ADD in the Workplace

AD/HD-friendly Work Environments

In his recent article, A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D, Dr. Richard Friedman recalls treating a 28-year-old male ADD patient who was struggling at his desk job in an advertising firm. “Having to sit at a desk for long hours and focus his attention on one task was nearly impossible,” Friedman writes. “He would multitask, listening to music and texting, while ‘working’ to prevent activities from becoming routine.”

The Office_AndyEventually, Friedman reports that the man quit his job and started work for a start-up company, which had him traveling constantly and working in changing environments. Friedman reports that his patient is much happier, and his ADD symptoms have essentially disappeared. They were “treated” by changing his work environment from one that was highly routine to one that was varied and unpredictable. “All of a sudden,” Friedman explains, “his greatest liabilities — his impatience, short attention span and restlessness — became assets.”

Since ADD is much less common among adults than children, Friedman wonders how some adults seem to “simply grow out” of ADD.  One explanation might be that adults have more power to choose living and work environments that play to their neurological strengths so they are more likely to succeed.

Stigma and Discrimination on the Job

Stigma and discrimination against ADD and other mental health conditions can be found in all corners of American society. Fortunately, in the American workplace, adults with ADD are legally protected under two major laws: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explains, these laws:

  • Require employers with 15 or more employees “to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities that are available to others.”
  • Require employers to make “reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless the accommodations would result in an undue hardship for the employerwhich prohibits discrimination due to disabilities like ADD.”

“Reasonable Accommodations” in the Workplace

NAMI describes reasonable accommodations for employees with ADD, including:

  • Organization, Prioritizing And Time Management: Scheduling regular meetings with supervisor to prioritize tasks; developing a checklist of assignments; extending deadlines on projects and tasks
  • Focus And Sustaining Attention: Providing a distraction-free work space; breaking up big assignments into smaller tasks; providing structured breaks; integrating interesting projects with more mundane tasks
  • Memory And Processing: Allowing the employee to audio record instructions and meetings; providing written instructions on projects; allowing more time for training; providing written instructions from training
  • Social Issues: Allowing the employee to work from home; engaging the help of a job coach; allowing the employee to skip social events; assigning a mentor to assist the employee

Disclosing ADD at Work

NAMI notes that “because the majority of court cases filed under the ADA are won by the employer, it is crucial that those seeking accommodations work as collaboratively and diplomatically as possible with their supervisors before considering litigation.” Since the ADA requires self-reporting of disabilities, employees should “carefully consider whether or not they wish to disclose” that they have ADD.

Whether or not you disclose ADD at work may be problematic if a supervisor has preconceived beliefs about people with mental health conditions or disabilities. In this case, NAMI counsels that it may be best to try basic accommodations on your own that do not require you to disclose your ADD.

On the other hand, NAMI warns that if your ADD puts your job at risk, “then it may be absolutely necessary to disclose your diagnosis with your supervisor in order to take full advantage of all of the accommodations you are entitled to under the law.”

“Mental illness” is among the most stigmatized of categories. People are ashamed of being mentally ill. They fear disclosing their condition to their friends and confidants-and certainly to their employers.” –Dr. Elyn R. Saks

Resources to Address Workplace Discrimination

If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of ADD or another disability, either while seeking employment or while performing your job, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You can find the EEOC office closest to you by calling (800) 669-4000, or online. NAMI recommends filing a complaint with the EEOC before filing a lawsuit, and reading the frequently asked questions on the laws prohibiting discrimination at the EEOC website.