How to Manage and Overcome OCD at Work
OCD is extremely misunderstood.
Most people have heard the word, “OCD,” but many have little-to-no idea what it really is. Even those who claim to understand what “OCD” is or is not, have a hard time fully wrapping their minds around the complexities surrounding it. OCD is challenging, confusing, anxiety-provoking, depressing, isolating, time-consuming, and energy-zapping. It can make the person living with it feel shame and guilt (although no one with OCD should feel that way).
It’s a hard condition and nothing to laugh or joke about. Yet, some people make a mockery of it. People who are extremely organized and clean are labeled “OCD,” when that may just be a personality trait – not a disorder. People who tend to take pride in their work or who have perfectionist tendencies are also labeled “OCD” when this could also just be a personality trait – i.e. Type A personality.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as “OCD,” is a mental health condition that involves stress, anxiety, obsessions, and/or compulsions. This condition can affect various aspects of your life, ranging from your self-esteem and self-confidence to your relationships, and school or work success. Unwanted and non-stop obsessions and compulsions can consume a lot of energy and time, preventing you from completing tasks at work. They can also lead to tardiness and absenteeism in the workplace, eventually leading to termination (if the condition is undisclosed).
Constant fixations and repetitive rituals or routines can also affect work relationships, especially when you become so caught up in them that your work production and quality begin to suffer. Coworkers can and often do become resentful when they are “forced” to pick up a person’s “slack,” and if they are unaware of your disorder, they may label you a “slacker” or refer to you as “lazy.”
Contrary to popular belief, not all OCD sufferers are “neat or clean freaks,” “Type A personalities,” “anal,” “uptight” perfectionists, or obsessed with cleanliness, or orderliness, although some are. Although these characteristics may be beneficial in some careers, for others they may become a challenge or hindrance. The key to finding success in the workplace is finding the right type of job for you based on your OCD symptoms.
It is important to understand that there are many different “types” of OCD. For instance, some people have reading OCD, meta OCD, or relationship OCD, while others have contamination OCD, hoarding OCD, or harm OCD, and so on and so on! OCD is largely unique to the individual, although, all “types” of OCD involve obsessions and/or compulsions that are negatively impacting your life in some way, such as with your job.
The truth is it can be hard to focus, be punctual, be productive, or even show up to work when you struggle with OCD. Constant unwanted and repetitive OCD symptoms are not only time-consuming and exhausting, but a fixation on being “perfect” or “just right” can make getting started on your work or completing tasks by deadline difficult. The struggle is real. Yes, OCD can affect you at work, but you can also overcome it!
With the right treatment and support, you can effectively manage your OCD symptoms and thrive in the workplace. OCD does not have to ruin your dreams and keep you from accomplishing your goals, you can have the life and career you want and deserve. If you are wondering how you can overcome OCD at work, you have come to the right place. In this article, you will learn how OCD can impact the workplace and how you can prevent or stop it from interfering with your career.
Is OCD Considered a “Protected” Workplace Disability?
In other words, you cannot be terminated (fired) from your job because you have OCD.
The “Americans with Disability Act” (ADA) does not list specific medical conditions or disabilities, it does state that a person cannot be fired because of any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Because OCD is recognized in the DSM-5 as a mental illness, it is included in this category.
Should I Tell My Employer That I Have Been Diagnosed with OCD?
It depends on your comfort level.
You are not obligated to disclose your condition to your boss, however, if your OCD symptoms are negatively impacting your work (i.e., attendance, production, and/or quality), you may want to consider letting your boss and even your co-workers know what is happening with you. It could safeguard your job in case your work starts to slip. Disclosing this information to your boss about accommodations (which are protected under the ADA) can make working less stressful, anxiety-provoking, and challenging, offering you the best chance of success.
However, before talking with your boss about your OCD diagnosis, consider the following:
- Research your employee rights under the ADA
- Refresh yourself on your job’s workplace policies and procedures when it comes to disability-related accommodations
- Obtain written documentation (a letter on your doctor’s letterhead) from your practitioner, therapist, or psychiatrist stating that you have been diagnosed and are being treated for OCD
- Identify what accommodations you will need to be successful at your job
Keep in mind, however, that you may be faced with hostility, retaliation, or discrimination due to these accommodations. However, understand that retaliation and discrimination are illegal from anyone in the workplace so if you believe that this is occurring contact your company’s HR department, corporate, or Ombudsman’s office. If you are unable to receive a resolution after talking to HR, corporate, or the Ombudsman’s office, contact an employment attorney in your city, state, town, or country.
Can OCD Be Challenging in the Workplace?
Yes, it can be.
OCD can be extremely challenging in the workplace, primarily because its symptoms can prevent you from showing up to work, showing up to work on time, and completing tasks by deadline. As mentioned above, constant and upsetting thoughts, urges, emotions, fears, and visions (obsessions) that you are unable to stop can make focusing on work tasks nearly impossible.
Moreover, performing rituals or routines (compulsions) over and over again can cause your work productivity to decline. This is especially true if your compulsions involve repeating phrases or mantras aloud, counting aloud, organizing and reorganizing documents, or your desk or office space, or pacing. These behaviors are not only distracting to your boss and coworkers but can also prevent you from completing tasks, leaving the leftover work to your coworkers.
OCD can also cause you to become “fixated” on things that your co-workers or bosses are doing, such as talking on the phone or shuffling papers. This could lead to avoidance behaviors, which could lead to strained work relationships. Fortunately, there are ways to combat workplace challenges so that you are not only present and productive at work, but also develop healthy relationships with your co-workers and boss.
Can People With OCD Be Successful At Their Jobs?
Yes, they can! However, some jobs are better for OCD sufferers than others.
Understand that OCD symptoms can and often do vary from person to person. What triggers OCD in one person may not trigger it in another one. Still, highly stressful, fast-paced jobs can lead to anxiety and/or OCD symptoms in some people. For instance, working in an emergency room or working high-production jobs like at a high-volume, fast-paced call center or warehouse can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms. Workplaces that are disorganized, micro-managed, or discriminatory are also not good places for OCD sufferers to work. Some people with OCD can thrive in stressful or fast-paced work environments, but they must have a good grasp of their symptoms.
If you have OCD and are unsure which jobs would be conducive to you, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are you skilled in?
- What is your education level?
- What are your passions or interests?
- What types of situations trigger your OCD symptoms?
- How do you cope with your OCD symptoms?
- Are you being treated for these symptoms and is it helping you cope with them?
- Would you prefer remote work, in-person work, or a hybrid working model?
- What sort of environment would you thrive in?
- Do you work alone or in a group format?
- Do you struggle with high stress and/or anxiety?
Note: Keep in mind that OCD triggers can change over time so what used to trigger you now may not trigger you in the future. This is especially true if you are effectively being treated for your symptoms and know how to manage your condition.
What Is It Like to Work With OCD?
The best way to get an idea of how OCD manifests in the workplace is to hear from people who are or who have dealt with it in the past.
Listed below are real-life stories of people who have experienced OCD in the workplace:
- “The last place I worked was horrible (for a lot of reasons,) but as far as anxiety goes, it was horrible because most of the job tasks were triggering me. It was extremely hard and distressing trying to work there, and trying to hide compulsions and stuff. I never explained to the employer that I had OCD, as an explanation for needing accommodation in a change in work tasks, etc. Because I was afraid employees might think I was just saying it as an excuse to not do certain tasks because I didn’t “want to” and thought I might be made fun of by certain other employees there. Basically working there sucked.”
- “I want to say, retail is super easy with OCD, as your main job is to clean. However, after you have cleaned a section, customers will fuck it all up. I literally worked on a shoe box wall today and made every single box line up, and as I was working a woman invaded my personal space and ended up messing up a few boxes. It stressed me out SO much, but I kept my mouth shut and cleaned up after her to fix my perfect wall. I know it will be messed up by tomorrow when I come in, but then again I will get another chance to make the store beautiful again. So, as I am writing this, I figured out the perfect job would be an overnight freight stocker. Lol.”
- “I work as a software architect. It can be hard to focus on work while suffering from OCD, e.g. I constantly have “urges” to do or say inappropriate things and often fear I may have snapped and done them without knowing… However, staying at home all day long makes OCD even worse (more time to perform compulsions, fewer “distractions”), so working is actually a good thing to do, plus it makes money which is sort of essential for me…”
- “Working makes my OCD better. My mind is distracted and doesn’t have as much time to think of completely ridiculous and terrifying things. I have pure-O though (no physical compulsions) so I’m able to function for the most part even if I’m internally suffering.”
- “I have had OCD for years and yeah, I work full-time as a social worker. Tbh, I’m a workaholic, and work makes my anxiety much better because I am doing what I love plus I’m distracted from my irrational worries. without working, I feel like my OCD would be horrible.”
- “The only job I’ve ever worked has been housekeeping. Admittedly, my OCD can make me a bit slower than everyone else cause I get too intense on the details, but the place is damn clean when I’m done. The worst/most annoying thing about being in housekeeping though is since it involves cleaning, you pretty often hear people say how they’re so OCD for being neat. My OCD hasn’t caused me too many issues with work. It depends on the type of OCD you suffer with, how severe, and if things within the job trigger it.”
What Are Some Ways to Effectively Manage OCD in The Workplace?
The key to being successful in the workplace with OCD is finding the right job, developing a strong support system, and following the suggestions listed below, of course!
OCD can be effectively managed in the workplace in a variety of ways such as:
- Seek OCD Treatment
Seeking OCD treatment is the most effective way to manage OCD in the workplace. OCD treatment may involve medication, such as antidepressants (i.e., SSRIs), psychotherapy, or a combination of both! OCD therapy is usually the first course of action when it comes to treatment. An OCD therapist can help you better manage your symptoms so you are more productive and successful not just at work but in all aspects of your life.
Common psychotherapies used to treat OCD include:
- Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
- Substance abuse counseling
- Couples/marital/family therapy
- Neurofeedback therapy
- Try Self-Help Tools & Natural Remedies
Listed below are self-help tools and natural remedies that can help keep your stress and anxiety levels low and your OCD symptoms under wraps:
- Stress-Management Techniques
Stress, especially chronic stress, can trigger or worsen your OCD symptoms. Stress-management techniques can help lower your stress level so you can be focused and productive at work. Techniques that you can use at work to lower your stress and keep your OCD under control include practicing deep breathing exercises, engaging in mindfulness meditation, taking lunchtime naps, taking your 15-minute breaks to de-stress, taking an “adult time out” when you start to get stressed or anxious, and/or practicing yoga at your desk.
- Natural Remedies
Natural remedies like a healthy diet, regular exercise, crystal therapy, hypnosis, vitamins, a service dog, CBD, essential oils, homeopathy, and/or probiotics can help you focus more and better deal with your OCD symptoms in the workplace.
- Online OCD Treatment Programs & OCD Support Groups
- Ask for Workplace Accommodations
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities, including mental health conditions, like OCD, from discrimination. According to the ADA, employers must also provide reasonable accommodations to employees with mental or physical challenges.
Keep in mind, however, that not all employers are required to comply with ADA’s mandate. For instance, private and religious employers with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from offering these accommodations. Likewise, if your employer is unable to grant your request for accommodations, for instance, they are too costly for the organization or impractical, they may be exempt from granting them.
Some examples of practical accommodations you may be granted due to your OCD include:
- Allowing you to bring in your service dog to work with you to ease your stress or anxiety
- Offering a more flexible schedule (i.e., hours) to accommodate your compulsions or doctor’s appointments
- Putting time-management software and apps on your electronic devices so you can better your time, and keep track of the time you are spending on obsession, so you complete your tasks on time.
- Moving your desk or workspace to a slower and quieter area
- Offering you a job that is not as fast-paced or deadline-dependent
- Allow to have longer deadlines
- Allowing you to work at home all or part of the time
- Be Honest With Yourself
To be successful in your career you will need to be honest with yourself. If you need help, you will need to ask for help regardless of how daunting it feels. And, if you are unable to complete the tasks or begin to feel overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, or if your OCD symptoms are being triggered, you will need to admit that to yourself.
Most of all it is important to be honest with yourself about your job. Is it a good fit for you? Maybe it is or maybe it is not. Every job is not for every person, regardless of OCD. So, although you may have always wanted your job or a job like the one you have now if you are struggling, it may not be the right job for you. Perhaps, it is time to start looking for a job that is right for you.
- Ask For Help
If you are struggling at work, you may need to disclose your condition to your boss and/or co-workers. Why? Because you will likely need their support, understanding, and assistance to complete your tasks. If your boss and co-workers know what is going on with you, they are more likely to be empathetic and helpful when you start falling behind or making mistakes.
- Practice Self-Care
Yes, self-care is important.
It doesn’t matter who you are, taking care of yourself outside of work is essential for a good work performance. If you are tired or overworked, your OCD symptoms are going to be easily triggered. If you are rested, well-fed with nutrient-rich foods, and energized from exercise, you are less likely to experience OCD flares at work.
Also, if you make time to do things that bring you joy and that relax you like getting a massage, spending time with friends and family, going on dates, socializing, going to OCD support groups, putting on some relaxing music, dancing around your bedroom, cooking, taking a warm bubble bath, dancing, creating art, engaging in retail therapy, going on a vacation, etc., you will be more equipped to handle workplace stressors that could trigger your OCD.
- Take Your Breaks
Take your breaks! Why? Because they will help you de-stress and relax even if it is only for 15, 30, or 60 minutes. Taking breaks can help you refocus on your tasks. Remember, stress can lead to anxiety, which can lead to OCD symptoms. Stress can also lead to mental and physical fatigue which can lead to OCD symptoms. So, take your breaks. And, if possible, take a quick 15- or 30-minute nap in your car. If that is not possible, clear your mind and re-energize yourself by taking a quick walk around the building.
- Develop a Strong Support System
Having people around who support you is important, especially when you are dealing with a health condition. We all need love and support but it is especially important when you are going through something. Thus, one way to effectively cope with OCD in the workplace is to develop a strong system consisting of your close friends, family, partner or spouse, therapist, religious leader, and/or your co-workers and boss. It really does take a village sometimes. So, form your village, so you can stay on track and be successful at work.
- Pursue Jobs That Cater to Your Strengths
Jobs are based on rules and guidelines, and double-checking the work may be better suited for someone with OCD.
These jobs may include the following:
- Web Designer Or Web Developer
- Housekeeper or Retail “Cleaner”
- Online Teacher or Instructor
- Medical Coder
- Accountant or Bookkeeper
- Travel Agent
- Life Coach
- Quality Control Inspector
- Avoid Jobs That Will Create Additional Challenges
Since OCD sufferers do not like being rushed or stressed, you should avoid jobs that require their employees to be “front and center,” highly active, and/or socially visible. In other words, stay away from jobs that require you to interact with other people, especially large groups, and those that can cause you to become stressed quickly like working with young children. These jobs are problematic because they do not allow you to “break away” for a few minutes or “slow down” when you become stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.
These jobs may include the following:
- Flight Attendant
- Entertainer (i.e., Singer, Dancer, or Actor)
- Sales Representative
- Food Server
- Production-Based Loader, Packer, or Warehouse Worker
- Social Media Influencer
- Customer Service Representative
- Daycare Worker