ADHD in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights and Tips for Success
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are often associated with children, but there are an estimated 4 percent of American adults who are also living with the condition. Both cognitive disorders are characterized by qualities such as difficulty with concentration and behaving impulsively, with ADHD having the added effect of overactivity. Although ADD and ADHD create obstacles in daily life routines, many people living with either condition feel most concerned about how they will be affected at work.
ADD can create challenges in the workplace that many other workers don’t encounter, such as trouble with time management and working around everyday distractions. Some studies have concluded that those having issues managing their peskiest ADD symptoms at work earn an as much as $10,000 less annually than their peers.
But fear not! Although your ADD does make you unique compared to some of your co-workers, it’s time you looked at yourself as being uniquely qualified rather than disadvantaged. There are many things you can do to help ensure you have the same opportunities to climb the corporate ladder as your peers. Additionally, your employer has certain legal responsibilities to you as an employee should you choose to disclose your ADD.
This guide is designed to assist you in spotting your optimum career path and nailing your day-to-day job duties. You will find information on the resources available to you during your job search, and your rights as an employee once you’ve landed one, including if you choose to disclose to your employer you have ADD. You will also find helpful advice on how to maximize your time at work, and set yourself apart (in the good way!) from your colleagues.
Your future is waiting for you to succeed – so let’s get going!
Your Rights Regarding Disclosing Your ADD to Your Boss or Potential Employer
If your ADD is presenting notable challenges in your daily life at home or at work, you may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as being defined as a person with a disability. For your ADD to legally be considered a disability, you must meet the following criteria:
- You currently work with or have previously sought professional treatment for your condition, and have been diagnosed as having ADD or ADHD
- Your disorder has been documented by a professional as having a significant impairment on at least one major life activity, such as concentration or daily task performance
- You are a qualified individual who is able to perform tasks in your capacity as an employee, even if reasonable accommodations by your employer are necessary
If you are classified as disabled and have concerns that ADD is affecting your work performance, or if you feel you are being bullied by peers because of your ADD symptoms, it may be fruitful to speak with your employer about your disorder. Ideally, your meeting with your supervisor should be planned in advance so you both have time to answer any questions either of you have, and the opportunity to strategize a plan to improve your work execution. The following resources provide valuable information on the topics you should cover during your conversation and your rights as an employee.
Under the ADA, it is your responsibility to disclose your ADD to your employer if you feel it is creating issues for you at work — your employer is not responsible for approaching you about it. If you feel that reasonable accommodations will be helpful in your success, it is up to you to start a conversation about the ways in which your team can support your progress.
Set up a plan for speaking with your work superiors. You will need to bring documented proof that a psychologist or another physician has diagnosed you with ADD or ADHD, and that it is a significant impairment to your daily activities in one or more ways. Create a plan on how you and your supervisor can work together to overcome your obstacles. For example, if you are scheduled to come to the office at 9 a.m. on a daily basis but feel you are more productive earlier in the morning, request to come in earlier – say, 7 a.m. – when you’re feeling your sharpest.
If you are diagnosed as having a disability due to your ADD or ADHD and bring your condition to the attention of your employers, they should be willing to make reasonable accommodations for you at work. For example, if someone in your workspace spends a few hours a day on the phone, it is not unreasonable for you to request the use of an unoccupied conference room during those times, as this doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s job duties and doesn’t place a financial burden on your company.
Some people don’t feel comfortable disclosing their ADD to an employer, but feel they could benefit from a few tweaks in their work routine. It is perfectly acceptable to let your superiors know that you need a little extra help without bringing up the fact that you have ADD. For example, if you feel uncertain about your role in the company, it might be prudent to say to your supervisor, “I want to do my best to make sure I’m meeting all expectations for this role. Can we schedule a time to sit down and clarify my job responsibilities more in depth?” If you have questions on whether or not you should alert your boss, speak with a professional, such as a psychiatrist or career counselor, or consult your company handbook on any applicable policies relating to your condition.
How to Identify a Job that Will Suit You and Your ADD
There is no one job category or career path that best fits the qualities of those with ADD. Don’t worry – that’s good news! Generally speaking, ADD specialists and successful employees who have the disorder encourage you to reach for the stars no matter what your career ambitions are – you can set yourself up for success with careful planning and hard work. The following resources provide information on identifying a job that will keep you happy and motivated.
A career counselor who has experience with ADD candidates may offer advantageous insight as to what job fields will be your best match. This type of career counselor has special training and familiarity with the unique qualities you possess as someone with ADD. These specialists have worked with high schoolers, college students and adults, so you can benefit from these services no matter how long you’ve been in the workforce, often free of charge.
Although ADD challenges may be a factor in finding the right career fit, pinpointing your dream job is a very personal choice. This article suggests making a few checklists during your search: What would excite you about going to work? What have you loved about previous jobs or leadership roles? What unique qualities do you bring to the table, both from an office setting and life experience?
Finding a career that will engage you and hold your interest is key. If your ADD makes you creatively inclined, then a desk job consisting of editing technical reports may not be the best fit for you. On the other hand, if you feel your most focused when you only have one task to manage at a time, a job that entails intense research may just be your cup of tea.
Don’t be deterred by a position that sounds promising but seems a little dull at first glance. This resource points out that there are ways you can spice up whatever aspect of your job you find to be boring. For example, if you are in a supervisory role but hate making people sit through long, run-of-the-mill meetings, try putting your own unique twist on it by making it an interactive affair and involving other team members.
Your ADD should never deter you from pursuing your dream job, period. Whatever area of interest you are passionate about, you should never let ADD stand in the way of giving it your all. This article highlights the importance to both your professional and personal health to go after something you love. Remember, everyone starts somewhere – just because you’re not an expert at your dream job now doesn’t mean you won’t be someday!
Tips to Try at Home to be a Better Worker
Many companies stress the importance of a healthy work-life balance for their employees. This type of stability isn’t just good for you when you’re at home, but also when you’re at the office. That’s because whether we realize it or not, a lot of what we do after hours affects our performance at work – in other words, the more you can do to take care of yourself at home, the better you’ll feel when you’re on the clock. The following resources provide information on how to inspire yourself to be a better staff member in the comfort of your own home.
Get moving whenever you can. Regular exercise can be crucial not only for a healthy body, but a focused mind. A healthy fitness routine offers benefits for everyone – not just those trying to lose a few pounds. Aerobic exercise – that which works to improve your cardiac or heart health – helps regulate blood flow, which helps your brain function at its top notch. Strength training exercises can help your body hold onto the healthy nutrients you need to put your best foot forward every day.
Maintain a healthy diet. Having a healthy body can alleviate stress, meaning you have more energy to focus on your next deadline. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends eating a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. While you can enjoy the occasional splurge meal, eating mindfully has been shown to improve cognitive performance.
Get a good night’s sleep. ADHD has been linked with sleep issues for adults and children, but there are ways to make sure you’re getting the most of your snooze time. You may benefit from trying bedtime yoga poses, meditation or these tips from the US Department of Health and Human Services to get your recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Do your homework. Many companies offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which offers free counseling or therapy services to employees. These specialists can help you develop a plan to overcome ADD-related work issues, or discuss your short- and long-term career plans and what steps you can take to reach your goals. There is sometimes a limited number of sessions as part of an EAP, but your counselor can refer you to another primary care or mental health physician covered by your insurance for further assistance.
Strategies You Can Practice at Work to be More Effective
Not everyone with ADD or ADHD will find they face the same challenges at work. Many people struggle with distractions, which may be internal, external or both. Internal distractions may include random thoughts popping into your head while trying to focus on a task, while external ones come from what’s going on around you, like a pair of chatty co-workers gossiping over the watercooler. The following resources provide useful advice on making the most of your hours at work.
Start your day with pre-planning and a little housecleaning. Taking 15 minutes to set a game plan for the day – including prioritizing your task list and how long you want to spend on each project – will give you the opportunity to set goals for yourself. Even if you set a few small goals for the day rather than one large one, you’re setting yourself up for success by devising a navigation plan from punch in to punch out. This is also a good time to free your desk of clutter you may have accumulated the previous day to prevent later distractions.
Identify and reduce or eliminate your distractions. There are measures you can take to battle those that come from the world around you, or even from within yourself. Do you have a noisy cubicle neighbor? Try putting some headphones on and listening to classical music. Is it difficult for you to focus on a task for too long? Set a timer for 30 minutes to an hour, and commit to working without checking your phone or e-mails in that timeframe. When time is up, set the timer again to allow yourself a few minutes to check for any new messages or work updates.
Are you struggling with time management, organization or focus? There’s an app for that. Many major app companies have created tools you can utilize at the office. They range from pocket planners and organizers to specialized timers that can help you dedicate yourself to focusing on the details of a project.
Be aware of your face-to-face, phone and written interactions with your co-workers. Many people with ADD have a tendency to act on impulses, which in the workplace can result in frequent interruptions of peers or unedited and perhaps inappropriate e-mails being sent to team members. If this is something you struggle with, take a few extra moments to evaluate a situation before providing your input.
Put your fidgeting habit to good use. It can be difficult for anyone to sit at a desk all day with or without ADHD. Including intermittent stretching and posture routines that can be done right at your desk are a great way to break up long periods of staring at a computer screen. You can also take a quick jaunt around the office if you still feel you can’t sit still – you will immediately feel more energized and less stir crazy.
Additional Resources and Support
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to having ADD or ADHD and understanding your rights as an employee, but there are plenty of tools available to help you. The following resources provide helpful information on a variety of topics, including what organizations exist to help you feel secure at work, and where you can find some extra support for your ADD off the clock.
The US Merit Systems Protection Board is a committee that was created to protect federal merit systems, and help ensure that those who feel they are being discriminated against in the workplace have a fair right to be heard. It is an excellent resource for federal employees who feel their rights have been violated in the workplace.
If you are employed by a government agency, you may also want to read up on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was established to protect workers of federal and federally-subsidized organizations.
The US Office of Personnel Management website provides information on some of the specific reasonable accommodations you can request based on your disability. Some of the suggestions include shifting your job responsibilities to something you find to be a more manageable task, such as requesting that a team member can take over your duties in fine-tuning a report while you take over his or her undertakings on a creative detail of the project.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website explains how the government views the discriminatory behavior of an employer against an employee, and how the process of filing a charge against a company or an individual in the workplace is handled.
This article from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management provides helpful information to managers who oversee an employee with ADHD.
The ADHD Coaches Organization will provide you with information on how a coach can offer you direction in your career search, or offer advice on how to be successful in the workplace. You can also find a trained specialist who meets your needs.
The ADD Consults website has a directory for finding support for ADD in your area. This tool allows you to do a broad search for all of the resources available in your area, or narrow your scope to categories like career counselors or support groups.
Are you interested in adding exercise to your treatment plan for combating ADHD symptoms, but don’t know where to start? No sweat! The American Heart Association has plenty of helpful tips for getting an exercise plan going that will fit with your busy schedule.
Whether you learned during adulthood that you have ADD or ADHD or were diagnosed as a child, life with either disorder can at times feel discouraging. If you are currently searching for a position, it’s important to remember that you have every right and ability as someone without these conditions. If you’re already working in your desired field, keep in mind that you were hired for a reason – because your employer feels confident you can handle whatever responsibilities come your way.