April 12, 2024

My ADHD diagnosis helped me survive a PIP at work

  • A woman who works in digital marketing was assigned a performance improvement plan in a new job.
  • As a result of an ADHD diagnosis and treatment, she was able to improve her performance, she said.
  • She survived her PIP and has tried to help new employees so they don’t feel as isolated as she did.

This as told essay is based on a conversation with a woman from the US who works in digital marketing. A few months after getting a new job, she was put on a performance improvement plan. She had been made redundant from a previous role and did not expect to survive PIP. However, the diagnosis and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder helped improve her focus. She asked Business Insider to keep her identity confidential because she didn’t want her story to reflect poorly on her employer’s training process. The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

I work in digital marketing. When I was placed on a PIP, many people told me to look for another job. Some said they shouldn’t even fight the PIP because my bosses already had it in their mind to fire me. Even recruiters and my friends who work in HR said that.

But my circumstances were a little different. Most bosses are quite young. They’re my age – early thirties – and I think their real intention was to sharpen me up. They did exactly what the performance improvement plan was intended to do, which was to provide team members with the updates they expect.

The problem I had was that my boss hired me and then went on maternity leave. Once I started, there was a period of several months when she was gone, and I felt like I was just left in the woods. I trusted my teammates to train me, people who had no experience with that. When my boss returned, she seemed frustrated that the two new hires – myself and someone else – were not meeting their expectations.

I thought it was unfair to be placed on a PIP because of this, but I had a history of job loss. I always had a lot of focus problems. However, during the PIP I was diagnosed with ADHD, which I think explains why I sometimes struggled at work.

I survived my PIP, but a colleague did not

Two of us were placed on a PIP at the same time – the two new people. Everyone else on the team had been there for four or five years. Ultimately, they fired the other new team member. When they fired him, I thought I was on the chopping block too, but ultimately my colleagues told me he just wasn’t living up to PIP expectations.

The PIP interview was the first time my employer formally communicated expectations and standards. How can you meet expectations if you don’t know what they are? I heard things like, “You must respond to clients within 24 hours. Send minutes 30 minutes before a call.” No one had ever said anything about that.

I’ve heard that the more realistic the goals are, the more often you can achieve a PIP. Ours are quite well defined and quite realistic. It was things like being online at 8am and having your camera on during meetings. These things were not listed but were easy to access.

A large part of my work consists of meeting customers. When my boss came back from maternity leave, she oversaw all my calls. Then she sent me notes saying, “This is what I would have said.” That was the first time I got real feedback. Before she came back, my other employees were supervising. Everyone would just say, “Oh, good job calling.”

Both my managers are very busy. Before my PIP, I felt like I had to ask my colleagues questions during phone calls. I didn’t want to send a message via Teams because I didn’t want any trace of it. I didn’t want it to seem like I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what they expected of me.

After my PIP, we eventually got two new employees. I told my boss, “Here’s what went wrong. Here’s what the new hires need to know so they don’t get put on a PIP.” There was a lot of business knowledge that I hadn’t gathered while she was gone. I felt like I had no one to turn to because I didn’t want to keep bothering my colleagues. We work remotely and I think in an office environment I would have had more opportunities to ask questions. Somehow I feel like I’ve been thrown to the wolves.

I just made sure the new employees knew they could ask me anything at any time. I felt very lonely during my PIP, and I don’t want others to experience that feeling. I am a first generation college graduate. I was the first generation to work in a corporate role. So I have no one to turn to when something like this happens.

ADHD medication helps me concentrate

The ADHD medication helps a lot. It helps with my focus. Once I was diagnosed and started learning more about ADHD, I felt like I understood my whole life. I remember when I was a teenager, and I was a straight-A student. I wanted to be a doctor, but I told myself, “I can’t do that.” I didn’t know I had this attention deficit disorder. The diagnosis and medication really changed the game for me.

When I was put on PIP, I was in crisis mode. I was considering switching to another profession. I was thinking about becoming an EMT. Random things. But I thought: let me take this job first and give it 110%. I didn’t have an ADHD diagnosis at the time.

During the PIP I was never confident that I would survive. I got messages from my bosses like, “Good job. You’re getting on top of things.” Everything they said at that meeting was positive, but from what I had heard about PIPs I expected to be fired.

Then, after my diagnosis, I took my medication every day and worked around the clock. I was very vocal and transparent with both of my bosses about what I was doing because we had weekly check-ins for the PIP.

But it was hard to know what to reveal. During one phone call I was hesitant to say it, but I said, “I was recently diagnosed with ADHD and I know it is affecting my performance. I apologize if there were any gaps.” I told them that I take medication that really helps. They said, ‘Thank you so much for telling us. We are very happy that you have opened up about this. We wish you had said something sooner so we could make arrangements.’ In the end it was positive for me to say that, but I took a chance because it can also be used against you.

It’s not the warmest office. It is not the most transparent management. I didn’t feel like I had a good relationship with one of my bosses until I met her in person. Then she finally apologized for the PIP and said that after she had her baby, she had postpartum depression and was going through a lot and needed the team 100% because it would help her too.

I didn’t have the last PIP meeting. They just sent an email saying I passed and we couldn’t check in and everything was fine. And they copied HR. I felt very relieved. But I still felt tired and like I had to walk lightly. You still have to continue with the standard they set.

The PIP process was positive overall: it was so transparent for the first time. Now I know I can go to my bosses and say, “Hey, I can’t refill my medications due to a shortage. I’m sorry if you have to remind me of anything. It’s going to be harder for me during this time.”

Overall, I now feel more job security. They even put me on new accounts.

Do you have something to say about a PIP or what you see in your workplace? Business Insider looks forward to hearing from you. Email our workplace team from a non-work device at thegrind@businessinsider.com with your story or ask for one of our reporter’s Signal Numbers. Or check out Business Insider’s resource guide for tips on sharing information safely.

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