning

The condition known as ADD is not going to disappear any time soon and may actually be growing in the future. It’s critical that leaders learn to provide a work environment that can actually bring the best out of the folks who struggle with this real focus disorder.

Consider the following suggestions on how to professionally and positively lead and engage workers with ADD.

1. First, recognize that ADD is not indicative of the intelligence level and capability of the individual. Most ADD individuals are fully functional, as intelligent as anyone employed by your company and more than capable to perform critical work. Their only challenge is that they can have periods of time where their attention span is shorter or they are easily drawn to something else that catches their attention, disrupting their focus. 

Thus the comment that many ADD folks have joked with me about…”Hi Brad, how are…Squirrel!”

2. Begin each Monday with the plan for the week. This might include setting goals for your workers as a team, crew or department. Just as critical is to set goals, targets and tasks for individuals. Communicating a plan, including goals, allows the ADD individual to know where to return if they are suddenly drawn away from their initial intent each day.

3. Start mornings with a brief meeting. For construction crews, I call this meeting an “AM” Huddle.”  This two- to three-minute meeting allows for direction to be set for the day, goals established, reminders of what areas to watch out for, and ensures that everyone is on the same page.

4. For employees who may be ADD, follow-up with them every one to two hours on their progress. This is a good time to bring them back to the needed efforts if they have gone a bit off track. 

Funny, but many construction workers, and leaders, who experience an “ADD moment”, are often very thankful to be redirected, not taking offense at their leader’s redirection.

5. Write down all the efforts that need to be completed for the day and week. Again, whether this is a “look ahead” schedule or a daily to-do list, such documentation allows the ADD worker to return to a known direction should they get off-track.

Another helpful tip is to color code the types of jobs to be done. Many ADD workers will appreciate the color-coding as this adds to their memory.

6. Encourage your ADD employee to summarize for you what they are intending to do to accomplish their designated tasks. Again, most workers will appreciate the effort to reinforce for them what they are to work on during the day.  This effort can actually add to their focus and memory.

7. If you engage with one of your ADD employees during the day, never leave their presence unless you redirect the conversation to what they need to be doing. Again, for some of your employees, just a subtle mentioning of that ball game, the decision made by a customer, even just the observation of the changing weather may be all it takes to have the worker go “Squirrel” on you.

8. Run interference for your known ADD employees when other contractors or suppliers are going to be on your projects. This is especially important if you know some of the individuals from the other organizations who may be great at talking about anything else but the work before them. 

9. Regularly compliment any worker when they have performed well, especially if they have worked through what might have been more distraction opportunities than normal. This bit of encouragement will also strengthen the ADD employee in overcoming future distractions and temptations to lose focus.

10. Finally, take notice of the situations and the time of day that some of your ADD employees might lose their focus. If you do monitor this and begin to notice a trend, work to redirect the efforts and where the attention is being placed to promote greater concentration.

Just about every one of us knows someone with ADD; many contractors have it themselves or have children with the “mental opportunity.” For the vast majority of workers with this condition, they’ve lived with it most of their lives. 

Remember, ADD is not a disease! You can’t catch ADD, so don’t treat it like a disease but instead as another leadership opportunity to keep your workers focused, safe and productive.

Here’s to heading off as many “Squirrels!”…as possible!