ADHD at Work

How to Help Your Boss Help You

Stay focused and boost productivity at work by communicating your ADHD needs to your supervisor. From working in teams to complimenting success, here are Dr. Hallowell’s best tips.

A man with adult ADHD in a meeting at work, holding a planner and gesturing, asking for accommodation
A man with adult ADHD in a meeting at work, holding a planner and gesturing, asking for accommodation

You know firsthand how ADHD symptoms can trip you up at work. Daydreaming about the movie you’re going to see on Friday, losing your to-do list in a sea of papers on your desk, forgetting deadlines, and avoiding boring tasks can limit your success in the workplace. Managers, bosses, and coworkers can make it even tougher. Giving instructions on the go, not presenting projects and goals clearly, and being impatient can stop you in your tracks.

Help your boss help you by sharing these 12 simple tips with him. If you have told your boss about your ADHD, discuss implementing these approaches. If you haven’t come out, ask him if he could institute a few of these strategies anyway. Tell him that doing so will make you more productive.

1. Provide opportunities for questions and clarification. The ADHD brain is less hierarchical than the non-ADHD brain. It may take a few questions to make sure that the details are understood and organized in a way that will improve performance.

2. Make written communications or e-mails clear and to the point. This minimizes confusion about what is most important and aids in the discussion of potential conflicts.

3. Take notes, and ask others to follow up their verbal instructions with a brief written recap of the most important points. Both serve as handy reminders, and clarify priorities.

4. Recap expectations and agreements at the end of meetings. A final recap allows everyone to check their notes against what you said.

5. Keep phone calls to the point and discuss only one or two topics.

6. Compliment success. Everyone works better when their work is appreciated.

7. Break larger projects into shorter “sub-projects” with interim deadlines. This both clarifies priorities and keeps projects on track. Since people with ADHD often work well under deadline, this plays to an ADHD strength.

8. If possible, allow your employees to work in teams, pairing those with complementary skills. Many projects can be handled by more than one person, optimizing each person’s strengths while downplaying their weaknesses. One person may be good at conceptualizing a new idea, while another might be great at thinking through the details.

9. Make it office policy that it’s OK to put up a “do not disturb” sign when needed and/or to ignore e-mail for an hour or two. Research shows that it takes time for anyone to refocus on the task at hand when they are interrupted. This is particularly true for those with ADHD.

10. Have regular progress checks. If the deadline is a month away, do a scheduled weekly check-in to make sure work is progressing at the necessary pace.

11. Encourage the use of alarms and reminders. People with ADHD work well when they have prompts to help them stay on track.

12. Allow employees to get up and move. Those with ADHD will thank you by getting more work done on time. Doing a few jumping jacks or pushups, or taking a brisk five-minute walk, will get an ADHD mind going during the “down” part of their day.

6 Comments & Reviews

  1. I don’t like seeing “the boss” represented in only male language. Why not use the wonderful option we have in the English language of writing “them”?

    Thanks for the input though, when I found the energy to not distract myself more from the fact, that a boss has to be a “him”, I enjoyed reading that article by Mr Hallowell!

  2. Your boss is not your friend! No law compels you to reveal highly personal health information, so why would you? Why even start an argument that could have a disastrous outcome for you? Why start a fight if you don’t want a fight? If you need help, get help but just STFU about it. It’s nobody else’s business.

    If you admit guilt about your ADD, you WILL regret it! Gang members in handcuffs don’t start blabbing unless they are stupid. Coworkers will look askance and conflate manic-depressive with unpredictable and maybe even dangerous and unstable. Your jealous peers will weaponize this info, and to your detriment.

    Your boss will scan the internet and assume that you check all the boxes: that you are a closet drug user and an alcoholic; that you have a frightening proclivity to blurt out something stupid in a critical customer-facing meeting.

    I always worked at for-profit companies. These places are run by hard-ass dudes to whom the only thing that matters is the bottom line. They have 0 tolerance for mistakes and/or missed deadlines. I’ve had a successful 42 year career as an engineer and I did not get there by being reckless or stupid.

  3. Whether the “boss” is male or female or many persons is a silly argument that completely misses MAIN the point: a “boss” by definition is someone who dangles a sword of Damocles over your career. He/she has the the choice of hiring you, firing you, demoting you, denying you a raise or just plain making you so miserable that you will want to quit.

    Even worse, if you should be so reckless as to out yourself, your peers will look at you askance and you will eat alone in the company cafeteria, a reprise of 6th Grade. Everyone has a jealous peer. How so? You’re probably younger, smarter, better educated or you support a political candidate that they despise. Get real! These people will trash talk you all over the office.

    In my 42 year career I have never seen a boss that cuts any slack with any employee who seems to have a mental illness. At the risk of repeating myself (go re-read my post above) the “boss” will check out the DSM-5 and assume the worst about you. This will not be good for your career!

    Gang members who just got busted understand their Miranda rights and don’t say anything. You too have your Miranda rights, plus HIPAA and no law requires that you out yourself. In my employment history I’ve seen it happen to many coworkers: one big mistake + a suspected type of mental illness = You’re fired!

  4. First of all, hiding is the reason neurotypical people don’t understand ADHD. Secondly, ADHD is NOT a mental illness, it’s a disability protected by ADA in the United States.

    Secondly, my current boss IS one of my best friends, but even if she wasn’t, I would still talk to at least HR, who is legally bound to accommodate your disability in a more confidential manner, should you not want your peers to understand why you have a slightly different skillset than them.

    Being 42 myself, I was just diagnosed with ADHD this year and OMGOSH what a difference it had on my self-esteem and understanding of the world and how to get along in it.

    Being an ADHD person means I have skills others do not, and my obstacles are different somewhat, but honestly, EVERYONE has skills and struggles, regardless of how their brain is weird.

    I’m so sorry you had such toxic work environments where people acted like toddlers. I have experienced that also, but I quickly found a new job and refused to live like that. As an engineer, I highly doubt you couldn’t do the same, having a job that is high in demand.

    Lastly, people with neurodivergent brains should learn as much as they can and teach others. Communication is important to break stigmas like this!

    Remember: you are worthy, you are smart, you are amazing when allowed to work in a way that allows you to shine!

    TO THE AUTHOR: THANK YOU! This is very helpful for anyone working in a professional work environment 😊

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