ADHD In The Workplace

adhd in the workplace
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The whole reason I was able to confront my ADHD in the workplace was because of a dream job that went terribly wrong. The experience resulted in a handout my psychiatrist gave me of ways to cope with ADHD in the workplace. While I ended up not sticking with that job, the lessons I learned in my final weeks there followed me to my next job and I 100% give credit those tips for my success.

ADHD In The Workplace

In my case, I “came out” about my condition in a moment of candor. However, you don’t even have to mention your condition if you’re not comfortable doing that. You can say something vague about having trouble keeping things in your head. The point is, by letting those around you aware of your struggles, you are giving them a chance to help you. At the very least, they may be more likely to cut you slack if they see you taking ownership if the issue by acknowledging it and trying to work around it.

Related: How To Stay Focused At Work With ADHD | That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It

ADHD Work Adjustments

One of the items on my doctor’s list was white noise. There’s tons of stuff like this, like color coding, coming up with a planning system or even moving to another desk if your management team is supportive enough. (Or if you work at home like me, this can mean putting up a divider that separates your office space from the rest of the home.)

I would say the most important thing I’ve learned is there is no such thing as the perfect system, and it’s okay to keep iterating until you get to something that’s mostly okay. When it comes to remembering things, if it doesn’t live in Google Calendar, it doesn’t exist to me. On the flip side, I know a lot of ADHD’ers who swear by the bullet journal and I am so very close to giving it another try.

ADHD Work Accommodations

If you work at a company with at least 15 employers, your company may be required to provide accommodations under protections provided by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Per the ADA, you are entitled to accommodations if  1) “have a disability that substantially impairs one or more major life activities”; and 2) “are able to perform the essential functions of your job with or without reasonable accommodations.”

So what if you work for a company with fewer than 15 employees? In that case, it’s on a state-by-state basis. What kind of accommodations can you expect? According to the ADA, the request must be reasonable. And this is after you have a formal diagnosis and a job impairment due to your disability has been established. 

Depending on the size of your company and the nature of your work, it’s going to come down to what’s reasonable. So should you disclose? That’s a tricky one.  While you certainly have a right to disclose your ADHD to your employer, it’s not that straightforward. Stigma still exists in the workplace, and it’s a personal decision that should be weighed carefully.

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This is the adulting with ADHD podcast, self empowerment for women with ADHD. The whole reason I was able to confront my ADHD in the first place was because at the time I had a dream job that went terribly wrong. The whole reason I was able to detect and confront my ADHD in the first place is because of a dream job that went terribly bad. It’s a long story. I get into some of it on the first episode called that to my story and I’m sticking to it if you want to hear more. But long story short, just all of my ADHD symptoms that had been snowballing over the college years and post college years, they finally culminated in this one job and everything just sort of came to a head and I was forced to deal with it. And so that was huge pivotal point in my career and in my personal life.

And one of the hallmarks of that pivot was when I received my diagnosis and I reached out to my supervisors and let them know which were actually, we’ll get into that later, but I’ve made the decision to reach out. There’s a handout my psychiatrist provided and it had a lot of different tips on there and things that she recommended. I do and I got to say I think about that handout a lot and I can’t find it by the way, which super sex, but I know it’s somewhere insert obvious ADHD joke there. It was stuff like white noise color-coding. It wasn’t even the stuff on the list. You could go to attitude magazine and finalists stuff. Just the fact that there are all these tools that I had just dismissed or never really took a lot of time thinking about and then they were crystallized on a piece of paper and because of the situation I was in I was forced to look at this.

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It wasn’t like a self improvement magazine where it’s like, Oh, that’d be nice to try. This was like, all right, this is project mode. I have to get my shit together. So I think about the handout a lot and it may realize if I were to kind of do my own sort of resource for people who are struggling at work and here are the things I would do and in addition to the strategies she put in her worksheet, um, so number one is communication. And I didn’t plan on quote unquote coming out with my condition. It was an emotional moment or I blurted it out because someone in power was so frustrated with me that the phrase was said, I don’t know why you keep doing this or something like that. And so I just kind of spit it out and it was like the meds are in the mail.

I just got diagnosed. I just wanted these people to know. I wasn’t like being an asshole on purpose. Like I really, you know, there was something I was dealing with medially. The whole tone changed and I was being sent to the HR office and it was like, Oh thing. Which I mean, that particular job, most of the larger company, which is pretty standard for larger companies, like that’s an HR issue, that’s a medical, that’s the American with disabilities act. You’re not really necessarily going to have that kind of experience with like a mom and pop by comparison. So definitely we’ll get to that part. There’s actually part where I talk about whether or not you should disclose and whatnot, but in my case it came out okay and it made me realize communication was super key. And even if you don’t reveal your diagnosis, you can still communicate.

You can communicate by saying, I work best if I do X this way, or Hey, I have challenges of X, can you do Y next time to help me? Um, those kind of things where you can take some sort of ownership and what’s going on and empower people to help you so that you’re not just in an Island and everyone is on their Island. And resentment is building and building and building. And so that’d be my, my advice, aside from seeing my first present advice is always to consult a professional and get a professional diagnosis. Just cause there’s so many conditions with overlapping symptoms. You may or may not have ADHD, you may have something else. You might get diagnosed with one thing and find out later it was another, it’s such a whole thing. So number one, go see a professional. But number two is be transparent in a way that serves you.

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It’s don’t feel obligated to shout from the rooftops, but do feel like you could if you needed to if you were in the right set of conditions. Um, and that keeps saying, Oh, get to that, which I should have just led about that. But okay, tip one communication. Wait, wait. Got it. This second thing is strategies. And it goes back to the handout the doctor gave me and it’s, it was a lot of things, right? I’m like white noise. I had never heard a white noise. And ever since I’ve started using white noise, I can’t work without it. And it’s amazing. And I use, I use Philips over the ear headphones and I use brain FM, the beach channel optimized for focus. I originally started on Spotify and they have a white noise in the workplace channel that’s completely free. I use super cheap headphones.

I don’t use like noise canceling or anything, any fancy things like that, but I’m sure they’re wonderful but good old Phillip’s over the ear. Headphones have always worked for me and I’ll wear them out and then get another pair every couple of years. And that’s just my thing. Sometimes I’ll wear them when I don’t even need to block out noise. It just, for some reason it makes me feel like I’m blocked away from everything. If I have this headphones on and I’ve actually heard people, there was someone in our accountability group who mentioned that as well. Like when she studying, um, she puts them on. Even if there’s nothing playing, she’ll just put them on. So that’s one thing. The other thing was the, the place my desk was located was the first desk you see when you walk into this huge room. So if you’re looking for a specific department, I’m going to be at a desk you go to.

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This had never occurred to me pre diagnosis. And so after I talked to the management team, they brought up this option. Do you want your desk mood because you’re right in the line, the field of vision when people walk in, do you want back to knees to the entrance and Oh my goodness, you look, it was like a night and day experience. So my desk was relocated. Again, you may not get the same treatment. I had a group that was really great about working with me. So your mileage may vary is what I’m saying. But um, things that you wouldn’t normally think of that were super, super helpful and, but I will say even if you do behavioral modifications, even if you come up with your own systems and they work, I will say that sometimes they won’t work forever. Or sometimes you’re going to have to try several things until something works.

And then when you find that thing, it may not be perfect and it might be good enough. And that I would say don’t strain yourself. Finding the perfect perfect thing. Just find something that helps you be functional and don’t be surprised if the effectiveness where’s often a few months cause there’s actually documented cases where your up, your brain gets used to a certain thing and then it doesn’t really work as well. So like if you have to rotate your processes, don’t view it as a failure on your part or don’t think it was a lack of commitment. I mean that that could be part of it if you didn’t give it a real chance. But if you really haven’t a good faith effort and then it was working and then it stopped, it’s okay to move on. I’m going through that right now. I mentioned on an earlier episode I’m going through that with a planner so it’s totally fine and really it’s just not a big deal.

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It’s really not. So back to ADHD accommodation, this is a super sticky subject and I just want to start by saying I’m not a lawyer, don’t listen to me for legal advice. Totally go through the proper channels. But just based on the couple of times I’ve written on this topic for bustle for example, I interviewed some people for bustle and this is the impression I got. I got the impression that yes is I’m the American with disabilities act. Yes, it’s supposed to protect people with ADHD. It’s a federal law. Federal laws apply to companies of a certain amount. 15 I believe is the number. So here’s the thing, first of all, this disability needs to substantially impair one or more major life activities and you have to be able to perform the essential functions of your job with without reasonable accommodations. So there’s caveats, right?

And so you can’t just busted in guns blazing, say I have ADHD, you have to do all these things for me. But that said, you have certain protections and you, if you so choose to come out with your condition and try get help, it is possible. You will encounter teams who, who want to help and make it better. And that’s always a fight worth fighting. But just kind of weigh the pros and cons and really think it through. And it’s not necessarily going to be something that’s super straightforward. Like if you had a heart condition and you, you know, you couldn’t go up flights of stairs, it’s more obvious. And as a society it’s a lot easier to cut that break. It kinda depends on your, your supervisor and your company and company size. If you’re in a really small company and they don’t have to comply with the federal law, if there’s no state law that forces them, they don’t have to give you a combinations.

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It’s just one of those, you know, just be careful. But yeah, I mean in theory you’re entitled to have certain accommodations, but it doesn’t, reality doesn’t always match up to what, what it should be. That’s the impression I got when I spoke to experts about it. It seems like a lot of murkiness honestly, but it’s one of those, I don’t want to dissuade people from, you know, embracing their condition and coming out. But I also, I fear for people who work for companies or managers who aren’t as awesome as the people I’ve had helped me. I could see like with the wrong person or the wrong company, I could see it backfiring, so just it’s a gut check and it, it’s a calculated risk. You have to really think it through. There’s still a mental health stigma out there as much as we’re fighting to reduce it and it’s getting better.

I think it was better than my parents’ generation. I, I would say. I think it’s getting better. It’s still there and you know, it’s a lot, a lot of progress to be had, but it’s, it could really help you. It helped me actually, you know, I didn’t even stay at that job. I actually found a job that was a better fit, but for the short amount of time that I was there after I revealed my diagnosis and we all work together with an action plan, the remainder of my time there before I left actually was an improvement and I actually left just because too much. There was too much that had happened. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to completely reset. Like it was just super traumatizing and awful to go through that. I was very scared and it was very upsetting and I wanted a clean slate basically.

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But I was really grateful for the team to work with me for that period of time where I was dealing with the transition of living as a professional with ADHD. So yeah. Do you have any questions about ADHD in the workplace? Please feel free to email me a I’m always looking for suggestions on different episodes, things you want to hear if you want to connect on the social media, because I am typically on Twitter and Instagram with the handle ADHD adulting. I’m also on Facebook at adulting with ADHD. If you’d like to connect with other women with ADHD and talk about this kind of stuff. I also host an accountability group. I know it’s totally online base. It’s for women with ADHD. And to learn more about that, you go to adulting with and there you’ll finally, and until next time, happy adulting.

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