Borderline Personality Disorder in the Workplace

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Previously, we discussed borderline personality disorder (BPD) and the symptoms and behaviours frequently associated with it. However, we left that part of the discussion to general terms and didn't get into how borderline personality disorder might manifest itself in the workplace.
As people with BPD often experience turbulence in their personal relationships and are prone to impulsive behaviour, there can be significant ramifications for them while they are at work. The characteristics of the disorder, such as emotional outbursts, inappropriate anger, dramatic mood swings and anxiety, can all reveal themselves frequently in the workplace. As many workplaces tend to be stressful, or at least stress inducing, there can be a tendency to overlook the symptoms of borderline personality disorder and associate them to stress. Instead of addressing the disorder, co-workers may choose to tread lightly around a person with BPD, feeling they may provoke them or set them off. Their outbursts may be frustrating to understand as people with BPD tend to be very productive, intelligent and creative when their episodes aren't rocking the workplace.

For employers, building healthy workplaces requires a better understanding of borderline personality disorder (and mental health conditions in general) alongside a knowledge of what accommodations can be used to help an employee with BPD succeed. For a person living with BPD, knowing ways to talk about your condition and how best to accommodate yourself can go a long way in demonstrating to your employer you know what it takes to make yourself successful in the workplace. Remember that every person in a workplace has weaknesses and issues, learning how to accommodate each person is something we do all the time to ensure we are all performing at our best every day.

Here are a few quick tips to creating a work environment where a person with BPD can succeed:

1. Set consistent expectations.
Clear and concise expectations will allow a person with BPD to know exactly what is required of them and not be blind sided by unstated goals or objectives. Providing consistent support alongside these clear expectations will also help to minimize feelings of real or imagined abandonment.

2. Coach, don't regulate.
Many workplaces use policies to moderate how employees interact with each other. For example, at Champions we use a model which emphasizes warm and firm communication to build respect among employees. However, for a person with BPD, complying or understanding these policies can be extremely difficult. Dealing with an outburst of anger from a person with BPD should be looked at as an opportunity to coach and mentor, and not simply a time to reprimand. Discuss problems specifically with clear ideas for improvement, this will prevent these discussions from deteriorating into arguments.

3. Focus on behaviour, not identity.
When discussing goal achievement, focus on what has been completed and not on the identity of the person who is doing the work. For example, discussing sales targets and objectives rather than simply saying "you aren't a good salesperson". The same holds true for feelings and emotions. Don't tell a person with BPD not to be angry, instead focus on asking them to change their behaviour which is manifesting itself from their anger - like yelling.

4. Know your limits and change perceptions in the workplace.
Borderline personality disorder can be a debilitating condition for a person. Understand that people with BPD aren't being manipulative or unwilling to change. That being said, it is okay to set appropriate limits of what will be tolerated in the workplace. Similar to setting consistent expectations, limits will help a person with BPD know what is required of them. Finally, education in the workplace about BPD will benefit everyone - managers, co-workers, and people who may have borderline personality disorder but haven't been diagnosed. Learning about BPD will help everyone in the workplace understand why a person may be acting a certain way and be better prepared to respond in appropriate ways to particular attitudes or emotions.


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