If OCD should become seriously debilitating, there may be no choice but for HR professionals and or the employee’s manager to try to address it.
What is it?
Those unfamiliar with the condition, which affects around 12 in every 1000 people in the UK,* may think that it is largely to do with being excessively clean and tidy and, while this may be a feature of some people’s behaviour, this is an oversimplification. OCD is a mental health condition where, in most cases, the person experiences consistent anxiety due to experiencing negative thoughts – usually fixated around a particular issue – compounded by feeling compelled to act on them. They may, for example, be concerned about picking up an infectious disease. This will cause anxiety and they will regularly wash their hands to try to reduce it despite them being clean. Or they may repeatedly check the doors and windows in their home are locked before going out if their negative thinking is associated with being burgled. People with the condition often have perfectionistic tendencies which can lead them to be quite hard on themselves.
How can employers help?
Many individuals living with OCD choose to keep quiet about their condition at work. However, if they should decide to tell their HR department or manager about it, it’s important to treat the information sensitively and in confidence. It is also important to secure the employee’s consent before discussing it with others and, then, on a need-to-know basis only. This could include workmates of the affected individual who may be aware of seemingly unusual behaviour such as excessive desk tidying or hand washing on the part of their colleague. If workmates are to be informed, it is a good idea to provide them with suitable information to enable them to better understand the condition and know how to respond to people affected by it. Employers should also take care not to discriminate against employees affected by OCD as the condition is classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably for a reason relating to their disability without a justifiable reason.**
When an employee with OCD informs their employer about their condition, in order to support them effectively, it is important to gain a good understanding of the extent of the individual’s condition and how it affects them at work. Work with them in a positive, constructive and empowering way to identify the kind of support they might need to continue to perform their role. They may, for example, need flexible working hours or longer breaks during the day or additional time to get tasks done. It is also prudent to check whether they are receiving support from a healthcare professional such as their GP or counsellor. Employers that offer access to healthcare cover, an employee assistance programme or occupational health services may also wish to draw the employee’s attention to the availability of these services, which may be able to help. Charities such as Mind and the OCD Society can also provide individuals with support*** and, for employers, the CIPD and Mind have collaborated to produce a helpful guide on managing and supporting employee mental health at work.****
As time goes by it is important to maintain regular dialogue with employees affected by the condition. You want to know how they are doing as well as to remind them that, if they should need support, you are there to help. With a positive, supportive working environment, individuals living with OCD really can excel. Indeed, having a well defined, clearly understood role they can perform well – and know they are valued for doing so – can be a big boost to their self esteem and morale and, in turn, help your business to benefit from their contribution. As an employer, taking a positive approach to supporting employees with OCD not only gives you an opportunity to show your commitment to your employees’ welfare and psychological wellbeing, it can also set you apart from your rivals in the competition for talent.
*Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) (2015). NHS Choices:
**Sally McManus, Howard Meltzer, Traolach Brugha, Paul Bebbington and Rachel Jenkins (editors) (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. NHS Information Centre for Health:
**Mental health. Acas:
***Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Mind:
How OCD-UK help you! OCD-UK:
****Managing and supporting mental health at work: disclosure tools for managers (2011). CIPD – Mind: