When to Disclose Your Mental Health Challenge, Disability or Neurodivergence at Work

When to Disclose Your Mental Health Challenge, Disability or Neurodivergence at Work

If a mental health condition is interfering with your work, then you might be wondering whether you should disclose your condition with your employer. In this article, we’ll cover your rights, how to prepare for disclosure, and how to know when it’s the right time. Plus, we’ll discuss a few accommodations your employer can likely make to help you do your best work.

Know your rights 

First, it’s important to know that you do not have to disclose a disability or mental health condition before accepting a job, nor do you ever have to disclose.

Employers are not allowed to ask questions that will reveal the existence of a disability before making a job offer. It’s also illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because you have a mental health condition. Discrimination might include firing you, denying you a job or promotion you deserve, or forcing you to take a sabbatical on the basis of a mental health condition. You can learn more about your rights by visiting The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website. The ADA is an organization that exists to help protect people with disabilities. 

At work, oftentimes, companies have employee handbooks, HR resources, or employee resource groups (ERGs) available to you. If you think you need to disclose a disability or mental health condition at work, we recommend looking up your company’s policy on disclosure—if they have one. If your company doesn’t have a policy or resource, you can bring it to leadership’s attention, and even volunteer to create the resources yourself if you desire. 

If your company does have these resources, give them a read, and ask someone in Talent Operations or Human Resources for help if there’s anything you don’t understand. You may also want to ask a neutral third-party, like an attorney or a friend who’s been through a similar situation. 

Understand your goal for disclosure

Before disclosing, it’s important to understand your goals and what you need. How will disclosing help you perform better and feel more comfortable at work?  Are you asking for specific accommodations? Seeking empathy and acceptance from your team? We recommend writing a list of goals and brainstorming how you can articulate them to your manager. Your goal is to have your manager walk away from the meeting with a clear understanding of your “ask” and how it helps you get your job done. 

What’s the right time to disclose?

We have two criteria for knowing that it’s time to disclose:

#1 Your mental health condition or neurodivergence is interfering with your ability to work

You’ll know your condition is interfering with your work if you’re experiencing significant decline in your ability to focus, your ability to produce work has declined, you're unable to attend important meetings, you’re struggling to meet deadlines, and/or you’re needing a significant amount of mental health days off.

It’s possible that someone else at your organization might notice a decline in your work performance before you disclose your condition. If this happens, we recommend letting them know you hear their concerns, and that you need a few days to get back to them on next steps. This would be a great time to start the conversation about accommodations you might need to get back on the right track (more on this below). 

#2 You’re looking to make a change to your workflow to better accommodate your neurodivergence 

If you’re already well aware of what accommodations you’d like to ask for, then it’s helpful to disclose as you ask for accommodations. This will help your employer understand why you’re asking for changes and significantly increases the chances that they’ll say yes.

What accommodations can you reasonably ask for?

When it comes to mental health and neurodivergence, there’s a wide range of symptoms and accommodations to match them. Not every company will be able to accommodate every specific need, but it helps to understand what you can ask for. 

To give you a general idea, here are a few common accommodations that are reasonable to request:

  • Remote work
  • Turning video off on Zoom calls
  • Permission to wear noise canceling headphones
  • Walking meetings
  • Access to a standing desk or a desk in a quieter corner
  • More frequent or less frequent check-ins
  • Scheduled time to focus without interruption
  • Scheduled breaks for snacks, movement or meditation
  • A lighter or different workload that leverages your strengths
  • Access to Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
  • Mental health stipend to help pay for therapy, meditation app subscription, etc.

You can also discuss possible accommodations with your therapist. They will likely have ideas for shifts you can make at work to improve your performance and decrease unwanted symptoms, especially stress-related symptoms. 

Are you a maker or a manager?

Speaking of meetings, it’s helpful to understand your role as either a maker or manager as it relates to your accommodations. 

Paul Graham coined the concept of “maker versus manager.” Both makers and managers are essential to companies; however, they need very different work environments. 

Managers are typically managing people, schedules, and various administrative and organizational tasks. And makers, like engineers and writers, are producing work that requires minimal distraction. Managers can typically accommodate a larger volume of meetings and notifications, while makers need a distraction-free environment to make progress on their work.

This can help educate your disclosure conversation. You might not only need less meetings from a neurodivergence standpoint, but also purely because of the type of work you’re completing as a maker, for example. This might help your employer better understand that accommodating your needs is ultimately what’s best for the company’s bottom line, too, and that your ultimate goal is to become a higher performer at the company. 

Remember: your employer wants to ensure that you can deliver your best work, and that’s your goal, too. 

Bottom line

If a mental health condition or neurodivergency is disrupting your work, it might be time to disclose it to your employer. More workplaces are now offering accommodations and resources as the conversation around neurodivergence expands.

Want to make a difference in your organization? Start discussing neurodivergence and mental health with your leaders. If your company doesn’t have an employee resource group (ERG) for neurodivergent employees, consider starting one! 

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