WORK-LIFE BALANCE / DEC. 06, 2013
version 6, draft 7

How to Manage OCD Effectively in the Workplace

According to research conducted by the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 4 people will suffer from some sort of mental illness in their life. Whether it’s stress, anxiety or depression, these conditions often have a profound effect not just on the individual but on the people around them. Often those suffering from a mental health problem can manage their illness and carry out their work duties as normal. However, it’s a subject that many managers still find difficult to deal with. 

Amongst the many mental health problems, one of the most commonly misunderstood is OCD. The phrase is commonly used as a joke term to describe someone who is excessively clean or organised, but in fact OCD is a debilitating disorder that means sufferers have a lack of control over certain thoughts, leading to unbearable and upsetting anxiety that can take over their lives. Only by performing certain rituals can they keep the anxiety at bay and neutralise their fears. These rituals could include excessive checking, counting or mantras. David Beckham has described his battle with OCD, admitting he has tried various methods to treat the disorder with varying success.

There is still some stigma about mental health in the workplace. In fact, many employees fail to disclose if they have a mental health problem for fear that they will either be rejected for employment or treated differently once they are in a job. Although the illness presents itself differently in each sufferer, having OCD can make work a stressful place. However, although this can be a sensitive issue for many, it can be managed positively.  Managers often shy away from dealing with mental health issues, for fear of discrimination claims looming and relying too heavily on stereotypes that are not always true. An employee’s experience of OCD can be helped greatly by having a supportive manager. Here are some pointers for managers to keep in mind when dealing with employees who suffer from OCD.

  • If OCD is disclosed by the employee, it’s important that a manager remains calm and neutral. Ask if there are any reasonable adjustments that can be made in order to make things easier for them. Some of these may include giving extra time to allow for checking to be completed before submitting work, or perhaps adjusted hours if they have checks to carry out at home before they come to work. Changes should be implemented on a trial period to ensure that they are having the desired effect, but let the employee guide you as to what will help them, within reason.
  • Advise the employee to see a doctor/health professional if they haven’t already and keep a note of any medication that they are taking. Ensure that they are given adequate time to attend appointments and therapy sessions if needed; often it is difficult to hold these appointments outside of work hours. 
  • Understand that just being there can help sometimes. It can be tempting to become too involved, but let the employee know you are there for them without taking on the problem yourself. Try to avoid giving too much advice and telling stories about people you know who have suffered from the same thing - everyone’s experience of mental illness is different and what works for one person may not work for another.  
  • People with OCD tend to take far too much responsibility for their work and worry about things that sometimes don’t even happen. To help alleviate their anxiety, it’s worth having a weekly catch up with them to go over workload and ask them if there is anything they are worried about, work-wise. Sometimes being creative around how you do this is easier - a coffee outside of the workplace can sometimes encourage employees to open up more about things that are concerning them.
  • Take the opportunity to coach and mentor employees so that they feel adequately equipped to do their job to the best of their ability. This will help to alleviate stress and anxiety they have around their roles.
  • Strike the balance between treating them differently and changing any job responsibilities they feel they can’t handle at the moment. Review their job role with them if feasible to check they are comfortable doing certain things. For example, if they are responsible for locking up at night and are having anxiety over this as part of their OCD, it might not hurt to discuss with them if they would like that responsibility removed temporarily.   
  • Consider running awareness sessions for mental health amongst managers in the organisation. It’s an area that managers and HR professionals need to deal with more and more, so training will help equip them to handle it in the best way possible. It will also promote a positive attitude towards mental health in the workplace.

Overall, having an employee who suffers from OCD can be a positive trait in the workplace. They are likely to be organised, meticulous and give their very best loyalty to the company. People don’t always recover from OCD, but an understanding manager can go a long way in helping them to handle their symptoms without it affecting their work negatively.  

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