OCD in the Workplace: What It Looks Like, and How to Handle It

February 26, 2024   •  Posted in: 

Suppose you’re one of the millions of people who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In that case, you already know how difficult it can make your everyday life. The unique challenges of living with OCD often extend into the workplace, and many people say their OCD symptoms are even worse at work.

Work can present trigger after trigger for people with OCD. However, there is effective treatment available, and many people with OCD have learned how to manage their symptoms and built successful and fulfilling careers.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at how OCD can manifest in the workplace and discuss how you can excel in your career while managing OCD with confidence.

What does OCD look like in the workplace?

OCD is a severe mental health condition that affects every area of your life. If you live with OCD, you probably face unique challenges at work that are a direct result of this condition.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways OCD can manifest in the workplace.

Obsessions become distracting

One of the core features of OCD is obsessions, or intrusive and unwanted thoughts that cause intense anxiety. OCD obsessions can hijack your concentration, making it feel almost impossible to focus on anything else – including work-related tasks.

The exact obsessions you experience depend on the type of OCD you have. You might have obsessions about your work itself, like worrying about whether you left your office door unlocked or if you said something offensive in an email. Or you could be plagued with obsessions that are entirely unrelated to your work, like fears about accidentally hitting someone with your car or touching something contaminated.

These intrusive mental images and thoughts can disrupt your workflow and productivity.

Compulsions are time-consuming

Compulsions, or repetitive and ritualistic behaviors people do in response to obsessions, are another hallmark of OCD – and unfortunately, they can consume a significant portion of your workday.

Some common OCD compulsions include counting and recounting, checking and rechecking, and organizing items meticulously. Some people with OCD may perform mental compulsions, like repeating certain words in their head to neutralize their fear.

These compulsive behaviors might temporarily alleviate your anxiety, but they also divert your time away from essential work tasks. This can lead to missed deadlines, decreased productivity, and increased stress.


One lesser-known symptom of OCD is compulsive avoidance. People with OCD are often so fearful of obsessions that they feel the need to avoid people, places, or things that trigger obsessions. For example, if you have contamination OCD, you may avoid any work tasks that require you to touch a keyboard another person has previously touched.

This extreme avoidance can lead to decreased productivity at work. It can even cause you to be reprimanded, especially if your manager isn’t aware of how OCD affects you.


OCD and perfectionism often go hand-in-hand, and research has shown people with perfectionistic tendencies are more likely to develop OCD[1]. While striving for excellence in your work is commendable, perfectionism can quickly become an obstacle. A constant need for perfection can lead you to spend too much time on tasks. Delegating responsibilities may also become challenging, leaving you vulnerable to burnout.

It’s important to note although they’re related, perfectionism is not a symptom of OCD. It is, however, a symptom of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) – which is a separate mental health condition with its own set of symptoms.

Mental health stigma

Many people with OCD feel pressure to hide their condition in the workplace due to the fear of judgment or even discrimination. As far as we have come in terms of mental health awareness, the stigma is still real – only 1 in 5 American workers feel entirely comfortable talking openly about their mental health with supervisors and colleagues[2].

Because of this stigma, you might put in a lot of effort to maintain the appearance of being “normal,” even when you’re in the thick of the worst obsessive thoughts and compulsions. However, hiding your struggles can be emotionally taxing and could prevent you from seeking the support or accommodations you need.

Mental health discrimination is, unfortunately, also very real. If you live with OCD, you may be facing discrimination in the workplace, like being passed up for promotions because you have OCD. This is unfair and against the law, but unfortunately, it still happens.

Impact on relationships

Misunderstandings can arise when coworkers are unaware of your OCD. Isolation and social disconnection can make work more difficult if you try to keep your condition hidden.

Even if you’re open about your OCD diagnosis at work, colleagues and managers who aren’t familiar with the condition may not fully grasp the nuances and complexities. They might find your behaviors “weird,” or they might dismiss your OCD symptoms as “quirks.” This lack of understanding can lead to complicated relationships.

Coworkers might even unintentionally worsen your stress by commenting, “Why do you worry so much?” or “Just relax!” Although these comments may be well-intentioned, they’re ultimately unhelpful and can even be hurtful.

How do you handle OCD in the workplace?

Although OCD can present unique challenges in the workplace, this does not mean people with OCD are bound to fail at work. Many people with OCD are very successful in their careers and highly respected in their fields.

Here are some ways to manage OCD symptoms in the workplace and thrive in your job.

Ask for accommodations

This may be one of the most important ways to handle OCD in the workplace. OCD is considered a disability under the American Disabilities Act, meaning you are legally entitled to reasonable accommodations to perform your job more effectively.

Some examples of accommodations you could ask for include:

  1. Flexible deadlines: Work with your supervisor to establish more flexible deadlines, allowing you to manage your symptoms while meeting your work responsibilities.
  2. Supportive supervision: If your manager is aware of your condition, they can provide understanding and support in your daily tasks.
  3. Flexible schedule: Having a flexible schedule can allow you to take time away for OCD treatment without having to use up your PTO.
  4. Service animals: Service dogs can be trained to help people with mental health conditions like OCD. If you have a service dog for OCD, you can request to be able to bring it with you to work.

When you ask for accommodations, make sure you aren’t asking for anything that makes it easier to give in to your compulsions – for example, allowing you to avoid triggering tasks or wearing gloves at all times. These “accommodations” may provide temporary relief from your anxiety but will only lead you to get stuck in the OCD cycle in the long run.

Create a support system

Creating a solid support network can be critical in helping you manage OCD symptoms at work. Your support system could include understanding colleagues, friends, or family members who know and compassionately understand your condition.

These supportive people can allow you to express your feelings and experiences without judgment. This doesn’t replace treatment, but it can significantly alleviate the emotional toll OCD can take.

Your support network can also help hold you accountable for sticking to your treatment plan and coping strategies. They can give you a gentle nudge when you’re veering off course – for example, when you’re giving into your compulsions – and encourage you to talk to your therapist when necessary.

If you feel comfortable sharing your OCD journey with people at work, then it may be helpful to do so. When you work in a place where supportive people surround you, your OCD symptoms are less likely to cause you to feel shame.

Manage your stress levels

Chronically high stress can make OCD symptoms worse. And if you’re like most Americans, your job is probably one of your life’s primary sources of stress. It’s critical to find healthy ways to manage your stress levels so life with OCD doesn’t become more complicated than it needs to be.

Focus on stress management techniques like exercise, mindfulness, or laughter. Find strategies that work for you – the important thing is not to allow the workplace to become a breeding ground for stress in your life.

Get treatment for OCD

The most important thing you can do to minimize the impact OCD has in every area of your life, including the workplace, is to seek treatment. There are highly effective treatment methods proven to reduce OCD symptoms. By working with a licensed and skilled therapist, you can overcome obsessions and compulsions and get your OCD under control.

OCD treatment in Washington state

OCD can feel insurmountable, but we can promise you there is hope for recovery. With the proper treatment, you can manage OCD and build a satisfying and successful career.

The OCD treatment program at The Center ● A Place of HOPE uses a unique and proven Whole Person Care approach. We deeply understand that you are more than your OCD, and you deserve to live a happy life free of obsessions and compulsions. We don’t just focus on your mental health – we help you heal your physical, spiritual, social, and intellectual health.

With the proper treatment, you can beat OCD. Get in touch with us for more information about admissions.

1 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8650182/
2 – https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/news-releases/about-half-of-workers-are-concerned-about-discussi

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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