OCD can impact a person’s ability to work, as people with OCD often experience mounting anxiety in the workplace. Between getting ready for work, to the commute, to sharing space and interacting with co-workers, there are a lot of moving parts that can be very difficult for those of us with OCD to navigate.
Many people with OCD may excel at their job-related tasks, but become bogged down by the notion that to be successful they must maintain a certain outward portrayal of success. This can lead them to keep their OCD a secret and often prevents them from seeking accommodations or other support, which may ultimately impact work performance.
OCD-related barriers in the workplace may be things like avoiding certain tasks or people because they may prompt negative thoughts, having difficulty concentrating, taking longer to complete a task because you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts, worrying about how co-workers may perceive your behaviors or interactions, and avoiding shared areas like bathrooms or conference rooms out of fear of contamination or other factors.
Tips for Employers
Many organizations, like Specialisterne, are recognizing the value of investing in and amplifying the talents of neurodivergent employees (such as those with OCD). However, before employers can take advantage of the competitive edge offered by neurodivergent employees, they must first recognize their responsibility to create an environment conducive to the success, comfort, and equity of neurodivergent people. Here are some tips to aid employers in meeting the needs of employees with OCD:
- Facilitate neurodiversity training (preferably run by neurodivergent people/those with lived experience of the topic at hand) surrounding language, myths, and stigma related to OCD and the steps managers and co-workers may take to proactively support employees with OCD and others with specific mental health needs. Reiterate the avoidance of using OCD as an adjective or as a synonym for being orderly, particular, detail-oriented, clean, etc., as this trivializes the experiences of those living with OCD.
- Have mental health supports (such as the Employee Assistance Program or EAP) in place regardless of employee disclosure of mental health issues.
- Host educational programming, such as ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, during which employees can be informed of potential accommodations and their rights as employees.
- Many workplaces see individuals as being a good fit for their organization’s culture based on how well they meld with others during social events and how well their personality fits with those of others in the office. The issue here is, many neurodivergent people, including those with OCD, fall by the wayside in these regards. It’s important to take the time to reflect upon, and if needed, redefine your company’s culture to measure workplace success on differing perspectives, contributions, and skill sets, rather than on personality and social interactions.
- Consider creating an Employee Resource Group (ERG) or council specifically related to neurodiversity. This can assist you in gaining insight into the areas in which you may be able to improve as they pertain to neurodiversity.
- Recognize that the employment experience doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all. The pandemic compounded many of the difficulties those with OCD or other forms of neurodivergence face. This is especially the case for those with OCD who deal with contamination-based obsessions. As many people have returned to physical workplaces, it’s important to consider that your employees may benefit from continuing to work at home if possible. Additionally, they may benefit from further support in navigating the changes to routine or environment if they do need to return to a physical environment. Offering regular mental health days and other forms of support may also prove to be beneficial.
Tips for Employees
Here are some tips to aid employees in navigating OCD in the workplace:
- If you feel it’s necessary, consider disclosing to your employer and requesting accommodations through your workplace’s human resources department. There are benefits and risks to disclosure, and you can read more about them here. It’s important that you weigh these benefits and risks for yourself. If you decide the benefits outweigh the risks, there are certain steps that may be taken when requesting accommodations. Those steps are outlined in ‘Workplace Accommodations Part 1’ and ‘Workplace Accommodations Part 2.’
- If disclosure seems too daunting or risky, it may be beneficial to seek out a local or online support group. In these groups, you can share your experiences and struggles with the reassurance that you’re not alone.
- Work with a therapist or other trusted individual to assist you in creating a workplace-specific exposure response plan to aid in navigating obsessions and compulsions as they may arise in the workplace.
- Utilize your organization’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for access to resources supporting your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
- If your organization has an Employee Resource Group (ERG) in place for neurodiversity or mental health, consider becoming a member. This may help you to achieve feelings of belonging, representation, and inclusion. It can also assist you in advocating for policy changes within your workplace. If your workplace doesn’t have an ERG for neurodiversity or mental health, and you think it could benefit from one, consider reaching out to your organization’s human resources department to get one started.
OCD can certainly be a barrier in the workplace, but there are steps that both employers and employees can take to help navigate OCD-related challenges, resulting in a more supportive and productive workplace environment overall.