In the meantime…Self-directed Accommodations for ADHDers in the Workplace

Success in the Workplace for ADHDers

“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking” Buddhist Proverb

According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive Market Research of 503 adults with ADHD, 77 percent stated that they believe the condition makes it difficult to achieve success at work. Few perceived employers as being understanding when it comes to employees with ADHD.

For many adults, application of reasonable accommodations can make the difference between surviving and thriving at work. However, in attempts to communicate with an employer, many talented adults with ADHD and learning differences have struggled with discouragement after disclosure. The overt and covert resistance of some employers to provide accommodations establishes a history of exclusion, reinforces shame, and decreases productivity, fulfillment, and success in the workplace. No one wins here.

Though it may sound daunting, there are things that you can do that advocate for yourself and find the support you need at work.

Establishing the right kind of support in the workplace is by no means an easy task: It requires space and time for reflection, an open approach to creative strategies, skills development, and ‘recruitment’ of a small network of folks who are invested in your success.

Disclosure and Self-Directed Support:

Wilma Fellman, a career development specialist, addresses disclosure in the workplace. She suggests that individuals with ADHD find ways to get their needs met without directly disclosing a diagnosis of ADHD. This approach reflects a philosophy as much as a truth. If disclosure puts one at risk of discrimination, what option does this leave?

Similar to the US American’s with Disabilities Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act calls on federally-regulated employers to enact, the Duty to Accommodate for Persons with Disabilities, (a visible or non-visible long-term or recurring physical, mental, psychiatric, sensory, or learning impairment, which limits the quantity or type of work you can do in the workplace or which may be perceived as a limitation.) Application of the act is not so clearly applied, as reflected in the observations of Anna-Karina Tubunar, a Canadian journalist and consultant as well as host of “Canada in Perspective,” a weekly television program on Accessible Media Inc.. Tubunar explains, “There is an idea that accommodation means building a new ramp or escalator, but 70% of accommodation is about the attitude of the employer and peers, that takes no money, but time and communicating with honesty” (Young Street Media, 2013).[i]

Integrating Soft Skills and Hard Skills:

Balancing soft skills and hard skills is an important element of success in the workplace. As ADHD adults grapple with internal and external obstacles, workplace stability and job satisfaction become increasingly illusive. Finding, maintaining and growing employment options in today’s economy require increasing levels of flexibility.

Mainstream employment preparation training and recruitment specialists inform that “soft skills” are the new “hard skills” employers seek. Hard skills are those technical abilities that are learned through formal education, usually related to professional knowledge, tools, or techniques that allow us to work within a profession. High-end examples of hard skills are designing a bridge, developing software, applying taxation laws, and injecting a vaccine.

Soft skills include abilities related to facility in social situations and communication, as well as the ability to work independently and manage one’s workload. Examples of soft skills are: strong social skills, attention to ethical concerns, integrity and dedication, critical thinking, and having a positive, motivated approach to the work.

The Conference Board of Canada promotes a framework called Employability 2000+[ii], as a result of extensive research with employers, government and employees. The framework categorizes three sections for growth and development that are helpful and applicable for employees across disciplines. The areas of growth are as follows: (I) Fundamental Skills; (II) Personal Management, and (III) Working with Others.

Developing Personal Management Skills in the Workplace:

Section II of the Employability 2000+ framework is Personal Management – a good place to start when developing skills to support you in the workplace. Identify one point that you would like to focus on to enhance. Think about work experiences when you’ve had the hard skills but other variables such as interpersonal relationships led to job dissatisfaction, even loss. Is it possible that while focusing on what is not working you had trouble seeing of what was within reach? Personal Management includes the soft skills that we can cultivate in life and work to enhance our ability to perform, and to recognize and manage who we are. These personal skills, attitudes, and behaviors drive one’s potential for growth:

Personal Management Skills to Practice Now:

  • Feel good about yourself and be confident
  • Deal with people, problems, and situations with honesty, integrity, and personal ethics
  • Recognize your own and other people’s good efforts
  • Take care of your personal health
  • Show interest, initiative, and effort

Five Things to Keep in Mind:

  1. Take Care of Yourself:

Taking care of your personal health is valuable currency for the ADHD adult. Experts in the field, such as Dr. Hallowell, strongly encourage adults to take a multi-modal approach to treatment. Holistic in nature, foundational in practice, the basics of sleep hygiene, brain supportive nutrition, physical exercise, sunlight, and positive human contact, make a difference in how the ADHD adult can modify stress level thus positively impacting perform ability. Self-care is often the first element to fall away when under high stress. Feeling good about your efforts in the face of uncertainty and having a plan to integrate self-care is a hallmark of resiliency.

  1. Developing Self-Management Skills Takes Practice

Frequent check-ins with yourself throughout the day can help you develop insight into how you are functioning, what you need, and how you are responding to various situations and environments. It may be of value to check your cognitive and emotional pulse throughout the day. What are you focused on? Where are your thoughts? Negative, neutral, positive? How does your body feel? Is your breathing high in your chest or deep in your belly? Are you smiling? There are simple methods to integrate into your day becoming mindful of your brain-state.

  1. Ask Your Employer About Development Programs

Innovative workplace training on inclusion and workplace accommodations are designed to inform and activate an overdue paradigm shift. They are not altogether altruistic, with an objective to strengthen that bottom-line, but they do facilitate a win-win. If your company does not offer such training, ask about opportunities for the team to learn more, such as with the employability framework introduced in this article. You might seek out assistance from career counselor or an ADHD coach to support your processing and build accountability since it is challenging to stay the course on your own. Succeeding with ADHD in the workplace is about creating and communicating how you work best, letting your strengths shine, and feeling positive about what you are able to contribute.

  1. Pay Attention to Social Skills

Ethical and socially responsible leadership are strongly connected to emotional intelligence. Self-awareness in social exchanges can be challenging for adults with ADHD. Therefore, it is all the more urgent to develop emotional awareness and self-regulation competency in preparation for a conversation with the boss about concrete accommodations to assist in maximizing your performance at work. Talk to a coach or counselor about ways to strengthen communication in the workplace.

  1. Identify and Access Resources

There is an abundance of information, methods, and processes that can help with self and workplace development. With the right support in place, it is easier to think, behave and perform in a manner consistent with your values and desires. The right system of support is one that can help you integrate your unique way of being in this world and bridge the gap to operate from your source of strength.

[i] Shupac, Jodie.(2013). Invisible disability in the workplace. Retrieved from

[ii] Conference Board of Canada, Employability 2000+.(2015).Retrieved from

Michelle Intrepidi is a Certified ADHD Coach, Educator, and Workplace Skills Trainer. She works with transitioning young adults entering the marketplace and mid-career professionals facing change. Utilizing personalized learning and employment assessments as foundations to build a learning profile, to develop strategies and skills toward a sustainable and enjoyable career.
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    If you’re not interested, then I say sorry and thanks for reading so far.

    • Frank
    • January 31, 2019

    How do you explain to an employer that as a person with diagnosed adhd I may not have the same social skills as others and how can they accommodate me?

      • xva22
      • February 3, 2019

      Hi Frank!

      Sorry to hear you feel like you are struggling socially at work. I think most of us have been there at some time in our professional lives.

      First, does your employer know you have ADHD?

      I ask because many of us (not all) get blank stares when we try to explain the concept of ADHD to an employer. So sometimes it’s easier to just directly ask for what you need in a specific situation.

      Are you having trouble socializing over the water cooler, or at break times?
      Or are you having trouble communicating in meetings where you need to make a good impression?

      If you can pinpoint what social interactions are giving you trouble, you are in a better place to ask for assistance/accommodations.

      Let me know your thoughts, and maybe I can offer some more ideas about how to make you more comfortable at work.

    • Melinda Whetstone
    • February 5, 2018

    Pam, I am glad you have found a strategy that has helped you focus and be productive. I am not aware of studies that show the benefit of TV vs music, but the use of music has been shown to improve productivity. I also can focus well when there is a TV on and conversations around me, but have not had as much success with music. That changed though when I started using the app Focus at Will (FaW). I have found that using the FaW app or working on the side of the building where there is traffic noise and street conversations improve my productivity. Below this message is the link to an article describing the research behind Focus at Will. Please note that there is a subscription fee, but the evidence supports its use. I wish you well as you co-create a supportive environment where you can best contribute to your potential.

    • S K
    • December 12, 2017

    I can find nothing to help my issue. I’ve been in my field nearly two decades. Weeks of On call and shift work simply disrupt my function. I need regular consistent sleep, otherwise it counter acts my efforts in my struggle with my ADHD I just can’t manage with an erratic schedule or sleep debt. And I need to have my work hours sleep hours regular. I don’t do well on nights or rotating shifts and I keep finding myself either quitting jobs out of necessity because of the impact of the schedule or the schedules end up working against me and I get in trouble on the job in ways id likely avoid if I hadn’t…say worked so erratically and/or gotten sleep

      • Melinda Whetstone
      • February 26, 2018

      Thank you for submitting your comment and sharing your experience. Ensuring we as ADHDers get adequate sleep is an important part of managing our health and ADHD, but unfortunately, many of us struggle even in the best of circumstances. Your situation of rotating shifts creates additional challenges, and our volunteer team is not able to offer any specific recommendations. However, you may find something in the following articles.

    • Sleep Strategies for College Students With ADHD:
    • ADHD and Work Life Balance:
    • Depending on your specific job and the issues that arise, you may find accommodation ideas offered through the Job Accommodation Network for employees with sleep disorders ( ) useful. You may be able to work with your employer and request some of these adjustments without disclosing your ADHD. Before deciding to disclose, though, be sure to read the guidance given in the article Should I Disclose My ADHD,

      As you consider options, consider if there are options that include a regular schedule or if you will need to continue in a rotating shift. This is a situation that may continue to be a challenge, so you may want to consider options where you are best able to apply your skills, talents, and gifts of ADHD.

      Your email has given the team inspiration to write an article for The ADDA Insider about erratic schedules and ADHD. If you would like to participate as an interviewee or resource for an article about sleep, please consider submitting a volunteer application through the ADDA website,

      The ADHD at Work team wishes you the best of luck in managing this issue, and we invite you to share any resources you may discover or any successes you may have.

    • Pam Alexander
    • August 26, 2017

    The accommodation that has worked for me through my adult life, including a graduate degree, is having some boring TV on in the background (like Hallmark movies for example). I can’t find any scholarly articles to support this use of TV noise vs white or pink noise or music (which really distracts me), and my employer has a proposed 7 day suspension, and I was using the ADA headphones that they provided. I need evidence to support my practice! Any help would be appreciated.

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