Philip: Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder in the Workplace

Philip is an intelligent and hard-working engineer with many years experience in his field. He also suffers from undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).

This came up during the marital counseling he was undergoing with his wife. The marriage was in trouble because Philip’s wife Sara was at her wit’s end in trying to communicate with her husband. She was frustrated with him because he was so meticulous that nothing ever got done around the house in terms of maintenance and upkeep and she was attempting to care for their six children and hold down a part time job.

Communication with Philip’s work colleagues revealed a consistent pattern in his relationship with fellow workers. Philip looked like a hard worker and he certainly put in long hours. But his overall output did not equate with the number of hours he put in. Philip was unable to finish tasks he began, and as his job required the ability to work on several tasks at once, this made for problems in the workplace.

Philip would ignore many of the tasks he was required to do because he would start one and engage other workers to create maps, drawing, etc for him. However, when these colleagues needed extra information and would email or phone him, Philip would ignore their requests. This resulted in more requests for information being made, and again ignored. Antagonism quickly rose within the company in which he worked and work colleagues wasted further time venting their frustrations, even to outside contractors.

Philip was also unable to delegate work in a satisfactory manner, was accused by several colleagues as being “paranoid” in terms of the way he would not share information. However, the “paranoia” was a form of Philip’s inability to both delegate and to cope with multitasking which was required in his job.

He would become obsessed with one aspect of his work, and concentrate on that alone, leaving his other duties and colleagues in the lurch. Anger spilled over at work and his place of employment became a toxic environment. Colleagues who had been waiting on information for months with no response because Philip was obsessing over getting minute aspects of one project correct, would suddenly be approached by Philip as if nothing had happened and work demanded that he had issued out months before.

The company began to lose workers and now has a reputation for being unable to keep staff. Philip, because of the position he held and the remote location of the company, was creating an environment where nobody wanted to work. Morale diminished, and when Philip demanded work to be done, he was so focused on the job that his interpersonal skills were minimal. He could be pleasant if he wanted something in a hurry, but the rest of the time he ignored emails, phone calls, and texts from people who had jobs of their own to do.

The work situation deteriorated to the point where Philip’s superior drove for three hours from the company headquarters to the place where Philip worked. This was because Philip had not answered any of his boss’s communications for over a month. And this situation arose because Philip was caught up in a project, working well into the night in an obsessive world of his own. Such was the level of focused concentration and obsession that he ordered a worker to change a color key on a diagram from green to “teal green”. This demand came in an email at 2am in the morning and demonstrates the inability of Philip to discern what was important and what was not in terms of getting the job done. When his boss finally arrived at Philip’s office, he found over 200 unopened emails spanning several weeks from various staff members, all requesting further information from Philip in order to do their job. Philip had just ignored them due to his intense focus on minute aspects of his own work.

Philip’s job entails writing governmental reports which are of great significance to the ongoing running of the company he works for. However, unlike most people in his position who allow other colleagues to read their work as a peer review to de-bug any problems in the submission, Philip can’t allow this as he had a problem with relinquishing control. This too created problems because no-one was overseeing his work before submission. Philip also struggles to finish any projects he is involved with.

At home this was a problem for his wife, but at work he placed enormous pressure on those around him to assist him in the final moments of report submission because he would spend a lot of time getting finicky details sorted while leaving the bulk of the work unattended.

During marriage counseling it became obvious that Philip was a “yes” man. He would agree to do anything, but never actually complete it because of his personality disorder. As with any personality disorder, there is no cure for this condition but it is exacerbated by stress and so the first suggestion to Philip was that he reduce his stress levels. However, Philip could not “let go” of his need to feel in control to successfully do this.

Philip also had problems with “watching the pennies” and was constantly fighting with his wife over the money she spent. But with six children, the money quickly went on legitimate spending which Philip would then want to oversee. He even spent time spreadsheeting the family’s spending, without realizing that his family was growing up without him and his wife was drifting away from him and sliding into depression.

Several work colleagues asked for transfers to escape the toxic environment that surrounded Philip at work. Philip cannot see that he has a problem although it did come out in therapy that he had an unusually unhealthy relationship with his mother. Philip could not get married for six years to his now wife because he believed that, in doing so, he was “abandoning” his mother.

It is also no surprise that Philip is a misogynist. While he “loved” his mother and couldn’t bear to abandon her by marrying – a false belief in itself – part of him hated her because of the position he felt she had put him in. This problem is separate to OCPD, but explains the family dysfunction that Philip grew up with, and the reason why he dislikes, but is actually afraid of women who exert power over him, such as his wife and female work colleagues. It is in these situations that he withholds information and, for him, this equates to withholding “love”. When his sense of power is threatened, Philip clams up.

Philip continues in therapy with his wife, while she also is in private therapy for herself. Sara is aware of Philip’s problem, and that there is no cure since it is part of his personality. She is not as fortunate as those co-workers who can chose to ask for a transfer or can go home after work and try to forget about him.

Sara is stuck with Philip for the present, and is moving forwarding in therapy to decide what her ultimate decision will be in terms of keeping the marriage alive. Sara has to choose whether she can live with a man who is incapable of seeing the damage of his seemingly benign behaviors, or, alternatively, she leaves. She is at least in a position where she knows why her husband behaves the way he does, which for years was a mystery to her. Her fate in now in her hands and she has the power to decide what she wants for herself and her children.

Philip satisfies five of the four requirements needed to determine a diagnosis of this disorder:

  1. He displays perfectionism and obsessions in both work and home projects to the point where the major point of the exercise is lost, and he struggles to complete projects on time, needing others to bail him out on occasions.
  2. Finds it difficult to complete tasks due to perfectionism and overly strict standards (the insistent on a color being called “teal green” above is an example of unnecessary and time-consuming distraction from the main task at hand.
  3. Is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they agree to do the task in the manner required by the sufferer.
  4. Has a miserly approach to spending and questions the spending habits of those under his or her control. Money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes.
  5. Displays extreme stubbornness and rigidity in all activities.

The full list of characteristics for diagnosis for OCPD is listed in Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: Diagnostic Criteria.


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