Stuart Ralph has had OCD for most of his life. Through his podcast The OCD Stories he shares the progress he has made with various therapies and seeks to help people affected by OCD with their own recovery. Here he explores some key considerations to take when it comes to opening up at work about this mental health problem.
I have been asked this question before at a conference: “how do I tell my boss I have OCD?”. And the answer depends on each person as they are an individual with unique needs and individual circumstances. While I cannot give you a definitive answer, as advice should be tailored to the person asking, below I offer some ideas and questions to consider that may help you make a decision.
First, do you even need to tell your boss?
What I mean by this is that some people’s compulsions are just in their head, and they can still do their job without using up too much time. But OCD that involves physical compulsions such as checking or hand washing can use up a lot of time, and may affect overall job performance.
If you have compulsions that are primarily mental (this is called ‘Pure O’) and they are taking up so much headspace that you can’t focus, then you may want to tell your boss.
I remember a few years back when I was having some excessive worries that I eventually told my boss. To her credit she noticed something was up, as I was quieter than normal, and was often just staring at my computer screen. She compassionately asked me what was up. I told her and just asked that if I ever looked a bit preoccupied to just check in occasionally and understand that I wasn’t uninterested in work I was just working through my fears and worries. I didn’t need much more support than that, just the space and acceptance.
Sometimes knowing the outcome of why you are opening up can help encourage the best outcome and support your boss in supporting you.
To be honest, if she hadn’t have asked I’m not sure I would have said anything. The fear of stigma and attention was putting me off. So as you can see I am in no position to give advice, and this article is not advice, merely just some reflections on the above question that may help guide you to make the right decision for you.
Second, if you need to tell your boss, what then?
If you feel you need to tell your boss or having your boss informed will help your situation, my second question is what do you need from your boss/workplace?
Sometimes knowing the outcome of why you are opening up can help encourage the best outcome and support your boss in supporting you. For example, you may just want to inform him/her as to why you are quieter than normal, or spending long periods of time in the bathroom, or why you are repeatedly late to work. This alone can stop your boss from jumping to conclusions and enable them to support you.
Do you need more support than just his/her understanding? Maybe extra one-to-one meetings to discuss issues, help with finding a therapist, advice around company medical insurance from HR, or the option to restructure your work hours to help in your recovery.
Deciding what you need from your employer can help guide them to getting you that support. I can’t promise they will do any of this, but if you don’t ask you don’t get.
You know your workplace provider and how they may have handled past situations with others so you can factor this in.
If you are currently in therapy I recommend discussing with your therapist how to handle this situation. The therapist has the added benefit of knowing you as an individual and would have addressed this question many times before.
If you are in a support group it could be worth asking the question there to see if others have had to deal with the same question. An OCD charity is also a good place to seek advice for this topic such as the IOCDF or OCD UK.
There are always risks to anything. And telling your boss is no different. You know your workplace provider and how they may have handled past situations with others so you can factor this in.
Also if you don’t have a good relationship with your boss then speaking with the HR team could be a much easier way to tackle this.
I hope that has helped guide you further in your decision of whether or not to tell your boss. You are an individual and need to make your decision based on many points of views and pieces of information. I hope this was once piece of information that was useful.