Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On the job: OCD in the workplace

My desk at work.

Monday was my third anniversary at my current job, and it prompted me to think about ways my obsessive-compulsive disorder affects me on the job.
We spend a significant portion of our time in the workplace if we work outside the home. And if we have OCD, we bring it to work with us.
Some of us may be able to adjust enough to perform our jobs well despite having OCD. For others of us, the anxiety disorder affects our ability to do our job.
How can we cope? What does the law say about OCD in the workplace?

My story

I recently wrote a post about a hectic day I had trying to gather news on a homicide case.
On that day, my compulsive checking of my phone came to light. But there are other ways OCD affects my work.
In some ways, my obsessions and compulsions make me a good employee. I am very careful with the details, with the facts. I am conscientious about doing a good job.
But the OCD pushes my conscientiousness into the negative.

Here’s an overview of what I do in my job. I’m a staff writer for a weekly newspaper called the Altavista Journal.
I’m the county reporter. That means I cover Campbell County government, the sheriff’s office and the courts.
I also do general assignment reporting as needed. I may go to a chamber of commerce ribbon cutting for a photo; I may interview a local author; I may write about a new business in town.
At larger papers, I would probably have just one of those beats, but at a small weekly, a single reporter does a lot of different things.
In addition to covering and writing the news, I help with layout, editing and proofing on Tuesdays, the day we prepare the paper for the printers.
I also upload the stories to our website and prepare the e-edition.

When I write, I am full of anxiety because of all the checking and rechecking of my notes and attributions.
The result is that it takes me longer than it should to write a story.
I’ve never missed a deadline—and sometimes, a tight deadline actually helps me get the job done. But time is wasted.
Accuracy and honesty are keys to good journalism, and I’ll never stop striving for the best I can do. My problem is knowing where “doing my best” ends and “this is OCD” begins.
If I don’t check my notes one more time, am I risking getting a fact wrong? Am I being careless?
Checking also comes into play when I update the newspaper website. I worry about putting the wrong headline or byline on a story or making some other mistake.
How do I cope? I use the same tools that I use with OCD at home and in other parts of my life. I tell myself that it’s OCD and not a real concern. I write a story and stop myself from rereading it for the umpteenth time. I refuse to check behind myself when I update the website. I practice sitting with the anxiety.
Am I always successful? No. But I keep on trying.


Michael Tompkins, Ph.D., discusses OCD in the workplace in his book OCD: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.
He said when the OCD gets so bad that it interferes with our ability to do our job, it could be time to consider whether or not to tell our employer about our OCD.

“The Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you from discrimination by an employer due to mental illness, such as OCD. In addition, a prospective employer cannot deny you employment simply because you have OCD, if you are otherwise qualified for the position. Although this is the law, many people with OCD have had quite different experiences when they told their employers that they have OCD. For this reason, it is important that you carefully consider the potential costs and benefits of telling or not telling your current or potential employer about your OCD and that you discuss this with your therapist, if you are currently in treatment.” (p. 126)

Tompkins goes on to say that those with disabilities must be able “to perform the essential functions or duties of the job, with reasonable accommodations” (126).
A reasonable accommodation may mean an adjustment in schedule or task: “For example, if getting to work on time is a problem because of your OCD or appointments with your therapist, or if your medication causes drowsiness in the morning, you might ask for a flexible schedule that permits you to come in later in the morning and work later in the day” (p. 129).

I told my boss that I had OCD. When I began having nearly weekly appointments with my therapist, I felt like I needed to explain why I needed to be away from work for them.
Thankfully, he is familiar with OCD and my telling him has worked out well.
I don’t believe I need any other accommodations other than the flexibility to go to my appointments because I am able to perform my job despite the OCD. I’m in treatment, and I believe the OCD will only get better with more work on my part.
I’m grateful for that.

Does OCD affect you in the workplace? Have you told your employer or would you tell your employer about your OCD?


  1. That is wonderful that you told your boss. I bet that took a load off your shoulders about having to be gone once a week for a set amount of time.

    Checking OCD is the biggest thing for me at work. Next would be contamination issues though if someone is sick and at work, contamination issues are worse than checking.

    I have to check and double and triple check everything. I have to touch my space heater several times and stare at it to make sure it is off even in summer!

    I have to check and re-check e-mails, my cataloging, my calender, everything.

    I think with people like you and with scrupulosity, it's no wonder checking is a problem at work.

    I told my supervisor I have OCD but it was more to help her understand me better because we are pretty close friends and in the grand scheme of things she is only my supervisor in name. She is retiring in a month though and I'll have a new supervisor "in name."

    1. Your checking at work sounds very familiar, Elizabeth. It's good you felt comfortable telling your supervisor about your OCD.

  2. Thanks for this post, Tina. I found it very helpful as Dan is going through interviews and (hopefully) entering the workforce soon.....good information!

    1. Thanks, Janet. Good luck to Dan in the job search process!

  3. I have had experience on both sides of the fence. I think if I needed a reasonable accommodation I would tell my boss I had OCD. My OCD is much worse in my home than anywhere else, mainly due to my specific obsessions/compulsions. My biggest two are checking which is "almost" limited to my home and contamination. There weren't too many contamination issues in the office. But I was doing analytical sampling for an engineering firm and I had complicated mathematical formula's to perform that caused me agony - I would re-check them for accuracy and the worst part of it was that I felt I was somehow costing the company more because I would double or triple check them. It bothered me so much that I had a key to the office and I would go out on a weekend and recheck my results and not charge my time to the company. Of course I used to see people there checking their personal emails and doing all sorts of non-work related tasks on the clock but I was worried I was cheating the company.
    On the other side, in the interview process we never asked health related questions and when people would bring up a health issue we would stop them. The last thing we wanted was to have someone say we didn't hire them because they told us they had a disability in the interview process. We gave them a job description, with a list of physical requirements and then a company physical to confirm they could physically handle the job.
    Once hired, we would make a reasonable accommodation but I am not sure I would tell an employer I had OCD before hire. I know for us with OCD it sounds dishonest, but chances are if we felt our OCD was going to greatly limit us from performing the job we wouldn't apply for it in the first place. That is just my opinion though.

    1. Krystal Lynn, I wouldn't tell any employer during the interview process, because, as you say, if I couldn't do the job, I wouldn't apply for it. I wouldn't have told my boss except I felt like I needed to give an explanation for why I needed to be off work, and I didn't think I'd have a negative response.

      I've done things like you in checking and rechecking and then feeling guilty for the time it took. (sigh)

  4. That is so great you have an understanding boss. I think your job sounds very interesting!

  5. Ugh - double checking for accuracy!! That tortured me when I was in school, I feel your pain. I was also totally paranoid about plagiarizing. Wow, you have a lot on your plate at work. I think it's amazing you get all of that done in spite of the OCD.

    I'm not working at the moment (although I do tons of volunteer work at church - and they all know about the OCD), but when I did work, I did not tell my employer. Mostly because at that time I was so embarrassed. I think it depends on the particular boss and the particular job. I would make my decision based on how receptive I think the boss would be and how bad my symptoms were. But I will say this, it is definitely NOT easy working while having OCD and I'm really proud of you Tina, for pushing through.

    1. Sunny, Volunteer is just as much work as a paying job! I, too, based my decision on how receptive I thought he would be and on my need to explain my absences. Thank you for your encouragement!

  6. SO GLAD you have an understanding and helpful boss!

  7. Wow, what courage it took to tell your boss! I always kept my GAD a deep, dark secret. I hated living the lie.

    1. Nadine, I couldn't have told all my bosses in the past. I don't like hiding it, either, but on the other hand, not everyone needs to know.

  8. How good of you to tell your boss Tina. And great it turned out well.
    Here in Holland you are not allowed to keep any health problems secret from a potential employer. It's illegal. You don't have to tell the employer directly, but you get a medical test performed by a doctor when you have applied for a job and it would be illegal to keep quiet about mental problems. That doctor then advises the employer whether it is a good thing to employ you or not, without breaking the medical code (or how you say that).
    Apart from that I have been tested and I was told I'm not fit to have a job as I already struggle considerably with the daily things here at home. So I only struggle at home, but I do see that as my work place too.

    1. Klaaske, I would definitely agree that the home is a work place, too. Being a homemaker is hard work!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.