ADHD on the Job: How You and Your Employer Can Make It Work

 ADHD Weekly July 26, 2018

Whether you’re looking for your first job or have been with the same company for 25 years, you know having ADHD affects your work life. Maybe you are easily distracted by the sounds of an office, or maybe you focus so much on one project that all of your other job responsibilities get neglected. In whatever ways ADHD affects you, there are things your employer can—and legally must—do to help you be a successful and productive employee.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Amendments Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 included ADHD among the disabilities that are protected by law from discrimination. That holds true for any company or business with 15 or more employees. In 2008, the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) redefined “disability” and made some related changes to the ADA. However, under both acts, employers aren’t expected to make any accommodations for ADHD if they don’t know you are affected by it. Companies also aren’t required to ask about it. That means you are responsible for sharing or disclosing your ADHD diagnosis with your employer at some point, though you are allowed to wait until after you’ve been hired. Your state and local governments may also have laws relating to disability discrimination, so make sure you are aware of those.

Seeking workplace accommodations

You can request accommodations related to your ADHD symptoms in writing or in person. Making your requests in writing means you’ll have a record of your request, just in case there’s a problem down the road. If that should happen, you can contact the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for assistance. In making your requests, you should be specific in the accommodations you would like in order to better do your work, such as asking to make a recording of meetings rather than taking notes.

The accommodations your employer offers will likely depend on the symptoms you have and the work you are required to do. If you struggle with being easily distracted and you work in an open office, your employer might make one of several changes. Your supervisor could help you set up your workspace so your desk is turned away from most of the activity in the office, or you might find a cubicle with one or more walls that are high enough that you won’t see what’s going on around you, whether that’s within the office or on the street outside. Maybe a good set of noise-canceling headphones or even working from home one or more days a week would help you stay on task. If sitting through meetings is a burden, your supervisor might agree to let you stand in the back of the room, or sit on a chair with an exercise ball built in so you can move a little to help you focus on what’s being discussed.

But ADHD symptoms don’t affect only employees who have desk jobs. People who work in a warehouse or a restaurant, for example, might find that having a physical job is a good fit, but they can still be distracted. Someone who needs to load a certain number of boxes every day might find inattention slows him down so he isn’t working at the speed he needs to be to meet his quota, or a server in a restaurant might regularly forget to bring drinks and menus to her tables and ends up watching her customers leave in frustration. With manual labor jobs, it’s also important to keep safety in mind. That may mean not allowing distractibility to get in the way of paying attention to machinery, but at the same time wearing over-the-ear, noise-cancelling headphones is not a good idea if there’s some risk of danger warnings going unheard.

Support and accommodations

Tools and support your employer might be able to provide include:
  • Providing written summaries of meetings and projects
  • Helping you come up with a daily schedule to keep you on task
  • Asking one or more of your coworkers to act as an accountability partner and check in with you regularly to help you stick to your schedule
  • Allowing you to listen to music through headphones or use a white noise machine while you work
  • Providing you with an adjustable desk that can be used for both sitting and standing
  • Allowing you to take regularly scheduled breaks to get out of the workplace and take a walk or move in some way
  • Offering you different tasks in the morning and the afternoon if you have a mostly physical job, to help you stay engaged in your work

Your boss or manager should also offer regular feedback to help you see where you might need to make changes to your routine or workspace, and to let you know how you’re doing in terms of your work projects. That way you’ll know whether you’re accomplishing what is expected of you, and where you might make improvements.

What you can do to create your accommodations

Let your employer know which accommodations work for you and which don’t, and remember that those may change as you spend more time on the job. Try to speak in positive terms, and let your supervisor know you appreciate any efforts to help you be a better employee. And be sure to keep your coworkers in mind, too—for example, your fidgeting and pen tapping might be a distraction to them in getting their own work done.

Perhaps the most important thing in succeeding is finding work that you enjoy and that feels like a good fit to you personally. Nobody expects to get up every single morning excited about going to work, but take the time to really think about what kind of job would make it easiest for you to stay focused and engaged. Combined with a supportive employer, that may make all the difference in your life.

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