When you have any mental health condition, it can be hard to know if you should disclose your diagnosis at work, particularly to your boss. It’s a thorny topic.
For instance, you might be worried that others will judge you negatively because of the pervasive stigma in our society. Yet, you might need certain accommodations that you’d like to ask for. Also, many people are relieved to get their diagnosis — finally having a name for their disruptive symptoms — and want to share it with others.
So what can you do?
ADDitude Magazine has an excellent article on this topic by Wilma Fellman. I interviewed Fellman a few years ago for an article about succeeding in the workplace when you have ADHD.
She advised readers against telling supervisors about their ADHD. When I interviewed another expert, ADHD coach Sandy Maynard for this article, she also agreed.
There are many myths about ADHD, and many people have a superficial understanding of the disorder. “Many that have disclosed their ADHD find they’re often viewed in a negative way; that their supervisor is almost looking for problems and micromanaging them,” Fellman had told me.
Instead, she suggested that people with ADHD figure out where they need help with work and ask for specific accommodations along with offering reasonable solutions.
Let’s say that you get easily distracted in a noisy environment. You can tell your boss that you’re having a difficult time concentrating with the noise level, and would prefer a quieter space to work.
Confused about your performance or short-term goals? Ask your boss to meet with you for a one-on-one. Again, the key is to assess where you’re having a tough time and then brainstorm solutions to help you work your best.
When meeting with the boss, Fellman suggested the following, in the ADDitude article:
1. Set it up. Stick your head in your boss’s office and say, “I’d like some time to talk with you about my performance and about how I can do better. I enjoy my job, and I think that, with your support, I can become more productive.” Confirm the meeting time and agenda with an e-mail. Make it short, listing your performance goals, not the requests you will make to meet those goals. Save those for the meeting.
2. Be prepared. Decide on one or two accommodations that will help you do a better job (see “Common Workplace Accommodations“). Have sound, persuasive reasons as to why, for instance, telecommuting will increase your productivity. Use numbers and specifics to make your case: “Working at home one day a week would allow me to get next month’s reports done two weeks ahead of deadline.”
3. Establish the right tone. Make your requests for accommodations at work from a position of strength. Use positive statements, such as, “I work best in a quiet environment. A noise-blocking headset would allow me to finish my reports sooner.” Don’t say, “Those reports take forever, because I have a hard time paying attention. I need a noise-blocking headset.” Make a request, not a demand.
Language matters, too. Talk about problems—in time management, organization, meeting deadlines—and possible solutions in business terms. Avoid the A-word, accommodation, unless you’re prepared to disclose your condition.
If your supervisor denies your requests, then you might want to disclose your diagnosis. In the same article, Fellman provides a closer look at what you can do and how to approach making an official request for accommodations.
If you have ADHD, have you disclosed your diagnosis at work? How have you navigated asking for accommodations? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?