Should I tell my boss that I have ADHD?

The pros and cons of disclosing your ADHD diagnosis in the workplace.

So, you’ve done the tricky bit and have received your ADHD diagnosis. (Congrats!) Maybe your family and friends know about it by now, and you’ve all but fallen into a new cadence. But now comes the next hurdle — should you disclose your diagnosis to your boss?

Choosing whether or not to tell your boss is a difficult decision to make. On the one hand, there's the possibility of your employer making reasonable accommodations at work. (Yay!) On the other, they may not be knowledgeable about ADHD; or maybe you just have concerns about your boss thinking you’re making excuses.

Either way, the outcome of this tough decision is completely based on you and your unique work situation. Here are some things to think about to help make your decision:

Pros and cons of disclosing your diagnosis

Knowledge is power, right?

Many ADHDers struggle with job-related challenges that are tied to executive functioning, such as time management and prioritization. But, while we're feeling overwhelmed with these challenges, our colleagues and employers may perceive us as lazy, irresponsible, disorganized and easily distracted. Overall, this makes for a less-than-optimal work environment.

So, is it possible that disclosing your ADHD diagnosis could improve multiple facets of that environment and ultimately increase your productivity? After all, what better ally is there to have in the workplace than your boss? However, though we all know the perks of disclosure in any relationship, life is seldom that simple.

Pro: Your boss might be more understanding and patient with you moving forward.

Con: Misinformation about ADHD is everywhere, and your boss might believe it to be true.

Is honesty the best policy?

In the workplace, sometimes honesty isn’t the best policy. While disclosing your ADHD diagnosis can help your boss understand your challenges with more nuance, the opposite could be true, too. Whether it's due to a lack of knowledge or misinformation, there's a possibility your boss could respond dismissively or with judgment.

Pro: You might be protected under law.

Con: No take-backs!

Though some countries have anti-discrimination laws that protect people with disabilities, you can still miss out on promotion opportunities, depending on the morality of your supervisor. Perhaps after telling them, you discover that your workplace lacks the resources and time to assist you. Not only have you already told them, but there is also no way to take this personal information back.

So, what can be done in the meantime to inform the decision?

Things to consider while making your decision

Figure out your reasons for sharing your ADHD diagnosis

Though sharing your diagnosis seems like the natural next step, there is no rule stating that you should. Many of us navigate through life believing the labels we use (such as "ADHD", for a hypothetical example) are "one-size-fits-all". However, we all have our own strengths, challenges, and life experiences, giving us unique perceptions of things, including ADHD diagnoses.

the thinking man statue

Rather than looking at the label of your diagnosis, perhaps concentrating on symptom management could be a better approach. For example, you could tell your boss, “I sometimes get distracted by office chatter; could I move to a desk on the quieter side of the office?”

As Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., states in Disclose Your ADHD? What to Consider First, this form of disclosure allows you to avoid the complicated discussions that can arise while still advocating for yourself. If you aren’t in a position to make such requests, consider setting up a meeting with your supervisor and seek advice on improving your work performance in a one-on-one setting.

Identify your workplace needs and create your own accommodations

By identifying your specific needs and tackling those issues, you may find you can improve aspects of your performance without divulging your ADHD diagnosis.

💡Pro Tip! You can outsource by hiring an ADHD coach to help you determine the best accommodations for you, or to aid in your development of other coping strategies.

If this option is inaccessible to you, perhaps some friends and relatives could be brought in to help. If you struggle with being late for work, maybe they could give you a wake-up call in the morning. Personally, I've finally accepted that planners are not for me  —  although I love using them for the first two weeks. These days, I use my smartphone to alert me of everything  —  including checking in on loved ones.

Ask your employer for help

If the measures above haven't helped to improve your performance at work, you may consider asking your employer for a “reasonable” request. This involves assessing your workplace, your industry, and its margins.

Wilma Fellman, M.Ed., recommends approaching your boss with something like, “I’d like to talk with you about my performance and about how I can improve. I enjoy my job, and I think, with your support, I can become more productive.” Once you’ve confirmed the meeting time and agenda over email, she advises individuals to prepare by listing their performance goals, and adding positive statements to help bolster their request.

Preventive disclosure

Preventative disclosure in the ADHD context refers to when someone selectively informs and educates those close enough to notice the difficulties associated with the disorder about their condition. Research on the topic is sparse, though this study concluded that preventive disclosure minimizes the risk of social rejection. However, this particular study had a cohort of young American adults, and therefore cannot be generalized to every population. But - it does allow for some rumination on the validity of preventive disclosure.

At your job, this could involve setting up a meeting with your boss and requesting your ADHD coach to be present. Preventive disclosure increases the chances of a boss viewing ADHD in a more positive light. In one of these meetings, Wilma Fellman divulges how her mere presence encouraged a client's boss to accept an accommodation request that had previously been rejected.

The dos and don'ts of disclosing your ADHD diagnosis at work

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) in the United States offers the following tips for those considering disclosing their ADHD diagnosis at work:

  • Do disclose when you need an accommodation
  • Do know who to disclose to
  • Do know how to disclose
  • Don’t disclose too soon
  • Don’t disclose too late
  • Don’t disclose to everyone
  • Most importantly, do your homework

The most common workplace accommodations for ADHDers

Below are some of the most commonly requested accommodations for adults with ADHD:

  • A quiet or secluded work space
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Assistance with chunking large projects into smaller ones
  • 5-minute breaks; once every 1-2 hours
  • Color-coded notes, folders, etc.
  • A talking calculator (yes, it's a thing.)
  • Frequent performance reviews
  • Permission to use noise-blocking headphones
  • Concise workplace procedures printed on cards
  • Option to work from home
  • Visual timer (for those who struggle with time management or time blindness)
  • Freedom to record meetings
  • A white noise machine

Final thoughts

Disclosing your ADHD diagnosis to your boss is an important decision with many repercussions. With ADHD still not being widely understood or accepted by society, it can be challenging to know what to do in the moment.

Hopefully we've helped quell some of your questions, whatever you decide. Overall, approaching your boss with the determination to improve your output could make all the difference. But, remember, not disclosing your ADHD diagnosis doesn’t mean you can’t make improvements here and there.

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Zuva Seven is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of the online digital magazine, An Injustice!. She’s committed to educating people on general health, wellness and mental health in particular, though she also dabbles in politics and pop culture. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Refinery29, Business Insider, Stylist Magazine, Greatist and many more. When she’s not writing, you can find Zuva strength training in the gym or working towards completing her Bachelor of Arts degree in film, media and gender studies from the University of Cape Town. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.