Should You Tell Your Boss About Your ADHD?

Legal and professional considerations for adults with ADD who are seeking ADHD accommodations at work.

Finding a Career That Works For You ADDitude Magazine

When a client asks, "Should I tell my boss about my ADHD?" my answer is almost always "No." Many ADHD adults who have just received their diagnosis are so relieved and elated to know—finally—the source of their symptoms that sharing the news of their diagnosis with the world seems like a natural, liberating thing to do. They tell family, friends, and the boss, often believing that the big guy will tolerate their tardiness or missed deadlines now that he knows what's causing them.

The problem is, the boss might not. Not everyone is positive or knowledgeable about ADHD, and you don't want your boss thinking you are making excuses. Even if he does know about the condition, he may not have the time, resources, or inclination to help you overcome workplace shortcomings.

The better option is to take steps to improve your performance without telling the company that you have the condition. You can often correct some of your workplace deficiencies on your own—by using a planner or programming your iPhone to alert you to deadlines. Or you can ask your boss for help, without handing him a doctor's note saying you've been diagnosed with ADHD. Most bosses and companies are eager to accommodate an employee's request, if you can show how the change will enhance your performance. What boss worth his bonus doesn't want to get more work out of his staff?

The following step-by-step plan will help you get services at work without having to spill the beans. It will also help you manage a meeting with your employer if it does become necessary to disclose your condition.

Identify Your Needs

First, look over your job responsibilities and assess the problems you have in meeting them. Is there anything you can do about it? One of my clients, who had been diagnosed as having ADD, was late for work two or three times a week. He considered asking his boss for flex time, but didn't know how the request would be received, since no one else in the office worked on a flexible schedule.

When he discussed his lateness with his sister, she offered to make wake-up calls. She phoned him every morning, five minutes after his alarm clock went off, and stayed on the line until he stepped into the shower. The wake-up calls worked even better after his sister began giving him a "get-to-bed" call, as well.

Your workplace problems may require more extensive strategies, including some outsourcing. An ADHD coach, for instance, could help you develop a weekly to-do list or call you every day at work to keep you on task. A professional organizer could organize your office papers and files on Saturday, when no one else is around. If writing memos or press releases is difficult, take an online course in business writing or enroll at a local community college.

Going One-on-One with the Boss

If such measures don't improve your performance—or you require help you can't afford—ask your employer for help. When considering such a request, remember that it must be "reasonable." If you work for a small nonprofit, requesting a software program that costs $500 is out of line. If you work for a law firm that bills your time at $250 or more per hour, ask away! Here's how to arrange and conduct a one-on-one:

1. Set it up. Stick your head in your boss's office and say, "I’d like some time to talk with you about my performance and about how I can do better. I enjoy my job, and I think that, with your support, I can become more productive." Confirm the meeting time and agenda with an e-mail. Make it short, listing your performance goals, not the requests you will make to meet those goals. Save those for the meeting.

2. Be prepared. Decide on one or two accommodations that will help you do a better job. Have sound, persuasive reasons as to why, for instance, telecommuting will increase your productivity. Use numbers and specifics to make your case: "Working at home one day a week would allow me to get next month's reports done two weeks ahead of deadline."

3. Establish the right tone. Make your requests for accommodations at work from a position of strength. Use positive statements, such as, "I work best in a quiet environment. A noise-blocking headset would allow me to finish my reports sooner." Don't say, "Those reports take forever, because I have a hard time paying attention. I need a noise-blocking headset." Make a request, not a demand.

Language matters, too. Talk about problems—in time management, organization, meeting deadlines—and possible solutions in business terms. Avoid the A-word, accommodation, unless you're prepared to disclose your condition.

At the end of the meeting, summarize the discussion and the agreements that have been reached, to make sure you and your boss see the situation the same way.

My client, Andrea, who chose not to disclose her ADD, worked long hours at a public-relations firm, and she still missed deadlines. She was a perfectionist, and she was often sidetracked by small details. Her solution? She requested more frequent check-ins with her boss—morning phone meetings—to keep her on track. The five-minute chats allowed the boss to re-direct Andrea's efforts when she veered off course.

Despite your best efforts, your boss may deny your request. If so, consider purchasing the items you need yourself. If, say, an expensive noise-blocking headset will save your job, it is an excellent investment to make in this tough economy.


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