Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common mental health condition. It impacts the parts of the brain that help you focus, sit still, and maintain self-control.
ADHD is often diagnosed in children when disruptive behavior becomes a problem at school. Medication and behavioral therapy help many young students succeed. But what happens when a child with ADHD becomes an adult? Research shows that 50% to 86% of children diagnosed with ADHD continue to have it into adulthood.
Having ADHD as an adult can interfere with work. Employees with ADHD often struggle to complete tasks, get to work on time, or meet deadlines. You may get overlooked for promotions, get fired regularly, or struggle with co-worker relationships.
But there are steps you and your employer can take to help you succeed at your job.
Which Adult ADHD Symptoms Pose Problems in the Workplace?
ADHD symptoms can create complications for you at work, whether you’re in an office, factory, restaurant, or retail store. Some of the more challenging symptoms include:
- Boredom. Losing interest in a task or project easily.
- Distractions. Losing focus because of internal stimuli (e.g. daydreaming) or external stimuli (e.g. conversations between other employees).
- Forgetfulness. Inability to remember tasks, responsibilities, or deadlines.
- Hyperactivity. Inability to sit still.
- Impulsiveness. Making quick decisions or comments without considering the consequences.
- Lack of relationship skills. Being too blunt with co-workers, interrupting often, or not listening.
- Time management. Inability to meet deadlines, unable to estimate the time needed to complete a task.
- Procrastination. Putting off tasks.
How Can I Manage My ADHD Symptoms at Work?
You can manage ADHD symptoms by working with your health care provider or mental health therapist. They may recommend medication, behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two. You can also try some of the following strategies:
- Create checklists.
- Turn off your phone if it’s too distracting.
- Return calls at a certain time every day.
- Write reminders on sticky notes and place them in your office or workstation.
- Give yourself extra time to complete tasks.
- Take time for breaks.
- Move during your breaks, even if it’s a walk to the water fountain or up and down a flight of stairs.
- Start your workday a couple of hours before your co-workers or crew members to minimize distractions.
- Use alerts on your phone or computer to remind you of upcoming deadlines.
- Set timers.
- Break up bigger tasks into smaller ones.
- Change tasks regularly if you get bored easily.
- Find an accountability partner who can help you stay on track.
- Talk less and listen more.
- Ask your manager or co-worker to repeat themselves if you missed something or didn’t understand something they said.
- Learn to keep conversations short.
- Practice staying on topic when you converse with friends and family. The more you practice this skill outside of work, the better you’ll be able to stay on topic at work.
- Slow down. People with ADHD tend to talk fast. Learn to pause and give others the chance to chime in.
- Learn to read body language to better communicate with your colleagues and managers.
- Learn breathing and relaxation techniques by practicing yoga or meditation.
- Anticipate your triggers for impulsive behaviors and learn how to manage them.
Do I Have to Let My Employer Know I Have ADHD?
ADHD is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That means your employer can’t discriminate against you because you have ADHD. However, it doesn’t mean you’re required to tell your employer.
If you’re able to get your job done, there’s no need to disclose it. On the other hand, if you can’t do your job without accommodations, then you may need to tell your boss. Accommodations are adjustments to a role or environment that allows employees with a disability to perform their job.
Before you do though, make sure you consider the following:
- Does your company promote mental health programs and services?
- How have other employees with ADHD been received?
- How accommodating is your company to people with other disabilities?
- How much does your company know about ADHD?
- Will disclosure help you get the accommodations you need to improve your job performance?
- Are you prepared to educate your employer about ADHD, to tell them how ADHD affects your job performance and to ask them for accommodations?
Bear in mind that you may be able to ask for an accommodation without disclosing. For example, you could ask your supervisor to move you to a quieter office or to allow you to wear noise-canceling headphones. You can just tell them you’ll be able to get more work done with the adjustment, and not mention ADHD.
What Are My Legal Rights as an Employee? (Can I Be Fired for Having ADHD?)
It’s important for you to understand your employee rights especially when it comes to getting fired. Federal and state laws don’t protect you from getting fired; they do protect you from getting fired simply for having ADHD.
You have the right to ask for accommodations. Your request should be reasonable and demonstrate how you’ll be better able to do your work. Requests should be made in writing.
If your employer doesn’t provide accommodations and fires you, you have the right to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If your employer provides accommodations and you still aren’t able to get your work done, then they have the right to let you go.
What Accommodations Can I Ask For on the Job?
First, make sure you qualify before you disclose you have ADHD and ask for accommodations. A qualified individual is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The diagnosis should be documented by a health care professional. If you think you have ADHD but don’t have an official diagnosis, then you won’t be able to get accommodations at work.
Examples of accommodations include:
- Work from home options
- Flexible schedule for the start and end of workdays
- Leave time for mental health appointments
- Frequent breaks
- Earphones with white noise or music to block noise
- Workspace located away from high-traffic areas
- Elimination of non-essential tasks
- Written to-do lists or checklists
- More time to complete tasks
- Flexibility to change tasks throughout the day
What Can I Do for My Employees With ADHD as a Supervisor?
As an employer, you’re in a position to help your employees with ADHD succeed in their roles. You can start by understanding ADHD has a wide range of symptoms. These symptoms vary from one employee to another. For example, one worker might struggle with breaking down tasks and meeting deadlines, while another might be easily distracted.
To set up your employees for success:
- Learn how your employee’s symptoms impact their essential job functions.
- Assign tasks that play to their strengths.
- Offer a flexible schedule.
- Give workers opportunities to ask questions.
- Provide clearly written instructions or recaps.
- Discuss only one to two topics at time.
- Check in with your employee regularly to gauge progress and adjust as needed.
- Pair employees with complementary skills.