ADHD can make the basic skills required to master your job difficult. But you don’t have to sink under the weight of expectations you can’t meet. In many situations, companies are willing (and may be legally obligated) to provide accommodations.
Asking for these accommodations can be a scary and difficult process, especially if you don’t feel particularly supported by your management team. But there are steps you can take to minimize your stress during the conversation.
For this post, it’s important to keep in mind that ADHD is a disability. For most people it is a debilitating condition that affects many facets of their lives.
ADHD can make it difficult to work, to keep a home, to maintain relationships (romantic or platonic), and even make it difficult to eat healthy.
I won’t deny that for many of us, ADHD also brings with it strengths – creativity, excellent problem-solving skills.
But for most, it’s genuinely a disability that needs to be addressed through accommodations in all arenas – including the workplace.
If the idea of ADHD as a disability that may require accommodations makes you uncomfortable, you may have some internalized ableism to dismantle.
Come Prepared with Ideas
There are few things in the world a people manager loves more than when someone needs help and comes prepared with their own ideas for how to fix the problem.
It’s because people managers have so much to deal with every day and they get hit up for things constantly, and it can drag them down. They are humans too (yes, even the vilest among them, though occasionally debatable).
It’s helpful for you and your manager both if you can come to the accommodations meeting with just a couple ideas. You don’t have to solve it all! But have a basic concept of the changes that might be most helpful.
If the session is more collaborative, chances are higher that you’ll get the accommodations you really need. If you bring your own ideas to the table, then you’re guiding the meeting to the right place for you. And if you can take just one small responsibility off your manager’s plate, they might be so grateful that it makes the conversation go more smoothly.
If you’re not sure which accommodations might help, start by making a list of the things you find most difficult to do. Create a two-column table and put each issue on the left-hand side. Then brainstorm strategies for assistance on the right-hand side. Pick the ones you like most and bring them to the meeting.
Craft Your Ask Strategy
Once you have ideas for accommodations jotted down (please write them down!!), work on a plan for how you’re going to ask for them.
This should really be an in-person meeting, or at the very least on a video chat or over the phone.
Email or text is not the best way to communicate what you need. It should be an open discussion, not a back-and-forth exchange. Too much context can get lost and you’ll miss the opportunity to really advocate for yourself. Plus, it’s much easier to get shut down over email.
It doesn’t just have to be a conversation. You could create a slideshow or write up a brief document with additional resources. At the very least, write out some talking points in bullet format that you can print and keep with you to reference.
Remember that you don’t have to have this conversation alone. It’s okay to find an advocate in HR or on your team (or a different manager!) that can be invited as a third-party. If your manager is not open to another person joining and they don’t give a reason, that’s a real red flag that they are not going to be amenable to the conversation at all.
You Don’t Have to Make it About ADHD
If the thought of disclosing your ADHD to your manager is the worst thing you can imagine, consider that it’s possible to ask for some kinds of accommodations without actually saying why you need them.
Do you have sensory or attentional issues and need a quieter space to work or to be able to wear headphones? Disclose only that information.
Are you forgetful, and have bad handwriting and difficulty holding a pen, and need to take notes on your laptop for all meetings? Disclose only that information.
Is waking up in the morning the hardest part of your day and you absolutely need a later start time? Disclose only that information.
You are never duty-bound to reveal your disability. If you think your manager will be reasonable you can point out the areas where you struggle and may need additional help without explaining the overall driving force.
Accommodations Have to be Reasonable
If your accommodation is to remove an essential component or function of the job, then it’s unlikely it will be granted. It would also be denied if it would bring “undue hardship” to your employer. This is unfortunately vague and can really be used in any situation to say no.
But consider the point of view of your manager (and overall employer) when you are asking for your accommodations. It may help you come up with requests that are more likely to be approved.
Some questions to ask yourself when coming up with ideas:
- Do they have the technology to support it already
- Would the technology be easy to obtain and possibly useful to others in the company?
- Can I still perform the essential tasks and functions of my job?
- Will it be potentially disruptive to other employees, and can that be minimized in some way?
Use your big, beautiful ADHD brain to do a little problem solving ahead of time! Look at your request from more than one angle so you can get ahead of your employer’s possible misgivings.
Consider what you really need, and also what you are willing to compromise on. Ask for all the things you need up front but be prepared to negotiate.
Formalize it, Immediately
If your manager does grant your request to have accommodations, make sure you get it in writing with their consent attached right away.
If they are serious about granting you the request, this should not be a dramatic battle. They should be willing and open to sign an agreement – or even just reply “yes” to an email – that states the accommodations you will get and how you will proceed with getting them.
Then, save a copy, whether it’s a PDF with a signature or an email conversation with mutual agreement. It may come in handy for your next employer when you are ready to move on to a new job. It may also be helpful if you move to a new manager at the same company.
Any manager that refuses to put your conversation into writing is a big red flag! They may easily go back on their word later and it becomes your word against theirs.
Consider Your Legal Options
In the United States, ADHD can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which means your job may be required to provide reasonable accommodations (some exclusions apply based on employer size and categorization). Per the text:
“Sec. 12102. Definition of disability
As used in this chapter:
The term ‘disability’ means, with respect to an individual
(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
(B) a record of such an impairment; or
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment…”
The law goes on to state that
“major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, … speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working”
and then continues as
“also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, … neurological, brain, … and reproductive functions.”
Everything I’ve bolded above can easily fall under the category of ADHD!
There are some other important parts of the law to consider.
It states that a disability doesn’t need to impair more than one major life activity in order to be considered a protected disability. And, it states that a disability can still be considered a major impairment even if the person affected is taking medication or has any other kind of medically-prescribed assistive device or technology.
So, even if your ADHD is only causing trouble at work and even if you’re taking medication for it, under the ADA it’s still considered a disability.
It Might Not Be That Easy
It really could be as simple as walking in to your manager’s office and saying: “I have ADHD so let’s discuss accommodations.”
Your manager doesn’t have to question your diagnosis as a disability and might be willing to have the conversation on your word alone.
However, under the ADA, your manager does have the right to ask for medical documentation. Most employers will want “proof” that you’re disabled.
To go this route, you will need a formal diagnosis from a doctor. You’ll also need documentation from a doctor that states your ADHD is “severe” enough to disable your ability to perform all functions of your job without accommodation.
If you meet those two conditions, then your workplace will (in most cases) be obligated to discuss your situation and consider your request.
For additional help on the legal aspects of requesting accommodations under the ADA, check out the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which has been in operation since before the ADA even went into effect!
If You Don’t Live in the US
The United States isn’t the only country that has disability laws.
- In the United Kingdom, you may be covered under the Equality Act 2010.
- Australia has the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
- Many countries in South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and North America have signed and ratified the Inter-American Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance
- Including Colombia, Brazil, Barbados and Mexico
- In Indonesia, the umbrella organization Association of Indonesian Persons with Disabilities (PPDI) can provide resources for fair employment (bonus: their site is actually accessible!).
If your country doesn’t currently have any disability, anti-discrimination or fair employment laws, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any laws currently in process.
Many organizations today are working hard to get more countries to adopt these kinds of laws to ensure fair protections for all people.
Be Honest if the Job Just Isn’t Right
ADHD isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It can seriously impair your capacity to complete certain types of tasks on a regular basis.
There might come a point when you have to ask yourself if the job is just a bad fit. If it’s possible that you won’t be able to satisfy the essential objectives, even with all the accommodations in the world.
It’s important to recognize that you won’t love every aspect of all jobs. You might have to do things you don’t like, but if you get to do some things you do enjoy (or are at least good at), then you likely won’t be so miserable.
But if your job consists solely of tasks and activities that you can’t stand, and if you have the ability and means to find a different job, then don’t let yourself get stuck. It’s okay to break up with something that isn’t right for you.
What kind of accommodations do you have at work? Was it a battle to get them and how did you stick it out?