Carol had been on the job fifteen years the first time she got written up. The regional boss of her company was coming to visit, and he had dictated that all desks must be completely free of paper and other objects. Carol’s offense? She was looking up a number for a client and had a phone book on her desk when her boss walked in.
This may sound like a scene from a bad sitcom. But it’s serious, and it’s less rare than you’d expect. Carol’s problem was that she was being managed by someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder — a problem that therapists deal with every day and can help resolve, but if undiagnosed and untreated can destroy office morale, lead to high turnover rates, and can even kill a promising new startup.
If you’ve been wondering if your manager could be obsessive-compulsive, here are a few clues.
1. Your Boss Repeatedly Checks and Double-Checks Everyone’s Work. This type of micro-manager can rip your self-esteem to shreds. Not only does she insist on signing off on your work once (reasonable), she may ask to see the exact same documentation six or seven times, and each time she finds new things to nitpick about.
2. Your Manager is Very Concerned About His Personal Appearance. A manager with OCD may check, double-check, and triple-check his appearance in the bathroom mirror before going into a meeting. In fact, he may run late for meetings because he spends so much time straightening his tie, brushing imaginary pet hair off his clothes, or combing his hair to hide a bald spot. The manager who is obsessive-compulsive may also frequently ask you or other co-workers if he looks all right.
3. Your Boss Places a High Value on Neatness. Of course, no manager wants to deal with a slob whose desk is buried in papers and whose case files haven’t been seen since sometime in the 1990′s, but there is a big difference between insisting upon a certain level of organization and becoming hysterical at the sight of a single paper on a desk, as Carol’s boss did.
4. Your Manager is a Hoarder. Neatness is at one end of the OCD spectrum. At the other end is hoarding. The hoarder with OCD fears getting rid of anything in case she needs it later, so she keeps it, and it grows and multiplies. Some employees with OCD bosses complain that their manager’s office is so packed with papers, she can’t find the ones she does need. This is not only frustrating and embarrassing for the boss, it is also difficult for the employee whose work depends on the boss providing timely information.
5. Your Obsessive-Compulsive Manager Refuses to Shake Hands. A fear of germs is common among people with OCD. Your manager’s fear may extend to the point where he literally cannot make himself shake hands with an employee, even if his refusal to do so makes him appear rude or even costs him a business deal.
6. Your Boss Explodes When She Cannot Complete Certain Rituals. People with OCD often develop dozens of little rituals to keep them safe. These might be as complex as checking the safe ten times each evening to make sure that it is locked or tapping her fingers on the desk twice before she sits down. If these rules are interrupted, your boss may exhibit extreme anger and frustration.
So, what do you think? Do you see your manager in any of these obsessive-compulsive traits? Do you see yourself in any of these traits? OCD is often passed off as a joke in movies, but in real life, having OCD can make the person with the disorder, as well as those around him, miserable. If you see signs of OCD in your boss or in yourself, it’s a good idea to talk to a counselor, social worker, therapist, or psychiatrist to get some tips on coping with the disorder or with the person who has it.
If you want to talk to someone about your manager’s obsessive-compulsive behaviors, discretion is of the utmost importance. The last thing you want to do is offend or embarrass your boss. Talking to a qualified therapist is the starting-point to solving the problem, but sometimes the stigma of having to go to the therapist’s office or having to take time off work makes this hard. Some professional psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers can offer web video counseling, and can also offer evening and weekend therapy, so you don’t need to worry about taking time away from work to deal with these issues.
You may well feel uncomfortable raising the issue of OCD with your manager directly, but still want to help her. If you feel she needs to see someone, consider drafting an understanding, sympathetic email that begins by praising her qualities and skills, but gently suggests that she needs help, and sending it anonymously.
Equally, you may want to talk to someone yourself, since having a manager with obsessive-compulsive traits can bring you no end of frustration and grief at work. If you’re dealing with this issue, schedule an appointment to talk to a licensed mental health professional who understands OCD and who can teach you some simple, effective ways to deal with your boss.