OCD has been described by those affected as a “24 hour battle with your own brain”’. It can be a debilitating and paralysing condition that makes simple day-to-day tasks difficult to complete.

The impact on someone’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities varies – some people may find it difficult to travel on public transport, whereas others may not even be able to leave the house due to their condition. It is usually regarded as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

It is not difficult to imagine that a person’s ability to function well in a workplace can be affected by OCD. Most affected employees will be able to continue in full or part-time work whilst living with their condition, and may actually find work aids their recovery rather than hinders it.

However, as with any mental or physical health condition, small adjustments may need to be made in the workplace to ensure an employee with OCD can carry out their role to the best of their ability.

Making reasonable adjustments for people with OCD

If someone does choose to disclose their OCD, it is the duty of the employer to make reasonable adjustments for that person.

The adjustments should ideally be decided on with the person with OCD so they feel comfortable with the process. These may include time off for therapy, or flexible working hours. Advice from an Occupational Health professional can be invaluable.

  • Getting to work on time is a common problem for people affected by OCD. Rather than the reason for lateness being from oversleeping or disorganisation, it’s more commonly due to someone having to complete time-consuming rituals when leaving the house, or feeling the need to keep returning to their home for fear that they have left appliances on or unlocked. Flexible working hours may help.
  • Travelling on buses and trains can be an anxiety-provoking situation for many, but for someone with OCD this may bring intrusive thoughts about harm (for example, fearing that they may push someone in front of the train); contamination fears about sitting on public seats, holding handrails or touching others they may feel are contaminated. Flexible working hours or time to de-stress when first entering the workplace may assist.
  • Being around other people may trigger intrusive thoughts. Employers may wish to consider allowing the employee to phone on to the meeting, or be able to leave meetings or group situations without having to ask.
  • Rumination is a common symptom of OCD and can often leave people obsessing over a past thought, memory or scenario that they are worried about. This could cause people to lose concentration on work or miss deadlines. Allowing someone to take short, regular breaks may help
  • For some people with OCD, in particular those with obsessions revolving around order or contamination fears, a shared workspace may trigger anxiety and panic. Consider allowing an employee to have their own desk and an agreement with other staff not to use that desk in their absence.
  • As with all mental health difficulties, or just general stresses of life, sometimes people may wake up and actually just feel like they cannot face the day. This may be particularly apparent for someone affected by OCD. Consider being flexible with time off for therapy or doctor’s appointments, allow the opportunity to work from home or have shorter working hours.

OCD affects roughly 1-2% of the population, but with the right support and appropriate treatment, people can recover and live happy and successful lives.

Having a supportive and comfortable working environment can aid this recovery, so employers can make a difference to many people’s lives by putting good support systems in place and being attentive to their employees.

You can find out more about OCD and the support available from OCD Action’s website.

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