Work Strategies

Should I Tell My Boss I Have ADHD?

Though individuals diagnosed with ADHD are legally protected from workplace discrimination, the answer to this question is almost always “No.” Instead, we recommend taking the following steps to improve your workplace environment, tools, and accommodations on the job.

A businesswoman stands at the bottom of a flight of stairs wondering, "Should I tell my boss I have ADD?"
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An ADHD Accommodations Plan

This step-by-step plan will help you get services at work — without having to come right out and tell your boss, "I have ADHD." It will also help you manage a meeting with your employer if it does become necessary to disclose your condition.

A businesswoman looks at her supervisor and wonders, "Should I tell my boss I have ADD?"
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Should You Tell Your Boss About Your ADHD?

The answer is almost always "No." Not everyone is 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.

The better option is to take steps to improve your performance without revealing your ADHD diagnosis.

A close-up of a cup of coffee and notebook on a desk, set down while a person wonders, "Should I tell my boss I have ADD?"
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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? An ADHD coach 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 is difficult, take a course online or at a local community college.

[Free Handout: Be More Productive At Work]

A man looks at his supervisor and wonders, "Should I tell my boss I have ADD?"
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When to Talk to Your Boss

If you can’t solve the problem on your own — 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!

A businesswoman talks with her coworker and wonders, "Should I tell my boss I have ADD?"
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Schedule a Meeting

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.

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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."

A woman meets with her supervisor, and wonders, "Should I tell my boss I have ADD?"
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Make a Request

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. 

[How to Help Your Boss Help You]

A businessman reaches his hand out for a handshake, and wonders, "Should I tell my boss I have ADD?"
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Establish the Right Tone

Language matters. 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.

Noise cancelling headphones a person with ADHD uses to concentrate instead of telling her boss she has ADD.
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Sum It Up

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.

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.

A woman stands in the doorway to a conference room and wonders, "Should I tell my boss I have ADD?"
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Full Disclosure

If all else fails, disclosure may be your only option. One thing you should know: An ADHD diagnosis alone, does not entitle an employee to services and/or accommodations. You must disclose your documented diagnosis, and show that ADHD "substantially limits a major life activity" — in this case, your job. All formal requests for an accommodation must be made in writing.

A woman with ADHD has a post-it with a lightbulb stuck to her forehead.
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Think It Through

Disclosure under these circumstances should be carefully thought through. What if you disclose your condition and the accommodations you seek are considered unreasonable and are not granted? The law states that an employer must try to make "reasonable accommodations," but employer and employee often disagree about what "reasonable" is.

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Avoid the Threat

One way to increase the odds of your getting an accommodation is to avoid the "perceived threat," which puts a company's executives and human resources on the defensive. If a boss hears the words "disability" and the "American Disabilities Act" in the same sentence, he or she will suspect that you'll be filing a lawsuit. To succeed on the job, you want your company working with you, not against you.

Three coworkers discuss a project, while one wonders, "Should I tell my boss I have ADD?"
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Preventive Disclosure

Preventive disclosure may be the best option when telling your boss about your condition. When setting up the meeting, ask if an ADHD coach may attend the meeting, to educate the boss about ADHD symptoms and to answer questions. Preventive disclosure will increase the odds that your boss will see ADHD in a positive light.

A gavel on a book, a symbol for the legal action a person with ADHD can take to get accommodations at work.
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Legal Action

If your boss refuses to grant accommodations, are you willing to take your company to court? Those who have pursued this course, whether they won or lost, will tell you that litigation is expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally taxing. Before making a decision, seek advice and counsel from legal experts, and talk with someone who has gone through litigation. You may prefer to resign and look for another job rather than litigate with an intractable management.

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Common Workplace Accommodations

Below is a list of common workplace accommodations that may benefit your job performance:

  • Flex time or telecommuting
  • Voice recorder for meetings
  • Noise-blocking headset, room dividers or white noise machine
  • Enclosed work space to reduce distractions
  • Cubicle in a less busy/noisy area
  • Written instructions/e-mail reminders
  • Help/advice on breaking down large projects into smaller pieces
  • Printed cards with work procedures/instructions or workflow maps
  • More frequent performance reviews/regular feedback

[Finding Joy on the Job]

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