moet ik toekomstige managers vertellen over mijn ADHD?juli 27, 2020
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by Alison Green on July 27, 2020
A reader writes:
Growing up as a child, I constantly struggled to focus. In school I understood the work, but because I lacked focus and could not hold my attention in the classroom. Every parent-teacher meeting was the same: “Your son is so intelligent and can achieve so much, but he is so disruptive and never pays attention.”
At the time, my parents just handed that off as being a regular schoolboy but as the years progressed and I became older, I realized my ability to focus was poor. I would constantly fidget or find ways to procrastinate because my brain constantly required stimulation. After struggling through higher education, I landed my first “career job” in marketing. The five years after that were hell as I struggled to find my place in the industry. My annual reviews were parents night all over again: “You’re really good at your job but most of the time, you’re up and about talking and disrupting others. Why?” This hindered promotions and I moved from agency to agency to fool myself into thinking it was them, not me.
Growing frustrated, I left the industry to follow my passion in tech. This is a field that requires an immense amount of core focus and sitting down in your chair for hours on end. During COVID-19, I freelanced and working from home was painfully hard. I’m the kind of person who works solid for 10 minutes, then takes a 20-minute break or “I can’t focus on work so let me go on social media or YouTube to distract myself as that’s fun.” As you can imagine, this slowed my work day immensely and I stopped freelancing altogether as I couldn’t keep up with client deadlines.
My recent partner, a teacher, was very understanding of my situation. She would try to find ways to help or offer suggestions until one day, she asked if I had ever been diagnosed with ADHD. I spoke to my doctor, which in turn led to a therapist and a qualified consultant. After a few tests and sessions, the diagnosis came back positive: I have had ADHD since childhood. Although minor, it’s there.
I’ve begun to apply for new roles but am not sure if I should tell recruiters or managers about my ADHD. I do not want to be perceived as someone who has a disability or requires special treatment, as I feel like that may also hinder future development in what is not a fully-inclusive industry yet. However, I do not want future colleagues and managers to perceive my behavior as someone who isn’t taking the job seriously. In some ways, I was able to get away with the way I was pre-diagnosis because it was passed off as “he’s just young” — but now, older and wiser, I don’t think managers would take to my episodes as lightly. It’s a “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” kind of situation.
Definitely don’t disclose before you have a job offer.
That’s true with any health condition because there’s too much chance it will affect their decision on your candidacy, even if only unconsciously. In fact, you’re doing employers a favor by not disclosing pre-offer — since they can’t legally consider that info, why put them in a position where it might look like they are?
Post-offer … well, I still wouldn’t disclose, at least not right away.
The reality is that there’s still a stigma around this kind of diagnosis, despite how incredibly common ADHD is. There are still too many managers who will hear you have ADHD and forever after that interpret anything you do through that lens. Everyone has days where they’re somewhat unfocused and most managers will cut you some slack for that … but once you’ve disclosed, there’s a high chance that even minor mistakes you make — ones that would be excused in other people — will be seen as signs of your ADHD and a need for you to control it better. Or they’ll just always see you as disorganized and bad at focusing, even if you’re not giving them much evidence of that. You’re entitled to the same slack everyone else gets without having your boss think, “Wow, Bob just can’t get it together.”
That said, once you’ve worked somewhere for a while and gotten to know your boss, you might decide that you do feel safe sharing your diagnosis — that there would be benefits to it and that you trust your boss to handle it well. Even then, though, I’d only do it if there are specific accommodations you want to ask for, like structured breaks or a quieter workspace. You want the conversation to be tied to something actionable you’re asking for, in order to make it worth taking the risk and also so your boss is clear on exactly what you’re asking her to do (and can hopefully funnel her response in that direction rather than in one of her own choosing, which may not line up with what you want).
And to be clear, I’d like it if my answer could be, “Of course, talk about it freely.” I hope one day that will be the case. This is just about being realistic about how this often goes in our current reality.