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Man talking to his boss at work about his ADHD and how he manages it

6 Tips to Have a Successful ADHD Talk with Your Boss

Reading time | 6 mins

You’ve just started a brand-new job. You’re wide eyed and excited to take on the world. Congratulations!

Keep in mind that ADHD symptoms are likely to affect your work in a multitude of good and some not-so-good ways. That’s true whether you’re a corporate bond fund manager or an avant-garde theatre actor.

A lot depends on your ADHD symptoms and how much you can control them. It’s a lifelong journey until you retire.

Hopefully throughout your career your bosses and teams will be supportive and understanding. It helps if you always proactively manage your ADHD symptoms in the workplace.

Today we’ll review how to have a positive and productive first conversation about ADHD with your new boss.

Why share an ADHD diagnosis?

Starting a new job is a scary experience, whether you’re starting as an intern or being promoted to a senior position. New jobs mean new bosses. New bosses mean that you might have to share your ADHD diagnosis.

There are some cases where it may not be necessary to talk about your condition. I completely understand that some people prefer to hide an ADHD diagnosis to avoid potential discrimination.

Keep in mind that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of a disability. A disability is defined as any diagnosis that substantially limits a person’s ability to do one or more major life activities.

The law means that a boss can’t fire or deny a promotion to an employee due to a diagnosed condition. Having a qualifying disability also means a company is required to make reasonable accommodations that help an employee to do his or her job better. (More on that later.)

I’ve personally always opted to tell my bosses the truth up front. I will inevitably make a mistake that I link to my ADHD. I forget a task, miss a deadline, or am late for an important meeting. Nobody’s perfect. Plain and simple.

ADHD symptoms include:

  • disorganization
  • problems prioritizing tasks
  • poor time management skills
  • trouble focusing on a task or multitasking
  • restlessness
  • trouble managing stress

All of these factors can make it difficult to meet an employer’s deadlines or expectations.

Your boss might simply attribute a mistake to laziness or carelessness if he or she doesn’t know about your ADHD. You know that’s not the truth (hopefully). Explaining your condition gives your boss an opportunity to understand you.

ADHD should never be a cop-out or an excuse. It’s better than purposely being neglectful.

I was lucky. I told my boss about my ADHD my second day on the job. The response was the best four words I could’ve asked for: “I have it, too.”

This was luck of the draw. I’m sure plenty of managers have ADHD, but not most of them.

Set the tone

First get a pulse on your boss’s leadership style and your relationship.

Is he or she a casual manager? You could have a simple conversation over coffee.

Is he or she more formal and methodical? You might want to schedule a meeting to discuss your performance expectations.

Set the right tone and adapt to how your manager communicates, whatever your relationship. It’s critical to having a productive conversation.

Frame the positives first

Your ADHD is a part of you. It may be linked to hard-coded genes and other factors out of your control. Remember that your company picked you for a reason. Your ADHD played a role in the decision one way or another.

I could write a book about all the ways ADHD makes someone a more interesting and creative person. Talk about those qualities first.

My position required a wide skill set.

Have you ever heard the saying, “a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none”? I feel like this accurately describes my ADHD. In my case, distractibility leads me to try out lots of new tasks.

I use this and other positive qualities to my advantage when talking to my boss.

Be honest about the negatives

ADHD comes with struggles. Be honest with your boss. Don’t sugarcoat too much. You might set the wrong expectations.

Explain to your boss that ADHD symptoms mean you tend to get antsy after sitting at your desk for 4 hours. Or, ask for help if time management gets tough for you when balancing several projects at once.

Show how you’re being proactive

The most important part of your talk is demonstrating that you’re proactively managing your symptoms.

Be specific. List several ways you’re currently working to make every “weakness” a strength.

My work as a video editor means I receive 12 to 15 verbal notes for each draft I show my boss. Some editors can remember every note. I simply can’t.

I explained that I tend to forget when I get a lot of verbal information at once. (Sort of like when you forget someone’s name right after you meet them. Only it’s my boss, and it’s with every project I’ve ever worked on.)

I then explained I actively address my challenges listening by writing down each note as it’s given to me. Then I repeat it back out loud to make sure I understood.

You could show your boss how you create extra reminders and alarms on your phone to remember daily tasks you might otherwise forget. Or, you could show how you write your tasks on a board, so you thoroughly complete each one every day.

Remember: Your success in managing your ADHD demonstrates how hard you’ve worked. The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.

Ask for accommodations

Everyone needs help sometimes. You may need certain accommodations for ADHD challenges like trouble focusing, inattention, or distractedness.

The ADA requires employers to offer workers “reasonable accommodations” to do their jobs. This includes modifying work schedules or adjusting an employee’s equipment and workspace.

If you want to know more about if and how the ADA protects you, talk to your human resources department or contact your local ADA office.

There are a number of ways your employer might be able to accommodate you.

Ask your boss if extensions are possible if you struggle with administrative tasks like paperwork. Request periodic check-ins for long-term projects to ensure you stay on task. Ask for a desk that’s in a quieter part of the office if you’re prone to distractions.

Make these requests results-oriented. Phrase it as “these accommodations will allow me to improve my performance and be better at my job” instead of “I need these, or I’ll be bad at my job.”

Dispel the myths

Finish by opening your discussion up to questions.

I always encourage people to ask anything. Even if it may seem silly. I’d prefer my boss has a realistic view of my ADHD, not an opinion based on a sensationalized news article.

Managing ADHD after your conversation

Bravo! You’ve braved the conversation. Now you need to do everything possible to manage your condition and keep your boss happy.

Don’t forget that jobs are all about expectations. You were hired because you’re expected to complete a certain number of tasks, achieve specific results, or sell a set number of products. You’ll thrive if you meet your boss’ expectations. You’ll struggle if you don’t.

That’s why it’s important to set the right expectations every time you’re given a task.

Don’t promise to finish projects ahead of schedule if your ADHD makes you a procrastinator. Don’t tell your boss you’ll remember the 15 things they just told you in passing if ADHD makes you forgetful.

“The talk” should go smoothly if you’re honest with your boss and demonstrate all the ways you’re proactively managing your ADHD symptoms.

Try not to take their reaction personally. You’re probably not working in the right environment anyway if your boss doesn’t take kindly to your disclosure.

But if your manager listens to what you’re saying, asks meaningful questions, and offers ways to help, you’re in the right place. And they will respect you all the more.

Now go out and conquer the workplace!

For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.


NPS-US-NP-00617 APRIL 2020