BPD in the workplace

Employers are often at a loss with how to deal with an employee who is diagnosed with BPD. Many employers and co-workers are not prepared to handle someone who displays BPD traits. But a workplace environment can actually provide someone with BPD a degree of much-needed stability and goal-orientation in their lives. Maintaining an understanding of BPD and it’s underlying psychological experiences can help managers, supervisors and co-workers to better handle a difficult employee.

Effects of BPD symptoms

An employee or coworker with BPD may be a good worker when not overwhelmed by their symptoms. However, the effects of BPD symptoms can vary with different workplace situations, affecting job performance and the ability to “fit in” with the work environment. Criticism by a co-worker or manager, professional detachment, or moodiness can trigger feelings of abandonment or rejection which can lead to inappropriate anger, intense emotions, self-harm, or other impulsive behaviours.

Due to the emotional reactivity of BPD, individuals with the disorder can create divisions in the workplace through their tendency to see people as all-good or all-bad as a coping strategy to avoid being abandoned or rejected. This concept is called “splitting” and individuals with BPD may play co-workers against each other, spread gossip or unload their stress and drama onto coworkers without realising of the effects of their actions in the workplace resulting in unstable personal relationships and dividing the workplace.

LIZZY – Her sister’s epic fight for recovery

To see more interview footage on BPD and employment go to Borderliner Notes.

Another tendency of BPD traits, is a history of changing jobs due to unstable sense of identity and goals. The hypersensitivity to their surroundings may cause individuals with BPD to feel that others are humiliating them so working on a team project may induce competitive behaviour rather than cooperation because of the desire for recognition.

Helping an employee with BPD

As an employer, providing an employee with BPD as much consistency as possible is important to providing a stable environment. Try to value each employee’s quirks and personalities as potential strengths in the organisation rather than singling out specific behaviours and focus on expectations from all employees. Although there can sometimes be overt evidence of impulsive or disruptive behaviours, the issues usually manifest in more subtle ways.

Demonstrate validation of emotions and stay civil… Do not cross boundaries and try to document everything.

It can be a challenge interacting with individuals with BPD so it is essential to set limits clearly and stress proper workplace conduct, remind about completing assigned tasks and take consideration of coworker’s feelings. An explanation of the appropriate time and place for different interactions such as meetings, problems and complaints may be necessary. Also be prepared for protests and the possibility that the employee will be mad with you for unknown reasons. Keep in mind to prevent meetings deteriorating into arguments. Demonstrate validation of emotions and stay civil. You don’t necessarily want to validate an employee’s perspective, instead validate the feelings attached to this perspective – “I hear you” or “I understand the way you feel.” Do not cross boundaries and try to document everything.

If efforts to manage an employee or coworker with BPD are ineffective, contact the Employee Assistance Program coordinator at your company to assist the individual. You can encourage the person with BPD that talking with someone through the Employee Assistance Program might be helpful in getting through a stressful period or dealing with an issue.

People with BPD live with difficult emotional experiences every day and may need professional BPD treatment to learn adaptive strategies in managing the symptoms that disrupt their productive work life. Be encouraging of the employee if they do seek proper treatment as you may be investing in an employee with great potential and establishing an open and healthy work environment.

Beyondblue – Discussing mental health in the workplace

Accommodations for employees with BPD

Increasing your workplace’s confidence with mental health means a supportive, positive and inclusive environment that benefits everyone. Several accommodations can be provided by employers for individuals with BPD. Some of these accommodations are designed to support self-care, reduce work-related stress or to encourage positive interactions with coworkers and managers:

  • Develop clear, written work procedures and enforce them fairly and equitably to all.
  • Encourage attending counselling or psychotherapeutic appointments and allow flexible work scheduling to fit the appointments.
  • Allow telephone calls or phone breaks during work hours to therapists and others for needed support.
  • Consider a program that allows employees to work from home on some days.
  • Allow employees to play soft, quiet relaxing music at their work spaces.
  • Provide space enclosures or a private office.
  • Offer appropriate praise and reinforcement for positive work interactions.
  • Plan for blocks of uninterrupted work time.
  • Provide an Employee Assistance Program and encourage use of it.
  • Encourage use of breaks and holiday hours.
  • Rearrange larger job tasks into smaller tasks.
  • Make daily “TO-DO” lists and check items off as they are completed.
  • Provide written checklists and instructions.
  • Use several calendars to mark meetings and deadlines.
  • Establish written long-term and short-term goals.
  • Provide sensitivity training to coworkers and supervisors.
  • Encourage all employees to move non-work related conversations out of work areas.
  • Provide confidential weekly/monthly meetings with the employee to discuss workplace issues and performance.
  • Use active listening skills when an employee discussed challenges in the workplace. Remember to validate employee’s emotions.

Resources for supporting mental wellbeing in the workplace

Join Heads Up for free tools and resources in taking care of yourself, coworkers, managers and the organisation.  Heads Up is a training and education program of beyondblue aimed to build awareness, understanding and strategies addressing mental health conditions in the workplace.

Download Mad Workplaces: A commonsense guide for workplaces about working alongside people with “mental illness”. Go to Our Consumer Place for more publications, articles and newsletters.

Access Work Talk, a self-paced online manual, to learn effective workplace communication and strategies with employees with psychiatric disability.

To make changes to your workplace for an employee with a disability, your costs may be covered by the Employment Assistance Fund.

Become a Mindful Employer to create a positive and supportive workplace, and help avoid the costs of no responding appropriately to mental health problems.

See the 2010 Workers with Mental Illness: a Practical Guide for Managers for information on how to appropriately support workers with mental illness and how to develop and promote a safe and health work environment for all workers.

Be recognised as a Mental Health First Aid Skilled Workplace by enrolling your organisation to a course near your workplace.

Enrol in SAFE at Work? workshop. This program is committed to the promotion of improved mental health practices and emotional wellbeing in the workplace and offers training workshops for employees, supervisors, managers and employers. Check out the training calendar for the next workshop near you.

Learn from Business in Mind a workplace mental health promotion program designed for small to medium enterprise owner/managers. The Business in Mind DVD and resource kit are free.


BPD at Work: Symptoms That Can Block “Fitting In”

BPD impacting employment

Dealing with BPD in an Employee or Coworker

How to Manage an Employee with Borderline Personality Disorder

Personality Disorders in the Workplace: The Impulsive, Divisive Employee

“SPLITTING” AT WORK: How High-Conflict People Divide Organizations

Understanding mental health in your workplace

Validation as a Key to Workplace Success for Employees with Borderline Personality Disorder

What are your rights and obligations around mental health in the workplace?

Winning in the Workplace With Borderline Personality Disorder