My career isn’t progressing so I feel like something needs to change
Question: I was officially diagnosed with ADHD almost two years ago, although I’ve been aware of having it for most of my adult life. I’ve become much better at managing the symptoms but it can still get in the way of work, where I can struggle with time-keeping, multi-tasking, general admin tasks and ADHD burnout.
I move from job to job a lot, particularly when a role becomes overwhelming, or when it feels like managers are getting frustrated with me. I have no problem finding new jobs. The problem is that my career isn’t progressing and, at this point, it feels like something has to change.
I’m in the middle of interviewing for a really progressive company. I was thinking of telling them I have ADHD so that they could maybe make some allowances and map out a career path for me. At the same time, I don’t want to jeopardise my chances of getting the job. What should I do?
Katie replies: We’re hearing a lot more about neurodiversity in the workplace, as more people share their stories and open up about the advantages and disadvantages of their diagnoses. Just this week, in an interview in this newspaper, Amazon’s new chief security officer Steve Schmidt described having ADHD as a “tremendously useful tool”.
Personal stories from successful people living with ADHD make a big difference. At the same time, when we move past the dominant “superpower” narrative that persists alongside the disorder, we get to the lesser-discussed disadvantages, some of which you’ve outlined in your letter.
The #ADHD hashtag is trending on social media but, for the most part, people have no real understanding of the impact it can have on a person. They don’t know how to work alongside co-workers who have ADHD because they haven’t been taught. And they certainly don’t know why you have thousands of unopened emails in your inbox and 16 open tabs on your computer screen.
Many of the experts I shared your dilemma with were reluctant to give a definitive answer to your question for this very reason. They recognise that there is more conversation around ADHD in the workplace but they worry that you might be stereotypically profiled and made vulnerable to discrimination. Clare-based coach Marie McNamara, who specialises in working with individuals from neurodiverse backgrounds, says your question often comes up in her work, yet every situation is different. The issue, she says, is that workplaces are “a long way from fully understanding the real impact of ADHD on the life of an individual, and what accommodations could be put in place for them”.
From this point of view, she says she would advise researching this company’s culture and “measure carefully their perception around neurodiversity”. “There is the danger that the employer doesn’t have a full understanding and appreciation of the qualities and strengths around ADHD, and the kind of things that a person with ADHD can contribute to the work situation in terms of creativity, hyper-focus and really wanting to serve”.
McNamara says some of the negative stereotypes around ADHD, including hyperactivity, lack of focus, unreliability, argumentativeness, impulsiveness and difficulty completing tasks, are sometimes what “defines ADHD in a person’s mind”. “Without that strong understanding, an employer can jump to a stereotypical view which is really very damaging and also can leave the person at a terrible disadvantage of being pigeonholed.”
ADHD coach Karla Farrell of Leap Forward Coaching agrees that disclosing a diagnosis could lead to prejudice or a lack of understanding. “A person with ADHD has a challenge with executive function,” she explains. “And this holds a huge impact in the areas of organisation and prioritisation.
“But ADHD people must remember they have abilities and have been asked to work in their jobs, so they got there in the first place, with exhaustion and pain most likely due to the executive function issue,” she says. “Burnout is not uncommon in people with ADHD,” she adds, “from working so hard internally and externally, often masking the internal struggle to stay on top.”
Farrell points out that an ADHD diagnosis, if its impact on the individual is significant, can be seen as a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. This can be helpful in terms of asking for supported structures in the workplace, she says, “but if one feels confident in managing this, there may be no need to tell them at this early stage”.
From reading your letter, it strikes me that you don’t feel confident in managing these structures yourself.You want support from your managers, and you want your co-workers to understand the challenges you face. At the same time, you’re concerned it might jeopardise your chances of getting this job. It’s a legitimate concern, which is why I’d be inclined to mention it only after you get the job, and after a probation period. If this feels dishonest, I would encourage you to consider the panoply of medical issues and disabilities that go unmentioned in interview situations. As Professional Advanced ADHD coach, Claire Twomey, puts it: “Employees aren’t obliged to disclose, however employers are obliged to provide reasonable accommodation.”
In the meantime, you could try working on some of the particular issues you mentioned with a certified ADHD coach. Twomey, who herself has ADHD, recommends the Pomodoro Technique, which involves breaking a workday into a series of 25-minute tasks with five-minute breaks in between.
“But overall, the key to progressing with ADHD is working to your strengths,” she says. “So I would advise this person to discover what their strengths are with an online assessment or career coach, and then create a strategy to make sure they are all being utilised in their role.”
If you have a dilemma, email email@example.com