OCD can impact many aspects of your life, including work. With the right support, many people can manage their symptoms and adapt well to the workplace.
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), your obsessions and compulsions can take up lots of your time and energy. This can affect your productivity levels as well as your work relationships.
Although OCD can affect you at work it’s possible to have a successful and fulfilling career.
It can be hard to focus when you’re experiencing obsessions, which are upsetting intrusive thoughts that are hard to get rid of.
Carrying out compulsions can also affect your productivity. Compulsions can be time-consuming and difficult to carry out in the workplace. If your compulsion is pacing or repeating a mantra out loud, for example, this can distract your coworkers and prevent you from carrying out tasks.
OCD can also affect your work relationships. For example, you might have obsessive thoughts about other people. This could affect your working relationships with your employers, managers, or coworkers.
Can OCD stop you from working?
The severity of OCD symptoms differs from person to person. While one person might manage their symptoms well, it can be more overwhelming for others. Some people with OCD might find employment extremely difficult.
There are a number of treatments that can make it easier to manage work while you have OCD.
Not necessarily. The symptoms of OCD can vary significantly from person to person. What activates symptoms in one person with OCD might not in another.
However, highly stressful jobs can harm your mental health whether you have OCD or not.
This can include inherently stressful jobs — like working in an emergency room — as well as jobs in poorly managed, abusive, or disorganized workplaces. People with OCD might thrive in stressful environments, but it depends on their ability to manage their symptoms healthily.
If you have OCD and you’re not sure which job will suit you, consider the following:
- What are your skills and interests?
- What situations activate your symptoms, and can you work with a therapist to navigate them?
- Would you prefer remote work, in-person work, or a hybrid working model?
- What sort of environment would you thrive in?
Remember, though, that the things that activate your OCD symptoms can change over time. They can become more manageable if your OCD is treated effectively.
1. Consider asking for accommodations
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination. According to the ADA, workplaces may not discriminate against people with disabilities and should provide reasonable accommodations to employees who have disabilities.
However, not all workplaces fall under the ADA’s mandate: private and religious employers with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from making these accommodations.
Similarly, if the accommodations you request are unfeasible for your employer — say, if it costs too much or is impossible on a practical level — they don’t have to make those accommodations.
Consider asking your employer for accommodations. Examples of accommodations can include:
- allowing you to bring in your service dog
- flexible schedules and flexible hours
- providing software and apps that help you manage work better
- allowing you to move your desk or workspace to a quieter area
- longer deadlines
If you’re not sure which accommodations might help and how to ask for them, you can contact the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for assistance.
2. Learn healthy ways to relieve stress
Stress can aggravate your OCD symptoms. Healthy stress-relieving methods can go a long way in reducing your symptoms.
Try to engage in stress-relief methods at work, such as deep breathing exercises and taking breaks, to deal with stress in the short term.
3. Communicate with your boss and co-workers
It can help to cultivate healthy relationships with your boss and co-workers. Healthy relationships make the workplace more pleasant, and it means you’ll feel better about communicating your needs and boundaries.
Asking for help is often necessary in a professional setting. When you’re finding it hard to execute a task because of your OCD, consider communicating about what you need. Perhaps you need a longer deadline, more support from teammates, or additional resources.
Setting boundaries at work can help you avoid burning out. This can include reiterating that you won’t work after hours or on your off days. It can also include establishing the tasks you will or won’t do and how much work you’ll take on.
4. Consider therapy
Therapy can help you manage your OCD symptoms better. This can benefit your work life as well as your home life.
Effective types of therapy for OCD include:
- exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- Eye-Movement Desensitization and Response (EMDR) therapy
You don’t have to disclose your OCD to your employer, but if your symptoms have a noticeable impact on your work, it might be wise to do so.
Disclosing can help you obtain accommodations so that you can perform better at work.
You can contact JAN before you disclose your OCD. They can provide you with specific advice on how to talk with your employer. Their services are free. JAN can also provide you and your employer with advice on providing accommodations.
Before telling your employer that you have OCD, consider:
- researching your rights
- reading your employer’s policies on disability accommodations
- getting documentation of your OCD in the form of a written diagnosis
- thinking about which accommodations you need
Remember, though, that there’s a possibility that you may be discriminated against by your employer or co-workers, though this discrimination is illegal. It can help to work with your therapist on how you might manage this if it happens.
Yes, OCD is a protected disability. You cannot be fired just because you have OCD.
Although the ADA doesn’t specifically identify medical conditions, it does include any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This includes OCD, a recognized mental illness.
People with OCD can face certain challenges in the workplace — but it’s possible to work on overcoming those challenges. Many people with OCD thrive at work and go on to have happy, successful careers.
The key is to learn to manage your OCD in a healthy way. A good first step is to find a therapist that treats OCD.
These resources may help:
- Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights
- Mental Health Conditions: Resources for Job Seekers, Employees, and Employers
- Questions and Answers on the Final Rule Implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008
- Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource