5 Tips for Managing OCD at Work

Anxiety often prevents people from excelling at work. But with the right kind of support, many sufferers are able to thrive.

Key Takeaways:
  • Sylvia Giltner is an HR manager and freelance writer who has been featured on Glassdoor, Forbes and Fast Company.
  • Managing workplace anxiety can be extremely hard, especially if you have a complex and misunderstood disorder like OCD.
  • The majority of employers have policies in place to support team members with mental health conditions. Sylvia overviews some of these policies and explains how they can be used to cope.
  • Remember: Asking for mental health support from an employer should be thought about in-depth ahead of time. If you feel unsafe in your place of work, please consider the potential consequences.

While there’s still much work left to be done, workplace support for people suffering from mental illness has improved over the years. Policies are better in many places. There are also support systems available through resources like employee assistance programs. That said, challenges remain for many, including those battling more complex conditions such as OCD. 

At the core of workplace mental health stigma is often a lack of understanding. When managers and business leaders are ill-informed, they are more likely to be insensitive when an employee asks for help. Someone suffering from OCD may deal with coworkers who believe their symptoms are attention seeking, or that their OCD benefits them in some way (e.g.: being more detail oriented). Others may make insensitive remarks such as, ‘I can’t stand a messy desk! I’m so OCD!’

Then there’s the matter of functionality. The workplace can feel unsafe to someone with OCD. Getting through the day can be really challenging. The good news is that there are strategies that can help. Below are five tips for managing OCD at work. 

1) Pursue Accommodations

Accommodations are reasonable adjustments to a person’s schedule, work environment or responsibilities that help them perform tasks with less anxiety or mental strain. You may find that asking for simple accommodations helps you increase productivity and enjoy your job more. Some example accommodations are: 

  • Flexible Hours
  • Additional Time to Complete Certain Tasks
  • A Workspace That Isn’t Shared with Others
  • Adequate Time-Off for Counseling Appointments
  • Frequent Short Breaks

Requesting accommodations can be nerve-wracking and scary. You may worry about being accused of seeking preferential treatment. However, it’s in your best interest, and the best interest of your employers, for you to have a bit more flexibility in order to thrive. It is also within your rights to ask. 

2) Use Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an effective technique for dealing with intrusive thoughts. At its core, mindfulness for OCD is about  acknowledging your thoughts without attempting to judge or dismiss them in any way. You can utilize mindfulness activities, such as breathing exercises or meditation, when triggered by something in your work environment. Over time, the introduction of mindfulness into your daily routine will improve your ability to function and cope with OCD. 

3) Expect Sensitivity and Acceptance

You have the right to acceptance in the workplace. You have the right to work in conditions that are not hostile or uncomfortable to you. Consider creating some strategies for dealing with situations in which coworkers are less than supportive, whether intentional or not. Such as:

  • Educating coworkers about using the correct terms when discussing OCD.
  • Correcting misperceptions about OCD.
  • Working with your manager to host meetings or events that encourage acceptance and sensitivity.
  • Reporting harassment to HR when other strategies have failed.

Jordan Lewis, Chief of Staff at Online Writers Rating has a staff member who recently disclosed that they have OCD. He appreciates the confidence they have shown in setting expectations in terms of how they are treated. He says, “There’s been a definite learning curve. Fortunately, thanks to the education we’ve received, we’ve been able to provide a supportive environment for all staff members.”

4) Learn About Available Support Systems

Dealing with OCD is something that can feel quite isolating. If you’re recently diagnosed or struggling more than usual, work can be a stressful place. Fortunately, many workplaces offer programs that can help you.  For example, your benefits package might include access to an Employee Assistance Program, frequently called an EAP. 

CEO of ResumesCentre, Veronica Wright, says, “We’re finding that many employers are becoming proactive about mental health. They’re mentioning mental health benefits in job listings, for example. It’s been encouraging to see people struggling with this condition find work with supportive employers.”

Spend time reviewing your benefits package on your own or with the help of a higher-up to see what programs exist that support mental wellbeing. 

5) Make an Informed Decision About Disclosure

For me, working in a writing service was both a great distraction (I love to write and due to tight deadlines, I had to concentrate on work, thus forgetting about my disorder) and a constant pain (my OCD would attack when it was time to submit completed work.)

The decision to tell your employer about your OCD is very personal. In the right workplace, you may be pleasantly surprised at the amount of support you receive. Sadly, that’s not universal. While there may be legal protections that stop employers from firing you or discriminating against you because of your mental illness, they may be able to find other ways to make your life difficult. This includes: 

  • Finding unrelated ways to criticize your performance
  • Changing your schedule
  • Social isolation
  • Being passed over for opportunities

Only you know if disclosing is your best option. Just keep in mind that you aren’t entitled to any protections if your employer is unaware of your OCD. 

Final Thoughts

OCD can be tremendously challenging. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a successful and fulfilling career. Hopefully a few of the above strategies can help you function better at work and understand your right to a supportive and accommodating workplace.

Sylvia Giltner is an HR manager and freelance writer. She helps people to write the perfect resume and land a desirable job. She is also an active guest contributor. Sylvia’s writing has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, Next Avenue, TLNT and more. Feel free to connect Sylvia on LinkedIn or Twitter.