Are you frustrated at work because you’re not operating at your best, and you know in part it is because of your ADHD? And maybe you are thinking if only you could explain your ADHD challenges to your coworkers, boss or employees maybe things would be better. Because then they would get it and be more understanding.
I know this might be the case for you because I have received many requests, like the one below, asking for help figuring out how to have this conversation in the workplace.
I would like to know your thoughts on discussing add/adhd with your boss or coworkers and how to do so without making it sound like you’re giving excuses or requesting special treatment if you want/need accommodations to be productive.
I also receive similar questions from ADHD business owners, asking how to talk with their employees. In one instance the request was to help the employees understand “how to work with a boss that has a fast mind.” In another case it was to:
…possibly be a resource for my employees so they can cope with my quirks at work – I have a great team and at times I can drive them crazy with the volume of ideas, not being clear with prioritization, and being too much energy for them at times.
Whether you are an employee or the boss, the answer to how to talk about your ADHD at work really depends on your circumstances.
When You Should Not Tell Your Boss or Coworkers You Have ADHD
One of the first questions people ask, if they work for someone else, is “Should I tell my boss and colleagues I have ADHD?” If you are just taking the first steps in exploring how to address your ADHD at work, the common wisdom is that it is not prudent to disclose it. At least not at first. Because, unfortunately, the reality is that disclosing your ADHD can often backfire.
In an ideal world, you would work in an enlightened workplace where the people you work with appreciate and even embrace differences. In this ideal world, they would be willing to work with you in accommodating your ADHD challenges. They would also seek ways to help you leverage your strengths. That would be great, right?
Unfortunately, the antidotal evidence, tells us that the outcome of disclosure is often uncertain. While sometimes it can lead to a better working relationship, it can also have negative consequences. This can include being treated dismissively, passed over for promotion or, in the worst case, fired.
So, the bottom line is, if you’re not sure how your disclosure will be received, it is important to proceed with caution as you sort out your options.
But I’m the Boss. Should I tell My Employees I Have ADHD?
Obviously, if you’re the boss, you don’t have the same worries about disclosing your ADHD as an employee, right? Because, if you tell your employees you have ADHD, you won’t be treated dismissively, passed over for promotion or fired.
One of the advantages of disclosing your ADHD is you have an opportunity to create an environment where your employees also feel comfortable sharing personal information that impacts their ability to do their work. You can be in the forefront of creating the enlightened workplace environment! Wouldn’t that be nice?
Though, whether you disclose or not, you’ll want to take the second step of considering what you hope to achieve. Because, whether you disclose or not, your main objective is to create an environment where you and your employees are able to work well. And just telling your employees you have ADHD won’t be enough to achieve this goal.
So, in addition to disclosing, if that is what you choose to do, you’ll need to think about the necessary changes you want. More on that below.
The Best Way to Talk to Your Boss and Coworkers About Your ADHD
As an employee, whether or not you choose to disclose your ADHD, you will also need to ask for what you need so you can do your best work. And, once you’ve determined what would help you operate better, you will need to think about how you want to frame your request(s).
For example, in my work with clients, I often help them figure out how to manage the variety of distractions at work. And, if this is also a problem for you, there are likely several workarounds. In the example below Amir thought of a few and broached the subject with his boss in his weekly one-on-one.
I’ve been noticing that it’s hard for me to get my work done because of the noise level in our open floor plan. And I have some ideas that I’d like to float past you for your consideration. I think these changes will help me deliver more effectively. One option I thought of is to work at home 1-2 days a week. And when I am working in the office I thought it might be helpful to have the cube in the far right corner where there is less traffic. The last option that came to mind is scheduling time in the conference room on occasion when I need to be in the office, but also need it to be quiet. What are your thoughts?
Notice, Amir does not ask for accommodations and is not complaining. Rather, it is a very solution-focused request. That is, Amir is acknowledging he is having a hard time getting his work done. And he is also offering solutions that would help him work more effectively. Seems like a win-win for everyone, right?
The Best Way to Talk to Your Employees About Your ADHD
Similarly, if you are the boss, you will also need to decide what changes you need to work effectively. Unlike your employees, while you may want their feedback, you can more easily implement the changes you want. That is, of course, as long as you think through the implementation carefully.
For example, two common challenges I often hear are constant interruptions and back to back meetings. I’m sure you can think of other challenges at your work. Below are a few of the workarounds you can try that have worked for some of my clients.
- Always schedule buffer time between meetings (15-30 minutes). And, if you have an administrative assistant, make sure they know to do this
- Set up office hours for employees. For example, a partner in a law firm had office hours for associates. This alleviated the constant stream into his office throughout the day.
- Arrange with your employees to work independently so you can work off-site without interruption. For example, the owner of an architect firm decided to do his drawing and writing in the morning before going into the office.
These are just a few examples to help you think about what changes you might want to help you manage your ADHD.
What Are Changes You Can Ask For At Work To Better Manage Your ADHD
Above I suggested ways that you can frame a discussion about solutions for your ADHD challenges. While not exhaustive, below are some additional specific options.
- written instructions for more complicated projects
- assistance in approaching/breaking down large projects
- a coach
- option to telecommute / flex time
- office space in a quieter area
- additional training
- regular feedback
- tools, such as noise-canceling headphones or white noise machine
Notice the intent of these requests is to help you produce your best work. Obviously, that is what you want. And, if you can achieve this, it will also benefit your boss and coworkers, right? So, asking for what you need will help everyone, not just you. For more ideas check out this 3 – part series starting with, Creating A Work Environment That Works with Your ADHD – Part 1.
When It Makes Sense to Disclose Your ADHD at Work
What if despite your best efforts, your request for accommodations are not being met? And you are fearful your job security is at risk. It may be time to disclose your ADHD.
For solid advice on how to go about doing this check out the section, When You Should Disclose, in Wilma Fellman’s article, Should You Tell Your Boss About Your ADHD? In this section, she guides you through the do’s and don’ts of disclosing your ADHD. In the same article, she also covers whether you should consider Legal Action.
The bottom line is deciding to disclose your ADHD is a decision you want to think through carefully. And it should not be the first step you take in trying to manage your ADHD at work.
How to Talk About Your ADHD at Work
You’ve been thinking about how to disclose your ADHD to your boss, coworkers or employees, right? That’s why you read this article. Now, what’s the next best step you need to take? Maybe it’s thinking about what accommodations you want or finding someone to support you in thinking this through.
(Note: I have rewritten this post, originally published September 5, 2012, to make it more comprehensive and reflect my current thinking.)