Quick overview on OCD in the workplace

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We have been working with mental health charity Mind on a series of articles exploring mental health in the workplace. Take a look at the full content series today to get insight and advice on how to improve mental wellbeing throughout your organisation.

One of the most commonly misunderstood mental health problems is obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. We’ve all heard someone describe themselves as ‘a little bit OCD’, but these sorts of comments can often trivialise what is a very real mental health problem. In fact, the World Health Organization ranks OCD among the top ten debilitating illnesses of any kind.

What is OCD?

OCD is an anxiety disorder that has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions refer to unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind and can make you feel very anxious or uncomfortable. Compulsions are repetitive activities linked to the obsession that you do to reduce that anxiety or discomfort. It could be something like repeatedly checking a door is locked, or washing parts of your body.

By fostering an open culture, it will make it easier for someone with OCD to open up and be honest about their needs without fearing stigma.

Contrary to what many people think, it’s not about being tidy, and having occasional obsessive thoughts do not make you ‘a little bit OCD’. Many people experience minor obsessions (such as worrying about leaving the gas on) and compulsions (like avoiding cracks in the pavement), but these rarely interfere with daily life.

If you experience OCD, it’s likely to impact on how you live your life, including at work. You’re likely to experience the following:

  • Disruption to your day-to-day life, which could interfere with work and productivity, but not necessarily. It can also increase your anxiety if you can’t carry out your compulsions.

  • An impact on your relationships with colleagues, whether through hiding your OCD, or people misunderstanding your compulsive behaviours.

  • Feelings of loneliness, shame and isolation, making it harder to be around other people.

Lots of people have misconceptions about OCD, which can mean that the stigma around it can be even greater. While some might think that it’s okay to make jokes about OCD within the office, this can make someone experiencing OCD feel really uncomfortable. It could be especially frustrating and upsetting if the person making such a remark are friends or colleagues that you trust.

Supporting someone with OCD at work

Regardless of diagnosis, the first steps to supporting someone with a mental health problem is creating an environment where people feel comfortable discussing mental health, and encouraging greater understanding among staff.

Employers need to be proactive in managing the mental health of all their staff and promoting positive wellbeing. This means having clear processes in place for supporting staff who are experiencing mental health problems and tackling the causes of work-related stress.

Whether it’s OCD or any other mental health problem, people needn’t be defined by their condition.

There’s no set way to support someone with OCD at work as people’s experiences of mental health problems will differ based on their personal circumstances. Aim to understand how the condition affects them at work and what practical steps can help them to achieve their potential as an employee.

By fostering that open culture, it will make it easier for someone with OCD to open up and be honest about their needs without fearing stigma.

Best practice tips for line managers 

Line managers play a key role, and need to be supported in order to provide the most effective support for their employees’ mental health. At Mind, we provide training for line managers that help to equip them with the skills and confidence required, but fundamentally good people management and open communication are key. The rules of thumb are:

  • Encourage people to talk by creating an environment where someone could be comfortable disclosing a mental health problem.
  • Focus on the person, not the problem – everyone’s experience will be different.
  • Avoid making assumptions about how OCD will affect someone’s ability to do a job.
  • Respect confidentiality, not least because a breach of trust could negatively impact on someone’s mental health.
  • Respond flexibly – mental health problems affect everyone in different ways and at different times in their lives. Adapt your support to suit the individual.
  • Agree on practical steps to support someone’s mental health. You might want to consider developing a Wellness Action Plan.

Maintain communication

Whether it’s OCD or any other mental health problem, people needn’t be defined by their condition and should be treated as a whole person who is an asset to your organisation.

Even if someone has to take time off for their mental health, it’s important to maintain regular contact with them about how they are and what can be done to help them return to work. Discussing this in advance also provides reassurance that their contribution is valued and that their mental health is important.


About Emma Mamo

Emma Mamo

Emma Mamo is Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind. Emma joined Mind in 2007 and, since 2010, has led Mind’s campaigning for mentally healthy workplaces - playing a pivotal role in thought leadership to position mental health in the workplace as a key priority for employers and Government.

Emma has led culture change through engagement with employers, health and safety professionals, HR audiences and Government on mental health in the workplace and back-to-work support for people with mental health problems. She also supports networks of employers and stakeholders to share best practice and develop business-to-business peer support. Emma has worked in the disability sector since 2005 and previously worked for Mencap, the learning disability charity.


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