Do You Have an ADHD-Friendly Boss?

Health Writer

For adults with ADHD, having a boss who is understanding and willing to highlight your strengths while helping you improve in areas where you are weakest is key to your success. That doesn't mean sitting back and blaming your boss if you are unsuccessful at work. According to Nancy Snell, a professional coach specializing in working with adults with ADHD, in the workplace you also need to take the initiative to educate those around you so that you "can work more effectively together."

Business team discussing progress of the company

Obviously, in any working environment, the attitude of one's boss makes a big difference — not only in work performance, but in whether or not someone is satisfied with his or her job and in making the decision to stay, or to go. (This is true, of course, for both people with ADHD and for those who don't have ADHD.) A Gallup study released in 2015 found that one half of working adults surveyed left a job because they didn't like their boss. Openness, and the accompanying feeling that you can approach your boss with any question, was found to be one of the most important characteristics of a good boss.

While there are plenty of bosses who are sensitive to the needs of adults with ADHD, there are many others who are not quite there yet (but are willing to learn), and more than a few who will never be labeled as "ADHD friendly." But how do you know the difference? What should you look for in a boss?** The characteristics of an ADHD-friendly boss include:**

  • Provides consistent feedback and encouragement and takes the time to have scheduled progress check-ins for long term projects.
  • Does not micromanage. A good boss provides you with an outline of what needs to be done and then has the confidence that you can complete the project without having to look over your shoulder.
  • Shows appreciation of a job well done as well as your skills and talents.
  • Is friendly and approachable.
  • Practices effective communication skills including providing written (email) summations of meetings highlighting the important points.
  • Keeps meetings short and to-the-point.
  • Schedules meetings only when necessary.
  • Respects your perspective and is open to new ideas and new ways of looking at situations.
  • Allows accommodations for ADHD such as providing a quiet area to complete projects, or allows for a "Do not disturb" sign on your desk; allows and encourages the use of timers and alarms to remind you to stay on track; allows you to take notes or record meetings.
  • Accepts that employees with ADHD may need to get up and move around.

If you have a boss that has most or all of these characteristics, consider yourself lucky. If your boss isn't quite there, don't give up. It is up to you to be your own advocate, to stand up and ask for accommodations you might need.

Because ADHD can show up differently in different people, your boss or coworkers can't possibly know what will help you work more productively. Whether or not you choose to disclose your ADHD, you can still speak up and ask for what you need to be successful. Some tips include:

Think about what you need to be successful.

Try completing sentences, such as, "This would be easier if…" or "I feel I could complete this if…" Use your answers to narrow down what accommodations would help you become more effective. Then, clearly articulate your requests to your boss, including explaining why you feel this would help.

Write everything down.

Take notes at meetings or during phone conversations or ask if you can record conversations so you don't miss important details. You can replay the recording later to make sure you have all the information you need.

Use a calendar.

You might find a paper calendar on your desk works best or you might prefer using a calendar on your phone. Find what works best for you and be consistent.

Ask questions.

If you have questions or need clarification on something, ask. You might feel embarrassed by asking so many questions, but this usually pales in comparison to your embarrassment over missing details or completing a project incorrectly. If you asked and are still confused, ask again.

There may be cases where a boss might be so difficult that you find it necessary to look for a new job. But there are other times when employees allow problems at work to result in situations where they're not working with their boss to try and create a partnership. Before moving on, decide whether your job success might be improved if you became your own advocate and spoke up for what you need.

For more information on succeeding at work with ADHD, see these helpful articles:

ADHD at Work

5 Mistakes Adults with ADHD Make at Work

Communicating at Work with ADHD

10 Tips to Reduce Stress at Work for Adults with ADHD

Finding Your ADHD Friendly Job


Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author ofIdiot's Guide to Adult ADHDIdiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral TherapyEssential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on twitter@eileenmbaileyand on Facebook at eileenmbailey.