The way learning and living is complicated when we have trouble with organization

Hi Kristin,

Thank you for your excellent website.  I wasn’t able to find a link on how to paste a question on the EDF blog, so I’m writing to you instead 🙂

I work with (supervise) a woman that I suspect may have some executive dysfunction.  As a side note, her son has diagnosed ADHD and Tourette’s.  I am searching for some ideas on how to work with her more effectively.  She is certainly intelligent and often surprises me with her insight.

The issues of concern involve her not always “connecting the dots”, low productivity and the time it takes for her to complete tasks, and lack of follow-through.  A simple example, her cube was a disaster and I know from experience that she doesn’t work well in those conditions – she starts to spin her wheels and becomes totally unproductive.  I asked her a couple of times to clean her workspace and saw no progress.  In speaking to my mentor (because I was frustrated at what appeared to be a lack of respect and follow-through, and needing to talk it through with someone wiser than me!), she suggested to me that perhaps my employee has some executive dysfunction.  I did some Internet research and wow was that helpful!  As luck would have it, the emloyeed asked for help and we then together sorted through all the piles of paper, placed like items in folders, and grouped the folders into a few major subject groups.  It wasn’t that she was unwilling to do the task, she really couldn’t seem to get started, and had difficulty with the organization process.

Anyway, I’m struggling with how I might more effectively supervise this woman in a way that she doesn’t find demeaning or micro-managing.  Do you have any links you could direct me to?  I’ve worked very hard to develop a good working relationship with her, and we work well as a team.  However, sometimes it seems that very small occurrences (what she considers lapses on my part, such as forgetting to cc her on an email) easily threaten the relationship.  Perhaps that is the sensitivity piece of the ED.  It is very important to her that she not be left out of anything, and that she receives credit for any good work she does.  I’m aware of this and do it to the best of my ability, but not perfectly – which she is quick to point out to me, with quite a bit of emotion.

Before I ramble any further, I should send this email off and see if you have any time to help.  Thank you so much.

Comments on: "Supervising an employee with EDF" (6)

  1. First of all, this employee has a GREAT supervisor! Most would simply punish her and I would get a heart-wrenching email from her when she got fired, if she had any idea what the trouble was.

    Your description of how your employee’s EDF is expressed in the work place is excellent and clear. She needs support in her organization of things in her cube. You might suggest a regular time when the two of you could team up to organize her papers so that it doesn’t get out of hand again. Maybe Fridays are organization days and she brings the cookies while you bring the color coded folders. Using colors to distinguish between projects and their sub-groups is a simple and immediate method you might try. All the things with an orange tag belong to project A and those with an orange tag and a blue one indicate the human resources element of the orange project, etc.

    You might limit the number of projects assigned to her so that she can do better at with fewer demands. You might have a check- in time each day – before lunch break maybe – to communicate what has been done that day and what needs attention next, another check in at the end of the day. You might do this with all your staff so she doesn’t feel singled out, and it could be done on email. That might catch the follow-through issues and help her keep on task. Praise what is done and be clear but cheerful about what needs doing.

    Please keep me posted on what develops!

  2. Thank you so much. It really helps to know what the real issue is, rather than taking it personally!

    I work to recognize and praise where appropriate, but it never seems to be enough.
    She is also extremely sensitive about being involved/not getting left out, and takes it very personally if/when she is.

    Any tips on these issues? It’s hard to know the line between what I can do to help and what is simply not my issue and needs to be left to her to figure out. i.e. I’m not her counselor, and don’t want to get into managing her feelings, her sense of inadequacy etc. Of course, I also don’t want to do her any damage.

    Supervising people seems to be one of the hardest tasks in the work place!!! Thankfully, I’m only responsible for the one employee 🙂 It’s enough for me!
    (pasted in from an email sent to me ksk)

  3. Well, she has had this all her life and that probably means she has had a lot of experience with being left out and not getting the normal balance of praise and sanction. I’d make praise tangible whenever possible – say it to her but also email it, or leave her a note. The idea is to give the message to her twice, and in one form she can keep. Should a complaint arise from her feeling of insufficient praise, you can array copies of these before her and suggest that some might not be being remembered. You can also keep a journal – I am thinking of two facing pages – with kudos on one side and redirections listed on the other. You could thus keep a record for yourself of whether you are finding fault more often than you are praiseworthy actions. Some of us lean toward one side or the other without being fully aware of it. My husband’s idea of a ringing endorsement is “I don’t have a problem with it” and I find that a little bit understated. Keeping a daily side by side tally of things you express appreciation for or disappointment in can help you see where you are hitting the balance.

    Let me know how it goes!
    (pasted from my email reply)

  4. Dear Supervisor, Your post made me cry. Thank you for your compassion and desire to learn and help. Most employers/teachers/friends would abandon this woman. You chose to throw a lifeline. What an incredible and unselfish gift. May God bless you richly.

  5. Dear Supervisor, Wow I don’t know where to start. I myself suffer form EFD and I had a supervisor much like you but when he left the company I was fired almost immediately afterwards. Now I am afraid to go back to work. My husband is amazing support and together we are trying to find ways to over come or deal with my EFD. I just want say thank you because there are so few people who care.

  6. I’m really interested in this. I had neuropsych testing a couple of years ago where executive dysfunction was identified. I lost a job at least partly because of not being able to handle the detail work accurately in an office where I had to multitask & shift quickly from task to task. I then returned to college where I did well academically; however, I noticed that classes that required step-by-step work within a tight time frame were the ones I dropped. Now I’m out looking for a job & am not sure how to look for jobs that don’t continue to ask for my not-so-strong areas. I haven’t sought identification as a person with a disability nor gone looking for ways to identify work accommodations I feel I might need.

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