How Women With ADHD Survive The Workplace

by S.B. Castañeda
A woman with ADHD with her colleagues at their workplace

You may know her, or you may be her: That workplace hero who's constantly burning the midnight oil. She must be a workaholic, right? Or maybe she’s just trying to focus. Norway researchers found that one-third of workaholics surveyed had ADHD symptoms, among other mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

While researchers were quick to point it’s hard to say if the workaholism is the cause or the byproduct of these conditions, it’s hard to ignore the impact these days of living with ADHD in the workplace. If you’re having a hard time dealing, read on to learn how to take charge of your workplace challenges.

The Impact of Not Getting It Done

We’re not martyrs when we stay late — we’re just trying to finish stuff. As ADHD coach Linda Walker explained to Bustle, many women end up working extra hours away from distractions just to get things done. Among their challenges, she says, are issues with disorganization, overwhelm, project management, procrastination, memory, and keeping emotions in check.

“Many women with ADHD have told me that they often begin to be productive at the end of the day as people are leaving the office, and phones and emails are winding down. Dissatisfied with their productivity during the day, many will push through long after everyone else has left the office to take advantage of the distraction-free environment,” Walker said.

ADHDers tend to be very weak in their areas of weaknesses but they can be superstars when they work in their areas of strengths and passions.

In addition to recommending proper self-care like ample sleep and exercise, she encourages women to find the right career match as well, then take care to document systems and write everything down in a notebook (or use Evernote).

“Thriving at work with ADHD starts with having made the right choice of career. You want to find a career that plays mostly to your strengths and passions. ADHDers tend to be very weak in their areas of weaknesses but they can be superstars when they work in their areas of strengths and passions.”

Mistreatment in the Workplace

Unfortunately, the ADHD challenges typically don’t just stop at task management. If you’re struggling with projects, there’s a likelihood you also are experiencing strained relations with peers and supervisors. In fact, if you suffer from low self-esteem and have a hard time standing up for yourself, you may find yourself vulnerable to bullying.

Psychotherapist Erica Hornthal, founder of Chicago Dance Therapy, works closely with adults on their workplace bullying issues, helping them cultivate a stronger self through deep breathing, personal space exercises and more.

“Unfortunately, there is no law against bullying,” she told Bustle. “The only rights one has is to him/herself. The right to dignity, respect, and self worth.”

How do you know you’re being bullied? If it feels wrong … there’s a good chance something’s wrong.

“When you have a sense that you are being taken advantage of or your work is being stolen or sabotaged, you are being bullied. If there is fear, anxiety, or even depression related to your workplace you may be involved in bullying,” she said.

In the end, she says, it’s about reclaiming your own power by either standing up for yourself or removing yourself from the situation.

What Are My Rights?

You may be wondering if you are entitled to any rights when it comes to managing ADHD in the workplace. The answer is yes, but it’s complicated.

According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, employers of 15 staff members or more may be required to provide accommodations if you 1) "have a disability that substantially impairs one or more major life activities”; and 2) “are able to perform the essential functions of your job with or without reasonable accommodations.”

Walker recommends considering the potential impact before disclosing your condition and requesting accommodations. She added that a 2014 survey by the Attention Deficit Disorder Association revealed that stigma still exists in the workplace:

Deciding to disclose your ADHD is a personal decision and certain factors should be considered. First, do you meet the job qualifications? What is the organization’s track record when it comes to this type of request? Are you well regarded as an asset in the organizations? How easy would it be to replace you? How easily could you bounce back if you lost your job? I would usually invite a person to first put into practice self-accommodation strategies to mitigate ADHD-related workplace issues. This shows initiative and a willingness to improve in the face of challenges on your own.

An Employer’s Point of View

Terena Bell of TVRunway is a repeat tech startup founder with ADHD. She also has managed a female employer with ADHD. While she agrees with Walker in that women with ADHD need to find careers that play to their strengths, she also says the onus is on the employer not to add to the problem needlessly.

She uses the example of the wildly popular open office space in the tech world right now. The hip and efficient set-up cuts her productivity to 25 percent. While she contends it’s not the employer’s job to minimize an employee’s distractions, she says “it’s nothing but employer mismanagement to add them.” She went on to tell Bustle:

Not only does the open floor plan lower productivity to 25% of your potential, but women have to deal with the self-esteem issues that surface as a result. You think, 'Everyone else can still get work done. Why can't I?' Ask coworkers how they do it, and they shrug like there's no problem. Or even worse, they say 'Why don't you put on headphones?' or 'You just have to tune it out.' Meanwhile, the person in front of you is on the phone, the two across the room are grinding coffee, the one beside you is eating lunch, and suddenly it takes every ounce of energy you've got to focus writing a single email.

ADHD Doesn't Clash With Success

Julie Casali is a digital content producer for The Kaleidoscope Society, an online community for ADHD women. She’s found her career sweet spot by working in an environment that suits her and practicing natural ADHD remedies like meditating and mindfulness. While she notes that it’s a personal choice on whether you want to let others in on your ADHD journey, in an interview with Bustle, she echoed Walker’s sentiments on the importance on finding a career that suits the ADHD.

“As an ADHDer who’s worked in lots of different working environments, I highly recommend start-up companies where our natural creativity and knack for multitasking are always appreciated,” she said. “Or even better, work for yourself. ADHDers make awesome entrepreneurs.”But maybe rethink Taco Tuesdays in an open office space if you go the startup route.

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