What Management Teams Need to Know About Recognising OCD in the Workplace

Recognising OCD in the Workplace

It is OCD Awareness Week in the UK. Onebright looks at this commonly misunderstood and misrepresented condition and provides key insights to management teams and business leaders who want to support an employee with OCD. 

If you think OCD is about excessively cleaning your hands or the impulse to have your workstation set up a particular way, think again. OCD has been described as a ’24 hour battle with your own brain’ by those with the condition. Many of the representations we see in the media contradict the harmful effects on day-to-day life this mental illness has on the individual, their work colleagues and their families.

They often only portray the compulsive side of the disorder in a light-hearted and joking way but miss the fear and distress that precede the compulsions. When intrusive thoughts, images and impulses cause interference throughout a person’s daily life, this can be debilitating and paralysing when trying to complete tasks in the workplace and at home. 

People with an OCD diagnosis are likely to spend excessive time in an anxious state of mind due to unwanted thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere, leading to distracting behaviours. 

Common compulsions include counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other purposeless things to reduce the persistent anxious thoughts and provide temporary relief. Behaviours can include:

Excessive hand washing, checking, ordering and arranging rituals (e.g., repeatedly checking doors are locked, devices are off). Counting; repeating routine activities (e.g., superstitions about numbers, going in/out of a doorway); hoarding (e.g., collecting useless items) or those who believe that if everything isn’t done perfectly, something terrible will happen.

While most compulsions are observable behaviours, some are performed as unobservable mental rituals (e.g., silent recitation of nonsense words to vanquish a horrific image).

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affects 1 in 100 people in the UK, and OCD Awareness Week is a chance to understand better the condition and how it affects people in the workplace.

What is OCD, and how does it develop? 

OCD is like a record player with a stuck needle. The mind will get stuck on a thought or sensation, resulting in the urge to do something repeatedly. 

Many people are a bit pedantic about completing a task a certain way or might call themselves perfectionists. This doesn’t mean they have OCD. It only develops into a mental illness when an individual believes that carrying out these inordinate activities will protect others or stop them from being harmed. Even when the individual knows a thought is not real, acting “just in case” is another example of how all-consuming OCD can be. 

Experts are still unsure how and why some people develop OCD. Work-related stress, however, can make symptoms worse. 

How do people with OCD deal with intrusive thoughts at work? 

Despite feeling the urge to repeat certain rituals, time and time again, these actions are not gratifying for those living with OCD; far from it. They can be exhausting and often results in avoiding certain places or activities altogether to escape having to carry out the rituals.

People who are receiving the treatment of choice for OCD, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), learn to refocus their attention physically or mentally. Dealing with intrusive thoughts in the workplace may look like taking periodic breaks throughout a workday, frequently walking around the office, listening to music or completing a simple mental exercise. 

What are some OCD signs team leaders can look out for? 
  • Miscommunications between coworkers, employees, and managers.
  • Before going into a meeting, individuals with OCD might need to double-check their notes and files.
  • Avoiding specific tasks, coworkers, situations or rooms
  • Consistently arriving to work late
  • Missing deadlines more often than normal
How can management teams make the workplace OCD-inclusive? 

Employers can significantly improve many people’s lives by creating efficient support systems and paying attention to their staff. Providing a welcoming and supportive environment with trained employees in spotting mental health issues can help more people manage their OCD symptoms and return to living a fulfilling life and working productively.

Managers should consider refreshing their knowledge on: 

  • Mental health training and support programs
  • External sources of support
  • Engaging employees in their mental health
  • Asking for feedback from employees on workload and stress levels
  • Mindfulness and well-being


Unfortunately, many people affected by this mental illness suffer in silence. But when managers have the tools and knowledge to create the right conditions for mental well-being and work towards reducing the mental health stigma in the workplace, both individual and business benefits.

If you want to speak with one of our employee mental health specialists about training or services for your management teams, get in touch using the form below.

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