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Do I Tell My Boss? The Pros and Cons of Disclosing Your ADHD

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When you live with ADHD, you don’t get to choose where it travels with you. It’s there when you’re studying for an exam, when you’re cooking a meal, and, unfortunately, even at work.

Symptoms of ADHD like distractibility, impulsivity, and procrastination can interfere with your work performance. Because of these struggles, adults with ADHD are typically underemployed and are apt to lose or switch jobs more than those without ADHD.

In fact, employees with ADHD are 30 percent more likely to have chronic employment issues, 60 percent more likely to be fired from a job, and three times more likely to quit a job impulsively.

Your inclination, especially if you’ve recently been diagnosed and finally understand your ADHD-related challenges, may be to run to your boss and tell them that the reason for your difficulties is your ADHD.

But is this the wisest thing to do? Here’s what others in the ADHD community did, as well as their advice on whether or not to tell your boss about your ADHD.

Positive and negative reactions to disclosing

Kristine Galloway of Cheyenne, Wyoming was lucky. She disclosed her ADHD because she wanted her bosses to know where she was coming from when she struggled. She wanted to be vocal and advocate for adult ADHD in the workplace.

“I want to help end the stigma, and my silence won’t help that. I’m glad I [told my boss]. Sometimes, they are more understanding of my struggles,” she said. “I will note, however, that there isn’t a guarantee that all bosses will react so well. I think you have to gauge your boss, how well you already get along, and how understanding he or she is under most circumstances.”

Others who disclosed their ADHD at work didn’t fare as well. Amy Morris of Gladeville, Tennessee was diagnosed at age 33 while working in a public school as a special education teacher.

“I have always had a great rapport with my students, but because of some of my ADHD issues, I was never able to hold a job in the same district for very long,” she said.

Amy decided to disclose her ADHD in one interview to see if it would make any difference. She was hired by a special education supervisor who told the principal about her ADHD. From day one, she felt like the principal was waiting for her to mess up, which she naturally did. At the end of the year, she refused to rehire her.

Unfortunately, she quit teaching a few years after that with 16 years of experience under her belt. She said, “I felt that I was too ‘ADHD’ to be a superhero. I am now a struggling Uber driver.”

Not disclosing your ADHD at all

I also heard from others who chose not to disclose their ADHD to their boss.

Monica (whose name has been changed) explained: “I worked at a medical school for three years as a coordinator. My supervisor was a rehabilitation counselor turned manager and my second boss was a physician and professor.”

Because they knew about psychiatric disorders in general, Monica thought they’d be empathetic. But whenever she’d be struggling at work because of her ADHD, they didn’t show any compassion.

If she had disclosed her ADHD, she says, “I would not have had a chance of promotion or even the slightest chance to be given important projects that I successfully completed. Managers should be educated on mental health as a requirement or part of their training.”

ADHD is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) under certain, specific conditions. Even though there are federal laws in place to protect people with disabilities, my experience working in the field is that those who do disclose, unfortunately, are often unfairly penalized. And as seen in some of the examples above, some are even discriminated against by being fired or demoted.

Because of this, I usually advise adults not to disclose their ADHD in the workplace. However, depending on your work environment and your relationship with your boss, you may not have a problem being open about your ADHD.

How to talk about your ADHD

Instead of saying, “I have ADHD, and that’s why I can’t pay attention to you when you give me a list of things I need to do,” say this: “I get distracted easily. I want to do my best work and I do best when following written instructions. Could you email me your list of tasks?”

Think of your problem areas, then explain your challenges without revealing your ADHD. For example:

  • I have trouble getting to work on time
  • I tend to be a bit disorganized
  • I sometimes spend too much time on a project

Then, with your boss, brainstorm ways to accommodate these challenges. Always pose this with sincerity, and emphasize that you want to give this job your all because of your passion to excel and be an asset to the company.

If nothing works, no matter how hard you’ve tried, you still have other options.

Consider hiring a professional vocational counselor who has experience with ADHD. They can teach you strategies to combat your trouble areas at work. Check online for your state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.

In the end, it’s possible that the job just isn’t a good match for you. You might consider finding a different position within the company that’s better suited for you. Or, it could be time to find another job or transition to a different career altogether.

Don’t lose hope, though. And if your boss happens to be empathetic and clearly on your side, revealing your ADHD might be an option before moving on to another job.

Steps to succeed at your job

First, write down all the areas at work that are problematic due to your ADHD symptoms. Are you consistently late for work? Do you miss deadlines? Are you distracted by the loud air conditioner in the hallway?

Next, put on your creative cap. What can you do on your own to try and solve the problem? Have you used planners to keep up with project assignments? Are there time management apps you can use to help you stay on track? Can you wear ear plugs when you need to focus while writing a report?

If you’ve tried everything to no avail, your next step is to reach out and ask for support from coworkers, family, and friends. Always use your judgement before disclosing your ADHD at work. We still have a long way to go to prove to employers, businesses, and corporations that ADHD is a real medical condition — not a character or personality weakness.

Article resources

ADHD-US-NP-00022  JULY 2018