OCD at Work

One of the most stressful situations for many people who have OCD is dealing with symptoms while at work. Work life can present enormous challenges. First of all, there are the normal stresses associated with most job situations.

Then, you have an almost infinite number of possible OCD triggers. Your work might require you to shake hands, travel, or drive over a bridge, for instance. You might work around animals, or in food service or health care, and have phobias related to those things. You might have to handle cash. Any of these situations — and many, many others — can be launching pads for anxiety when you have OCD.

Common Work Concerns

While it's unlikely that you would be fired merely because you have OCD, you might find yourself concerned about getting into trouble at work because of your OC behaviors. Perhaps you're frequently late because of the time you spend checking and rechecking your doors or appliances before leaving home in the morning. Or you might take such long showers that this is affecting your arrival time.

Or perhaps your worries about having hit a pedestrian on the way to work cause you to go back, again and again, to check and make sure you haven't. You may have a hard time leaving the office, worried, perhaps, that you left your computer, or the office coffeemaker, on.


Social anxiety is among the most common psychological disorders, and is said to affect as many as 5 million Americans. Social phobias can be “generalized” or specific, as in a fear of eating or writing in front of others, or of public speaking, a fear shared by many.

You may have perfection obsessions and worries about doing your job correctly, going over your work again and again, or asking for an unreasonable amount of reassurance from bosses, coworkers, or customers.

You may fear airplane trips but have to travel frequently for your job. You might have germ phobias, but be expected to shake hands with clients and others. Or perhaps you have social phobias that prevent you from giving presentations, interacting with others, or attending company functions. You may have obsessional slowness, and have a hard time getting started with your work, until you feel conditions are “right.”

Laboring Under a Handicap

Depending on various factors, your OCD might be severe enough to qualify legally as a handicap. Cases in which disability compensation is sought usually require the applicant to furnish some kind of proof. However, we hope that your OCD hasn't reached a point at which it would be considered a disability.

Later, you'll read more about job situations and OCD, particularly about “reasonable accommodation.” If you are otherwise qualified to do your job, your boss may be expected to offer you some kind of alternative if she knows that you have OCD. If you're a salesperson who can't travel by plane, for example, perhaps your territory can be traded with that of another employee. However, most of the time, at least, most people who have OCD do not want to be considered handicapped. Assuming that's the case for you, you have a few choices:


Some people do become disabled by OCD and spend virtually all of their time at home. If this is the case for you, please consder treatment. With proper care, even very severe OCD can often be managed.

  • Get help for your OC symptoms as soon as you can — not only to help you succeed at work, but also to help you enjoy your life more overall. You should be able to schedule your CBT sessions around job.

  • Work on CBT techniques, with a therapist or on your own. This should help you to begin to do again many of the things you now consider too frightening. Don't neglect to ask for support from friends or family members, and remind them to praise your progress.

  • Let your boss know that there are certain things that give you difficulty. (You'll probably want to limit these to just one or two, if at all possible.) You need not mention OCD specifically, unless you want to. Together, depending on your situation, you and your boss may be able to come up with alternatives — traveling to meetings by train, for instance, instead of by plane.

  • Simply tell your boss that you have OCD (or an anxiety disorder) and ask for his help in finding alternatives for you. Once you've disclosed your situation, your boss (depending on the size of the company and a few other factors) will probably be obligated to offer reasonable accommodation, in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Perhaps you can stay later on days when you come in late. You, too, can make reasonable accommodation.

  • Many companies offer employee assistance programs, or EAPs. Do not be afraid to check out yours. These programs are confidential and are designed to help you function better at work by helping you with problems in any area of your life. You may be given a referral to a psychiatrist or cognitive behavioral therapist.

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