Adult ADHD leads to more accidents and poorer performance at work

What happens when children with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) grow up and go to work? According to Ronald Kessler and colleagues, at least some of them continue to experience cognitive difficulties, thus impairing their work performance and increasing the number of accidents they are involved in.

Kessler’s team surveyed 8563 staff, including office and manual workers,  at a major American manufacturing firm. They found 1.9 per cent of them met the criteria for Adult ADHD (based on self-report) and that those with the condition rated their own work performance lower than their colleagues rated theirs, took more time off work sick, and were twice as likely to have had an accident at work during the preceding year.

The results are complicated by the fact that staff with ADHD were also more likely to have depression, chronic pain, insomnia and/or chronic fatigue syndrome than their colleagues. However, adult ADHD was still associated with poorer work performance and more sick leave when the influence of these other conditions was taken into account.

Based on the extra sick leave the staff with ADHD took and their lower work performance, the researchers estimated that each staff member with ADHD was costing their employer $4336 a year in lost revenue.

Only four of the staff with ADHD were currently receiving treatment for their condition. Pointing to research showing the efficacy of drug treatments for Adult ADHD, Kessler and his co-workers argued there was a strong case for the screening and treatment of Adult ADHD at work. “Even if treatment led to no more than a 25 per cent reduction in conservatively estimated human capital loss, the financial value of this reduction would exceed the cost of treatment,” they wrote.

It’s worth noting that the acknowledgement section of the paper states that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, and that the lead author has acted as a consultant to them. Eli Lilly develop drug treatments for ADHD.

ResearchBlogging.orgR. C. Kessler, M. Lane, P. E. Stang, D. L. Van Brunt (2008). The prevalence and workplace costs of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in a large manufacturing firm Psychological Medicine, 39 (01) DOI: 10.1017/S0033291708003309

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

3 thoughts on “Adult ADHD leads to more accidents and poorer performance at work”

  1. This is important.In the health & safety industry there has been an on going debate about whether accidents at work are random, or whether some people are accident prone. Clearly, other factors are relevant….training, skill, competance, age, experience, fatigue, time of day, day of the week, time of the month…….etc…..etc….etc. Confounding factors, and (relatively) small sample/incident pools make proper analysis difficult……particularly given the obvious need for a longitutinal design, but some people in “elf'n safety” have long suspected that there are “accident magnets” out there. There are moral issues.There are legal issues.There are political issues.These remain, but with this the scientific issue of “cause and effect” addressed , that is mechanism rather than (suspected/possible) correlation, the debate moves on. Good.I only hope the science isn't hi-jacked; scapegoating won't help.

  2. Kessler’s is an excellent study. And it confirms what we in the ADHD community have known for years: Left unrecognized and unaddressed, Adult ADHD symptoms commonly conspire to keep a person un- or underemployed, job-hopping, and often steadily bumping down the ladder or shifting into fields in which the person has little interest or ability but it’s the only option left.And yes, on-the-job accidents as well as injuries sustained in car accidents (higher risk there as well) or risk-taking leisure activities add physical impediments. So do the poor dietary choices and sleep irregularities common to many adults with unrecognized ADHD.Compounding this slippery career slope are the difficulties many adults with ADHD have in managing money. When these jobs are lost, there is often little cushion to bridge the gap to the next job. Individuals suffer. Families suffer. Then by the time ADHD is finally discovered at the root of the person’s challenges, health insurance is a thing of the past.Early detection is paramount. Gina Pera, authorIs It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder

  3. I want to add one important factor of workplace accident – Meals. It is seen that the timing of the meals at workplace plays a major role in accidents. Lots of research is going on on this topic.

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