From a vocational rehabilitation perspective, some people with BPD may experience some of the following impediments to employment:
• Difficulty relating
appropriately with co-workers and supervisors.
• Inappropriate response to work/social situations.
• Difficulty concentrating on work activities
If a person’s borderline
traits are contributing to depression, then the
individual may also experience:
• Absenteeism or tardiness from work
• Need for increased time and attention to learn work skills
• Difficulty staying on task
• Limited stamina to perform work duties
When combined with other co-occurring disorders, such as substance dependence, multiple other impediments can present themselves.
I’ll provide an example of how a person’s borderline tendencies may produce the three impediments listed above. Shelly, who has been diagnosed with BPD, is an accountant at a busy firm. She informs her supervisor, Rodney, that her office is too cold. Instead of changing the thermostat, Rodney says he would like to poll the other employees to see if they are also cold, so that he can ensure the most comfortable temperature for everybody. Shelly interprets the supervisor’s response as being unsupportive rather than egalitarian, and she accuses him verbally of not caring about her work conditions.
These types of encounters repeat themselves frequently, and Rodney begins to feel exhausted and frustrated with addressing the Shelly’s complaints about lack of support. He begins to view Shelly as excessively combative and selfish. Believing that she lacks commitment to the firm and the capacity to be a good team player, Rodney passes Shelly up for a promotion, despite that she was the most experienced member of the team and is very productive with her work. Shelly, in turn, views Rodney’s decision as further evidence that he is a “bad” supervisor and becomes convinced that he wants to terminate her. She finds it difficult to focus on her work because she is emotionally and cognitively distracted with ruminating thoughts of how she has been victimized and mistreated, and she begins to fear for her economic security. She also starts to view herself as being an overall inferior employee, even though her work is satisfactory.
Shelly begins to seek support from her co-workers and engages in lengthy conversations with them during the end of a financial quarter, when the workload is heavy and many employees are working overtime. Her co-workers begin to feel frustrated, discouraged, and distressed by her time-absorbing complaints about her work environment and supervisor. Office gossip increases, providing further dissension among co-workers and negatively impacting employee morale. Meanwhile, Shelly finds it more and more difficult to focus on her work activities and stay organized, leading to a decrease in her production.
Accommodations for Employees with BPD
Several accommodations can be provided by employers for individuals with BPD. Some of these accommodations are designed to support self-care, others to reduce work-related stress, and others to encourage positive interactions with co-workers and supervisors.
Examples of Job Accommodations for Employees With
• Allow flexible work scheduling so that employees can attend counseling or psychiatric appointments.
• Allow use of supported employment or job coaches.
• 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.
• Use natural or full spectrum lighting.
• Encourage use of breaks and vacation hours.
• Rearrange larger job tasks into smaller tasks.
• Make daily “TO-DO” lists and check items off as they are completed
• Use several calendars to mark meetings and deadlines
• Use electronic organizers.
• Provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and encourage use of the EAP.
• Provide sensitivity training to coworkers and supervisors
• Do not mandate that employees attend work related social functions
• Encourage all employees to move non-work related conversations out of work areas
• Provide weekly/monthly meetings with the employee to discuss workplace issues & productions levels
• Use active listening skills when an employee discussed challenges in the workplace.
• Provide assistance and support for problem-solving.
• Allow telephone calls or phone breaks during work hours to therapists and others for needed support.
• Provide written checklists and instructions.
• Develop clear, written office procedures and enforce them fairly and equitably.
• Establish written long-term and short-term goals.
Source: Job Accommodation Network, U.S. Dept. of Labor