For ADHDers, getting a job, and then keeping a job, can be very difficult. Your ADHD will be trying to sabotage you every step of the way. Inevitably, you’ll be faced with the question of whether or not to disclose your learning disability to your boss and your coworkers. While I won’t be exploring the pros and cons of disclosure in this post, I do want to give you some tips and tools to survive (and even thrive!) in the workplace if you have decided AGAINST disclosing your learning disability.
So if you don’t disclose, you’re going to need all the help you can get. Here are 9 places to start.
1. Be on time. I know, I know… ADHDers ‘lose time’ and don’t have a ‘perception of time’ – we live in the ‘Permanent Present’. Asking us to be on time is like trying to ask a raccoon to stay out of the garbage bin. But why is this of such prime importance if you want to survive in your job? Because it can get you fired. Repeated late arrivals are usually not tolerated. And why not? What’s the big deal? You know you meet your objectives, and more than make up the time down the road. But managers are taught that tardiness and absenteeism is like an infection – it will spread to the wider team if not checked and treated immediately. It can have a negative impact on morale, and reflects poorly on the organization. The fact is that you’re going to be late – a lot – and so the more you can do to keep the number of occurrences down is only going to help you. There are all kinds of ways to put the odds in your favour. For example, set up a solid morning routine. If you’re able, aim to arrive half an hour early to work, and if you happen to hit that target, relax with a coffee and a novel until start time.
2. Be good and have good intentions. ADHDers, because they have a tendency to disappear, or their focus may drift, often get painted with the brush of delinquency, and may get accused of sneaking around. I’ve been accused of being dishonest about time – and it’s understandable, because I have a never-ending supply of reasons (or as others may see it, ‘excuses’) for being late or needing to leave my desk. So others may perceive you as being dishonest, or a slacker. And of course you’re neither of those – you just have ADHD. But if you haven’t disclosed, you want to do your best to eliminate the possibility of that perception. So, go out of your way to be transparent, and take opportunities to show that you have good intentions. Of course, if you don’t have good intentions, and you really are being dishonest, you may have a difficult time explaining your pure ADHD symptoms without disclosing.
3. Make sure your work is top notch. Sure, you want to do a good job, and you want to be an asset to the department/company. But there’s another reason for you to work extra hard to be excellent – it’s protection. If you’re late often, or don’t participate in social activities, or leave a little too often to get a coffee, in most cases you’ll still survive the workplace if your product is high quality. Most of the issues faced by ADHDers in the workplace are not performance issues. Sure – maybe a goof up here and a missed deadline there – but by and large, the issues that will have a manager up in arms are behaviour issues. And the two shouldn’t be connected as far as performance reviews go. So if your work is awesome, all those other quirks should be of secondary importance.
4. Know where to get a fix. Long hours at a desk, trying to focus on one task, having to pay attention to someone go on and on and on in a team meeting that could have been an email… Today’s workplace can be torturous for an ADHDer. But if you’re going to survive, you’ll want to have easy access to some activities that will release some dopamine to keep you on the straight and narrow. My suggestions: race up and down the stairwell for five minutes before a meeting, take a brisk walk around the halls with a folder in your hand (to look super busy), snack on some foods that are rich in Tyrosene and other goodies that will encourage dopamine production (almonds, chocolate, bananas, yogurt and many others), and give yourself a few minutes to do something creative, like doodling.
5. Hide your distractions in plain sight. You’re going to get distracted. You’re going to want to get distracted. Totally normal. Just keep it to yourself. How to do this? Read articles on a tiny window on your monitor, write a blog post in your work journal or in the body of an email – there are many ways to work on the 100 personal projects you no doubt have on the go. Now – I’m not recommending that you find ways to completely disregard your work while maintaining the appearance of being hard at it. I’m just saying that there will definitely be times where you need to do something creative, personal, or satisfying simply to get it out of the way so you can focus on your important work – and that you can find ways to do it under the radar.
6. Have access to a napping place. As an ADHDer, I’m constantly tired. Unless I’m wired. I’m seldom in a nice, balanced state that would be somewhere in between the two. It goes without saying that ADHDers also tend to stay up too late, skip breakfast and abuse substances – all of which can also lead to more fatigue than the average person. And often, when I’m tired, no amount of coffee or calisthenics will snap me out of my fatigue. When I’m tired – the kind of tired where your yawns cause your eyes to tear up – I know I’m not producing my best work. So if I want to be productive (which you should – see #3) – I need to be able to nap. Non-nappers just don’t get this. My office has a Quiet Room which is meant for people to have private phone conversations, meditate, or pray – and most thankfully, it has a door lock and a light switch. Many a lunch break have I spent in this room stretched out and reenergizing myself so that I can really hammer out some good work afterwards. But of course this is not an option for many people (and often I find the room is occupied) – and so if you’re able to, I advise you to set up your car your own nap sanctuary. I’ve managed to create a 6-foot-long perfectly flat sleeping space in my vehicle, outfitted with an air mattress, blankets and a pillow. I make no qualms about my need to nap. I own it. One other thing I should mention is that ADHDers sometimes just need a place to go to be alone with their thoughts or their emotions – and these two options also provide an excellent space for both.
7. Let your manager and teammates know that you ‘have needs’. Okay, so you don’t want to disclose to your boss and colleagues that you have ADHD. I totally get it. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t tell them that you have a hard time with certain circumstances. Maybe you’re just the kind of person that needs to stretch their legs during a long meeting, or you just do your best work in a quiet environment. These are all minor things that require minor accommodations – and may just be enough to enable you to survive. Try it out – and if it turns out that these minor adjustments aren’t enough, then you can consider disclosing in full.
8. Map out all of your business processes and systems. Take the time to map out or chart every step of every task you have to cover. And revisit them often. You want to make sure that you don’t miss any details – or worse, entire elements – in your work. In short, don’t rely on your brain to remember and catch everything. Don’t treat it like a computer, because it doesn’t behave like one. If you’re committed to mapping out systems and following them, you’ll greatly increase your success.
9. Ask for everything in writing. If you have a discussion with pertinent information, you can either ask the other person to send it to you in an email ‘just so we can be clear moving forward’, or take the initiative yourself to write it back to them. My classic line is, ‘I just want to be sure I’ve captured everything in our conversation’. This will greatly reduce the risk of missing a request or vital piece of information, or misinterpreting what’s requested of you.
10. Pack a survival kit for your office. Make sure you’ve got all these items on hand, as these are typically what ADHDers forget to bring, lose, or skip due to time constraints: a few days’ worth of meds, snacks and some ‘instant lunches’ (oatmeal or cans of beans), cash, contact info for friends and family (because who actually knows their spouse’s phone number these days?), charger cable, deodorant, headache medicine, toothbrush, etc.
Following these tips should give you a really solid chance of surviving in the workplace, should you choose not to disclose. I’d love to hear about some tips and tricks that you’ve adopted or created in order to avoid getting fired – go ahead and add them to the comments section below!
Thanks for reading!