Excessive perfectionism at work-could this be a sign of OCD?

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Dr. Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici is a Diagnostic Radiographer and Medical Doctor

OCD is characteristed by the symptoms of obsessions with or without the presence of compulsions. This disorder may present with widely varying patterns from one sufferer to another. OCD can be diagnosed when the obsessions or the compulsions consume excessive amounts of time in an individual’s life, causes significant distress and interference with one’s daily functioning at home or work, as well as a disruption in social activities and relationships.

The most frequent features that are typically associated with OCD may include signs such as repetitive counting or pursuing tasks in a very specific way, hair-pulling, self harm acts such as cutting, scratching, burning, hand-washing and body-cleaning repeatedly due to fear of contamination, or other continuous health preoccupations.

Obsessions can include: Irrational thoughts of harming others, doubting one’s religious or sexual orientation, thought ruminations against one’s control, hoarding, and being excessively preoccupied with symmetry and precision.

The diagnoses of OCD is based on the fact that something which is rationally correct to do can become irrational and unhealthy just through the number of times it is ritually repeated daily. This repetition eventually becomes exasperating. Any particular person is likely to not show all the above features at one go. Instead, they may exhibit one or two particular features, and then some time later; these feature subdue and other feature become evident.

Some OCD sufferers can have their symptoms accentuated by stressful events which after their resolution will lead to a diminution of the features of OCD. Other psychological disorders, such as depression, phobias and anxiety may also co-exist with OCD. OCD affects around 1 – 2 % of the general population, but with ongoing support and treatment, people can lead successful lives.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotropic medications are the first-line treatments for OCD. 

Other forms of psychotherapy, such as psycho-dynamics and psycho-analysis may help in micro-managing some aspects of this disorder. Some symptoms may still persist; even following adequate treatment courses. Nonetheless, it is important to seek help whenever the need arises to ensure minimal work/life disturbances due to this particular condition.

If as an employer, you are concerned that an employee may be struggling with OCD, you should delve into the following questions:

  • Is your employee consistently late or distressed when they arrive at work?
  • Have they needed to take time off without giving a reason?
  • Have they been more irritable than normal, or do they seem to respond badly in certain situations?
  • Do they seem like they are struggling to concentrate on their work?
  • Are they missing deadlines more often than normal, for no explained reason?
  • Do they ask for reassurance about themselves or their work more than others?
  • Do they avoid certain objects or situations?

Answering ‘yes’ to the questions above does not necessarily mean that someone has OCD, but it could be a sign that they are struggling and might require additional support. Work-friendly measures such as flexible working hours, allowing for time to de-stress through short, regular breaks, incentivating employees to have their own desks with minimal misplacing of items, as well as encouraging time off for any therapeutic interventions, with an opportunity to work from home may all prove beneficial; at least until someone gets back on track.

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