How to Manage an Employee with Borderline Personality Disorder

Managing employee with BPDEmployers are often at a loss with how to deal with an employee who is diagnosed with the Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) that is prevalent in an estimated 10 million Americans. 

Many employers and co-workers are not prepared to handle someone who displays the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. But a workplace environment can actually provide someone with BPD a degree of much-needed stability in their lives.

BPD Symptoms that Effect the Workplace

An employee with Borderline Personality Disorder may be a good worker when they are not overtaken by their symptoms, but their BPD symptoms may cause them to act inappropriately to various workplace situations.

According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), people with Borderline Personality Disorder often exhibit many of the following BPD symptoms: 

  • Inappropriate, intense, or uncontrollable anger
  • Mood swings with periods of intense depression, irritability, and/or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days
  • Impulsiveness in spending, sex, substance use, shoplifting, reckless driving, or binge eating
  • Recurring suicidal threats or self-injurious behavior
  • Unstable, intense personal relationships with extreme, black-and-white views of people and experiences
  • Marked, persistent uncertainty about self-image, long-term goals, friendships, and values
  • Chronic boredom or feelings of emptiness
  • Frantic efforts to avoid abandonment, either real or imagined

Criticism by a co-worker or supervisor, professional detachment, or moodiness can trigger feelings of abandonment or rejection which can lead to outbursts of rage, self-injury, or other impulsive behaviors.

In some cases, employees with Borderline Personality Disorder may play co-workers against each other or spread gossip without considering the effects they have on their colleagues. Employees with BPD can create divisions in the workplace through their passionate expressions about how other people have been either always helpful or always harmful to them.

Helping an Employee with BPD

As an employer, providing an employee with Borderline Personality Disorder as much consistency as possible is important. You should try to value each employee’s quirks and personalities as potential strengths in the organization rather than discouraging specific behaviors.

On the other hand, you need to be sure to set limits and focus on proper workplace conduct, completion of assigned tasks, and consideration of co-worker feelings. You must also be prepared for angry protests and even tolerant of the possibility that the employee with BPD will be angry at you for unknown reasons.

Problems and complaints should be discussed specifically and with specific suggestions for improvement. Supervisory meetings should not deteriorate into arguments.

If efforts to manage an employee with Borderline Personality Disorder have not gotten you anywhere, there are ways to get help. According to the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD), you can contact the Employee Assistance Program coordinator at your company to assist the employee. You can convince your employee with Borderline Personality Disorder that talking with someone through the Employee Assistance Program might be helpful to get through a stressful period or to deal with an issue so that you aren’t left feeling helpless.

Many people think that if a person tries hard enough, they can control their moods or behaviors in certain areas of their daily lives. But that’s not always the case. People diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder may need professional BPD treatment to learn how to manage the symptoms that interfere with a productive work life. Be encouraging of your employee if they do decide to seek Borderline Personality Disorder treatment, as you may be investing in an employee who shines in the long-run.

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9 Responses to “How to Manage an Employee with Borderline Personality Disorder”

  1. Cyndy Gideon 30. Jun, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

    I supervise an upper management employee who I believe has BPD. She is not supportive of her staff, feels every comment made by me is chastising, and will burst into tears with no reason or warning. Her personality has made her a laughing stock among other managers and, frankly, I am tired of the mood swings, the martyr mentality, and I don’t trust her. Her staff no longer respects her and appears afraid of her. She holds an essential position and I think some above me are actually afraid of her, so they avoid the situation. Any suggestions? Thank you

  2. Grace 24. Jul, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

    Thanks for putting as positive a spin on the topic as possible. I am an employee, do not have any legitimate diagnosis for any axis 2 disorder, but I am neuro-atypical in that I use language very precisely and cannot bear to lie about work related matters.

    As a teacher faced with some hard to swallow political reforms over the years, I have published and asked to hold conversations in which critical thinking is not conflated with insubordination. The price for that publication has been blacklisting, alleging I have BPD. The best way to prove that is of course, to deny it.

    The accommodations and techniques you describe have never been used by any principals or superintendents I have known, but in terms of civility, I would have thought I had gone to heaven if anyone had been even 1% as tolerant as your article recommends.

  3. Betty Virago 25. Jul, 2016 at 2:20 am #

    When I was first told I had BPD (or whatever they call it now) I was told not to search for it on the Internet, obviously I did and I was devastated.
    I came across website after website informing people that BPD sufferers are manipulative, controlling, blah, blah, blah.
    SOME people with BPD have these symptoms, and learning that BPD often comes due to an extremely abusive childhood, perhaps that deserve a little understanding over the slander.
    I have never stalked anyone, yet I’ve sat in training sessions where we have been warned about having clients with BPD who will stalk you.
    I’ve heard of therapist trainers warn of ‘nut jobs’ who talk about stabbing people.
    We are not all this way, there are many who make excellent employees.
    I worked for 8 years for a company, promoted four times, only my managers knew I had a mental illness, no clients or other staff knew or suspected. Sadly a new manager decided to search my diagnosis and the websites she came across led to me being unfairly dismissed because “having a mental illness makes me a danger and threat to staff and clients”. It took seven years to build up my confidence after that, I am now at University training for another career, I get excellent grades, I am on time and haven’t had to take time off (apart from breaking my leg, when I took a week off), I get along with all other 90 students on the course, and am liked by most students and staff.
    Websites that only show one side of BPD (and a harsh negative side) do not fully represent BDP and do more damage than good. Just because an employee doesn’t respond well to comments or doesn’t get along with other staff doesn’t make her BPD. The other commenter should avoid diagnosing fellow employees if she isn’t qualified to diagnose. I would also suggest she stops asking other employees how they feel about the colleague and stop the harassment, especially on public websites. I’d even seek support yourself, because some would think perhaps you are the manipulative person.

  4. jon 19. Jan, 2017 at 6:49 pm #

    I have seen egregious misdiagnosis on BPD. From what I’ve seen thus far, those diagnosed with it don’t have it and those that do suffer from BPD rarely get diagnosed. This is the insidiousness of BPD. I am a BPD magnet. My second wife was textbook BPD to the point where I feared for my life. My first wife shows symptoms but not quite there. My oldest daughter and son show symptoms as well. I now have a coworker that has latched on to me and vacillates between praising me and trying to destroy me. She is definitely BPD. Though I am not “certified” to make such diagnosis, I am much more capable of recognizing these traits than the mental health “professionals” I have come in contact with. In fact, my second wife (the BPD) is a LCSW. Many of her co-workers showed signs as well. If you have done your homework you will know that BPD afflicts mostly women and women that are in the mental health profession or lawyers. If you understand BPD this makes complete sense.
    I am a business professional and I can tell you that if you are struggling with a BPD employee you need to get rid of them NOW! They destroy everything in their path. Businesses are about making a profit. One BPD can derail the workforce and mission of any good company. Getting rid of them is going to be very difficult. They will not typically go without a huge ugly fight. They are capable of taking things to a level most normal people cannot.

  5. Cian 21. Feb, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    Wow Jon, I’m sure your kids thank their lucky stars that they have such a loving and understanding father!
    As a business professional did you contact their respective employers to recommend their immediate sacking?
    By the time most human beings with an ounce of empathy get to the end of your comment, they will know to disregard it as the ramblings of an embittered individual who feels he can regain his self-respect by trolling people with mental-health issues online.

    Perhaps you should have read Betty’s much more informed comment before sharing your own unqualified nonsense.

  6. Annette 22. Jun, 2017 at 4:47 pm #

    My dear friend worked for me for nearly a year, non disclosed BDP, well not till she had signed the contract and moved in. (Accommodation provided) nightmare, rages, dope, threats of suicide, panick attacks, odd illnesses, heart problems, called paramedics countless times- all to get me to react. Frequent random- I am leaving now. Completely chaotic, devastated my other staff, then just left, gone, overnight. The stories that then come out, badmouthing me. Sorry I agree with the guy, they need to be gone, the toll on a small business is nearly catastrophic. She gave all her money away so I am now morally obligated to help- where does she go, no job, no home, no family- thankfully she left. But she didn’t tell me, I have to turn my life upside down to accommodate her behaviour. Good riddance. But so very sad for her. Self sabotaging.

  7. MC 15. Sep, 2017 at 1:06 am #

    I have two very different work experiences with BPD sufferers.

    I worked with a diagnosed borderline sufferer at a now-defunct non-profit for more than a year. She was elected chairperson. The organization did well outwardly, but behind the scenes it was a very toxic work environment.

    I noticed that she had poor tolerance for stress – even the simplest tasks, such as arranging chairs for a meeting, would trigger a meltdown and cause her to act out. She showed up to meetings 1-2 hours late and offered no explanation for her chronic tardiness. She often begged off on tasks, and seemed unwilling to start ona task unless there was someone to accompany her.

    The worst were the public fights she’d have with her partner, who also held a position at the non-profit. The fights often took place in front of org members at the most inappropriate times. Once she got upset with her partner for fidgeting too much in her chair.

    People started resigning one by one. She got a scholarship to a prestigious school abroad, but maintained that she would continue to act as chairperson from far away, and despite the fact that everyone else has already stepped down – the non-profit had virtually ceased to exist by that point.

    I also worked with another diagnosed BPD sufferer in a corporate setting, and he was, by all means, a terrific guy who got the job done. He offered support when needed, and was the life of the party during meetings and lunch breaks. He opened up about his condition on his last day at work, and it seemed like a burden that he’d been carrying for a while.

  8. jules 17. Sep, 2017 at 3:07 am #

    I have just recently being diagnosed with bpd with already suffering from ptsd ..
    I knew something was wrong with me but didn’t know what..
    For me feelings of rejection seem to trigger me causing me a great deal of stress which has led me to a number of suicide attempts .
    I felt the world would be better off without me ..
    Now with an understanding of the condition I can relate to it and be more aware of how I react to things and I Also feel a sense of relief that I now know why things got so bad for me ..
    It is an illness but it can be managed emloyers should be understanding of the condition ..people don’t choose to have this illness .
    Medications and dialect behaviour therapy can help people lead a normal life..
    Without a diagnosis people are likely not to understand their actions ..it needs to be explained correctly as every bpd is different and do not meet every symptom.

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