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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

How to Get More Support for Your ADHD Diagnosis at Work

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We all get distracted at work. It’s easy to lose track of time and often a struggle to stay organized. For people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), however, these symptoms can be so persistent that they cause significant problems on the job, to the point where people with untreated ADHD reportedly lose about 22 days of productivity every year.

ADHD is a mental and neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts about 4% of adults. Everyone experiences it a little differently, according to Chandler Chang, a clinical psychologist and founder of Therapy Lab. “The main themes that emerge across people are distractibility, restlessness, and time management problems.”

More than two in three employees with ADHD say accomplishing daily work tasks while dealing with their symptoms creates a major challenge for them, according to a recent Akili survey conducted with Wakefield Research. They’re also more likely to experience mental issues, including anxiety, depression, and feeling unmotivated, defeated, and hopeless, says Caitlin Stamatis, Director of Medical and Scientific Affairs at Akili Interactive Labs.

All of this can create “extra challenges and extra barriers to career success,” Chang says. Nearly 90% of employees with ADHD say the condition has contributed to career setbacks, including poor performance evaluations, losing out on promotions, and having responsibilities taken away, per Akili’s survey.

Misconceptions about ADHD can contribute to these setbacks. “Peers and managers may make assumptions that people with ADHD are lazy or simply need to try harder,” Stamatis says. And she urges these coworkers to recognize the potential upsides: People with ADHD often see themselves as being more creative, empathetic, and unique thinkers. “It’s all about having the proper support to manage their symptoms so they can succeed in their day-to-day life without the roadblocks,” Stamatis adds.

Workplace accommodations, like the ability to take more breaks, can help people with ADHD succeed at work. However, most managers don’t know how to help. And again, many also have preconceived notions about the ability of an employee with ADHD to handle complex tasks or get their daily work done. The Akill survey found that nearly 60% of managers said they don’t feel prepared to respond appropriately if an employee discloses that they have the condition. It’s often up to employees with ADHD to ask for support at work.

Here’s how to consider talking to your manager about your condition—plus effective ways to improve time management matter what you decide.

Talking to your boss about ADHD

Talking to managers about having ADHD can be scary, but Stamatis says it’s the first step in getting the support you need. Most employees who disclosed their ADHD to their managers were glad that they did, according to Akili.

“Understanding and acceptance can go a long way when it comes to ADHD in the workplace,” she says. Many employees also need extra support from their managers, including benefits and resources that are available to them and how their work environment, tasks, or workday could be adjusted to accommodate them, such as by taking more frequent breaks or check-ins with their manager.

However, before having the conversation with your manager, Chang says to make sure it feels like a safe space where you feel comfortable talking about your ADHD. Use these tips to start the conversation:

  • Designate a specific time to talk about the support you need—don’t incorporate it into another meeting on a different subject.
  • Educate your manager on what ADHD is, what symptoms you have, and how they affect you day to day.
  • Talk about your strengths and unique approach to your work that adds value to the team.
  • Bring up examples of how you were successful working in your preferred way.
  • Discuss what resources and accommodations would help you be successful.

“This will help your employer recognize that your ADHD is not a weakness, and it can be a strength if properly supported,” Stamatis says.

How to cope with ADHD at work

Treatment, including medications and therapy, helps most people manage their ADHD symptoms. In addition, there are other steps you can take to make your workday feel a little less challenging.

Set daily goals

Chang suggests writing down one thing you want to do well at the beginning of each day. Then, at the end of the day, note what you did to make that happen. Also, make notes about how ADHD impacted you that day and how you can potentially solve that problem in the future. For example, come up with a system to make sure you finish a project the day before a deadline if you turned something in late.

“Then, there’s a real growth mindset that will keep you from getting into this cycle of thinking, ‘I’m not going to be able to succeed,’” she says.

Know your ideal work setup

When you know how you work best, you’ll know what accommodations to ask for that will help you succeed, Stamatis says. These might include creating distraction-free or quiet zones in the office, having no-meeting days, being assigned smaller deadlines within a larger project, and designating time each day for deep-focus work.

Having a dedicated workspace, whether you’re in the office or at home, can help, she adds. It will give your day structure and focus, and “can help signal to your brain that it’s time to focus on the tasks at hand.”

Take frequent breaks

It may seem counterproductive, but taking breaks can make you more productive, Stamatis says. Changing your environment even for just a few minutes will help you stay focused and motivated, avoid distractions, and shift to the next task. “I like to take brain breaks by stepping outside, even for a few minutes, or finding another activity that might help recharge me for the workday,” she says.

Take care of yourself

All the usual habits that promote health and wellness will help you better handle your ADHD symptoms at work, and the anxiety that often accompanies them, Chang says. Get a good night’s sleep, eat healthy, exercise regularly, and avoid drinking too much alcohol.

Practice mindfulness when you’re feeling overwhelmed or otherwise struggling at work, she adds. Recognize that your work style may be different from your coworkers, but your unique approach to thinking and problem-solving can be an advantage.

“Your ADHD can be an extra barrier, but it could also be a superpower,” Chang says.

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