Feel free to use this letter as a template for writing to your own boss, or to the boss of someone you know with ADHD.
This letter is designed to help you understand a bit more about my brain, how it works, how it DOESN’T work – and how to get the best out of me as an employee.
My energy, focus and ability to co-operate pretty much run on a battery lifespan. When I’m fully charged, you’ll find me efficient, productive and co-operative. When I run flat, I need to recharge. This means stepping away from the work situation, or doing something different for a while, or just having a bit of a cry. Occasionally it might mean taking a day off work for the good of my mental health. If you take account of these needs, and don’t misinterpret them as laziness or taking the piss, you’ll find I come back brighter and stronger than ever, with a renewed vigour for my work and a loyalty to you that is near unshakeable.
When you say “don’t take this the wrong way, but…” before giving me feedback about something, it makes me feel like you are immediately MAKING me and my reaction ‘wrong’ before I’ve even opened my mouth. I am incredibly sensitive to the words you use. In fact I’m very sensitive full stop and I would like you to respect this and make allowances for it; my sensitivity is a strength at least as much as it is a weakness. And when you tell me “don’t take it personally”, you might as well be telling me to stick my fingers in my ears and say ‘la la la’ very loudly whilst you’re talking. I can’t listen to what you’re saying and NOT take it personally. You are talking to me, about my work, and I am a person – therefore it is personal. To ask me not to process your words in the only way I know how is an impossible request (and don’t get me started on how patronising it sounds!).
Also this job, for me, is not just a job. It’s a minefield of fuck-ups waiting to happen. It’s a whole bunch of rules that the rest of the world seems to ‘get’ and I just don’t, no matter how often I read the rulebook. It’s a game that I don’t know how to play. I find it practically impossible to be good at one aspect without messing up a different one; I can turn out a great quality of work, OR have excellent attendance and timekeeping, OR great working relationships – but not all of them at once. And heaven forbid anything should happen to distract me when I’m focused on a task. Yes, doing that one thing out of the ordinary might take “two seconds” for you, but for me it takes two seconds plus however long it takes to get back on track with what I was doing before.
None of this has anything to do with my intelligence or my dedication to the job. I do genuinely want to do well, to prove that I can fit in with the ‘normal’ folk – and I really don’t want to get on your nerves or cause you extra work. This is why I sometimes might not be entirely honest about the way things are for me (well – that and pure forgetfulness or not knowing how to put it into words). It’s why I try to hide my disgruntlement, my restlessness and my overwhelming and irrational desire to rock the boat for any reason I can muster. This is why I try to smooth over my mistakes without bringing them to your attention – and why I panic when you fail to take charge of me. I NEED a strong leader. I need someone I can look up to and emulate; someone who will give orders when my initiative is offline. Don’t be afraid of me. I may be emotional, strong-willed and a bit blunt in expressing my opinion at times, but I’m actually surprisingly malleable if I feel I can trust you.
Please don’t just write me off as ‘difficult’. Managing me effectively could be some of the best management training you’ve ever had. If you’re prepared to try and make this work, then so am I – it may not be an easy ride, but I promise you it’ll be a worthwhile one.
My thanks in advance,
Your ADHD Employee