While no one should be ashamed of an ADHD diagnosis, telling your workplace isn’t always the best way round it

Whether one should reveal an ADHD diagnosis to a manager is a question clients often ask me. There is no right or wrong answer; it’s a case of what’s right for you in your current situation. In my work as an ADHD/ADD Coach I have seen a trend that young people are keener to share in pursuit of openness and equality, while those with more work experience prefer to keep quiet and maintain their privacy.

Another group I’ve found eager to discuss their ADHD are those recently diagnosed – they are so relieved to have found the key to their disorganised brains they want to share it with the world! While their enthusiasm is admirable, they can inadvertently shoot themselves in the foot if they become too obsessed about their ADHD.

So when deciding whether or not to share your ADHD diagnosis at work, consider these questions?

1. Intention – what is driving your need to tell?

The first thing to ask yourself is: what is my intention? What do I want to achieve by informing my boss/colleagues?

What most people want is to be understood, as without it it’s hard to get the support you need to thrive. Of all the ADHDers who I know, none wanted to divulge their diagnosis as a get-out-of-jail-free card. They wanted to contribute just as much as everyone else and think that sharing is a means to that end.

While I understand the motivation, it’s worth managing your expectations. Can you expect your boss or colleagues to be – or indeed want to be – knowledgeable about ADHD? While this would be ideal, is it fair of you to expect this given your work environment?

In working with clients, I’ve found a useful approach is to discuss your behaviour rather than your diagnosis. Might it help you to thrive in the workplace if your boss knows you’re the ideas magnet but struggle with finishing tasks? If you are late for meetings as you lose yourself in perfecting tasks, why can’t you ask a colleague to drag you off to the meeting on time?

In essence, this first point is about knowing what support you need and then coming up with solutions. And if necessary, enlist an accountability buddy to help.

2. Reception – what misconceptions, stereotypes, bias, prejudice or stigma might there be?

No matter how much people ascribe to the idea they’re unbiased and non-judgmental, in reality we all are – even if it’s unconscious bias. There are unhelpful ADHD/ADD stereotypes out there which is why sharing your ADHD diagnosis might not be in your best interests. These judgements might not bring the understanding you yearn for and might instead create bigger problems. For example, some people equate ADHD with being less intelligent, or feel that ADHD is just an excuse for poor performance. Therefore, think about your workplace’s reception to your diagnosis. Can you trust them to hold this information with kindness? Will their knowing benefit or hinder you?

3. Normal – are you any worse than your other colleagues? 

Where on the scale is normal? Everyone in your team is an individual with a unique way of functioning, processing information and making sense of the world.? From my experience, we all have our quirks and normal is quite arbitrary. At what point is Lucy, who exhibits mild OCD tendencies, more normal than you? Or what about Bob, who is such an extrovert that he dominates every conversation? And as for Peter, the Spreadsheet Guy, do we call his inflexibility, linear thinking and chronic fear of change normal?

So why should you come forward and label yourself for behaviour that others see as your quirks?

The problem with telling your boss/colleagues that you have ADHD, is that once you have a label people start seeing you through the lens of that label. Suddenly, everything becomes attributed to the ADHD. I’ve seen situations where someone was not doing anything wrong but was seen as a problem no matter what he said or did, due to stereotypes linked to the label.

We are much more than our ADHD and you do not want this label to make you, the person, invisible. You want people to see the real you, and to recognise your strengths. Your diagnosis is simply an explanation of how your brain works, it is not an indicator of your value to the company.

4. Bottom line – what is your company there for?

Let’s get real: a company hires you to do a job. It is transactional. Your company has a need, and you have the skills to fill that need. Remember that business is not charity, school or some other institute whose mission it is to nurture people. The ultimate purpose of a business is to make money. This isn’t to say all workplaces are un-accommodating, but how your ADHD disclosure is received will depend on the company culture and the degree to which it places as much value on human capital as it does profit.

That’s why it’s important to ask yourself if the business you work for also has the right attitude towards an ADHD diagnosis, or whether it might be worth keeping your cards close to your chest as you find ways to get the support you need.

There is a lot to be said for fighting the stigmas surrounding neuro-diversity – but remember that supporting you is number 1.

Learn more about working with ADHD coach Jacinta Noonan here.