By Lisa Fields
Clinically reviewed by Dr. Gayle Jensen-Savoie
If you struggle to get tasks done at work because of your ADHD, you may wonder if you should disclose your diagnosis. It’s a complex question with no simple answer.
Because ADHD is recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act, disclosing your diagnosis may get you workplace accommodations that help you achieve better job performance. But you may feel uncomfortable sharing personal information at work, particularly if you’re concerned about possible discrimination that could impact your career.
Considering the benefits and drawbacks of disclosing your diagnosis may help you reach a decision. If you need input from someone else, share your thoughts with a trusted friend, relative or therapist.
“We weigh factors, (help people) process feelings about this step and manage negative feelings about oneself that can arise,” says Christina Wright, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker based in Hamilton Township, N.J. who treats patients with ADHD. “There are plenty of adults who are already clear on whether to disclose or not. It’s a unique decision to each of us — since ADHD affects our abilities to think, focus and behave in different ways and to different extents.”
Questions to ask yourself before disclosing your ADHD
Take time to decide whether revealing your ADHD diagnosis at work will benefit you professionally. Once you share the diagnosis with your manager or the human resources department, you can’t take back the information. Think about the reasons why you’re considering disclosure.
“Are there specific accommodations that could be useful to them? Is there protection that would be useful to them?” says Marcy Caldwell, PsyD, a Philadelphia-based psychologist who treats patients with ADHD. “In circumstances where a person believes that the boss will use the information to help them — both to help understand and work with them — then revealing it can be a great idea.”
As you grapple with the decision to reveal or not, honestly assess your own work performance. This may help you determine whether accommodations could help you improve at your job.
Here are five questions that Wright recommends asking yourself as a way to assess your performance:1. What could my work day look like if my ADHD was well-managed?2. How difficult does my ADHD make it to complete necessary tasks, stay focused and manage emotions at work?3. Can I manage this on my own?4. Is there anything that could be different about my work environment that would help me focus and be less distracted?5. Do I need support from the workplace to make these changes a reality with accommodations protected by ADA?
Think about prior feedback you’ve received at work regarding your quality of work or productivity levels. Ask yourself whether accommodations could help, when evaluating your work performance.
“Are there any indications that people are concerned about their performance, either from supervisors or evaluations?” asks Geri Markel, PhD, an educational psychologist and board-certified executive coach in Ann Arbor, Mich., says employees with ADHD should consider.
Interpersonal dynamics are also important. Consider the integrity of the supervisor with whom you’ll share your diagnosis.
And Darleshia Bibbins-Spikes, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker based in Baton Rouge, La., who treats patients with ADHD, recommends asking these questions as a way to assess these aspects of disclosure: “Is the person you are disclosing to trustworthy? Will this person judge you based on stigmas related to ADHD?”
Trusting your gut feeling about disclosure may also help you determine whether you are comfortable revealing your ADHD diagnosis at work.
Possible benefits of revealing your ADHD at work
Sharing your ADHD diagnosis with a supportive manager may allow you to get accommodations that help you improve at your job.
“It can change things for the better if the person receiving it understands what it means and is willing to help the person adapt the job to best suit their brain,” Caldwell says. “Revealing (the diagnosis) also helps reduce stigma and allows people with ADHD to show up more wholly as themselves, not trying to change, blend or assimilate.”
Your disclosure also may help you feel more positive about yourself and your career.
“It’s an empowering way to take control of your health by advocating for needs,” Wright says. “We take medicine for a cold. Why not use accommodations in the workplace when our mental health is suffering? It’s also validating to receive support when we know we truly need it.”
Reasons not to disclose your ADHD at work
Be wary about revealing your ADHD status if you work in a toxic environment or if your manager isn’t trustworthy.
“(People) may choose to keep the diagnosis a secret due to unfriendly or unaccepting work environments, colleagues or bosses — or simply that their ADHD doesn’t affect them in the workplace enough to warrant disclosure,” Wright says.
If your boss has shared disparaging remarks about people with neurodivergent conditions — people whose brains work differently from a typical person — you may not want to disclose your ADHD.
“Many people do not believe there is such a thing as ADHD,” Markel says. “They can accept that somebody has anxiety and depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder, but they don’t believe in ADHD. They just feel that the person is lazy, crazy or dumb because they can do things one time and don’t do them another.”
Ways to get accommodations for ADHD without disclosing
You may believe that you need ADHD-related accommodations, but your work environment may discourage you from sharing your diagnosis. There may be other ways to get similar results.
“In situations where (an ADHD diagnosis) is likely to be used as a reason to not advance them or undermine them, then I help people look for other ways to get the support that they need,” Caldwell says. “If you fear discrimination, are there ways that you can ask for the same accommodations without disclosure? That is: ‘I have learned that I work best with X.'”
Whether or not you share your ADHD diagnosis, you may be able to get your boss to implement changes that may improve your work habits or environment.
“It’s always appropriate to have conversations with a manager about what would be helpful,” says David Rickabaugh, a Seattle-based executive coach who works with clients with ADHD. “Like: ‘I’m easily distracted by the copy machine next to my office. It would be much better for me if I could have a workstation farther (away).’ You can often achieve the same end result (without revealing a diagnosis).”
You don’t have to disclose your ADHD to let your manager know that you perform better when your work projects are broken into smaller chunks.
“For example, if you want more frequent deadlines or check-ins,” Caldwell says, “can you ask your boss: ‘I know that I work better with smaller, more frequent deadlines. Can we meet weekly to assess my progress and set future goals?'”
Similarly, your boss doesn’t need to know that you have ADHD for you to reveal that you work more efficiently in a quiet space without distractions.
“I encourage clients to frame it from the symptom lens versus the diagnosis,” Bibbins-Spikes says. “For example… asking to use the conference room to work on a project instead of sitting at their cubicle.”
Finding creative ways to get accommodations should help you improve your job performance while keeping your ADHD diagnosis to yourself. A solution like this may help you feel self-empowered and more hopeful about your future with the company.