“I hate going to work, but don’t tell my boss.”
We’ve all been there before, where your body is giving you every sign to pull an illegal U-turn and go home. That tiny force dragging you down and telling you not to step foot into work. You already feel tired, drained, and unhappy before your shift has even started.
I know the feeling all too well.
Many of us do.
Unfortunately, I have experienced this sensation while working almost every job, and I have had 14 jobs and counting over the last six years.
Three were remote and more positive experiences. The rest were either retail or food service and one for a local news station. Each experience was unique: but they all had one thing in common: The employees were overworked and underpaid.
If I wanted to dabble in the details, I could also say that the employees were mistreated and the managers were terrible leaders. I have encountered racist and sexist remarks from managers and customers too.
Not only had it given me a ton of dirt to talk to my therapist about but it’s left me with a load of work trauma and emotional baggage.
What is work trauma?
Work trauma or career trauma is emotionally induced suffering that occurs after being treated poorly in the workplace. There are a few different causes, like harassment, money insecurity, lack of fulfillment, injury, and the list goes on.
There’s a notion that because a relationship or environent is professional, it cannot be abusive. This is false. Your work life is still your life, and the things that happen in it can change you forever.
Any harmful experience– a misuse of power from someone you trust, belittlement or bullying from colleagues or management, humiliation, retaliation, or degradation–can give you a physical and emotional revulsion towards similar environments.
So even if you do change jobs and remove yourself from that situation, the feelings still remain as you grow.
This can leave you feeling detached from your current job, anxious, and unable to concentrate. At times you may find yourself avoiding tasks because you’re not motivated to do them.
These symptoms can be easily ignored because many people:
A: Dismiss the notion of workplace trauma and
B: Feel working should not be inherently enjoyable anyway. It’s work–not fun.
Feeling like you don’t want to go to work some days is normal – some people take mental health days just to catch a break.
But again, it’s all about the scale of impact and the depth of the emotional scarring.
If the very idea of going to work makes you overcome with anixety, hopelessness or dread—then it’s more than just normal levels of discomfort.
I have learned this the hard way.
How work trauma has impacted me.
Getting your first job is always exciting. It marks your first steps toward independence from your authority figures. You no longer have to rely on your parent’s money to buy things you want.
That’s how I felt at the beginning stages of entering the workforce.
Hopeful. Independent. Even eager.
The first couple of months of work were thrilling, especially when the paychecks started rolling in. But as I continued working, the light faded away. My manager hated when I asked questions to get better at my job. My coworkers gossiped nonstop. The environment got increasingly more toxic.
But I needed the money, and the money was never enough. So I’d get another job on top of the job I already hated.
I never had the privilege of getting financial support from my family, and I still don’t have any. For people who have that support, it might be easier to leave a job impacting their mental health, but for others, it’s not that easy. I usually had 2-3 jobs simultaneously.
Then the experiences progressively got more severe.
I started to deal with racist and sexist managers.
I once worked at a popular bookstore, and the manager had a habit of only hiring Black people to work in the cafe or cash register. I was hired as a bookseller but was quickly placed in the cafe instead. I never learned how to do any other tasks within the bookstore, but my white coworkers, who were hired at the same time and had the same position as me, were adequately trained.
That is one example of many.
Sometimes it was microaggressions. Sometimes it was more blatant. Either way, it felt intolerable at times and severely impacted the way I felt about work in general.
I’m still healing from these negative experiences, and I would love to share what has helped me cope with my work trauma and other recommendations.
1. Identify the problem.
The first step to understanding where your trauma stems from is discovering the issue.
Don’t just say, “Well, I hate my job.”
I’ve had to sit down and think about what was bothering me, if it was avoidable, or if I could change it. Or if it was something from a past experience that was currently haunting or derailing me.
This purpose is to know what problems are within your control and how to deal with them.
Make a list of questions to ask yourself to understand your thoughts about work. Here’s a list of questions to reflect on:
- What can you change about your job?
- Does it align with your career goals?
- Is it a safe work environment?
- Could you make an exit plan?
If you decide to chat with someone about your experience, like a friend, therapist, or manager, you’ll have a specific response for why you’re not having a good time at work.
Then you can unpack it from there and decide what is best for you.
2. Seek support.
Reaching out to someone when you’re going through difficult times isn’t always easy. There is always that fear of being judged for how you’re feeling, especially when it comes to negative emotions about work. Ignoring any negative thoughts you may be having can become counterproductive.
Communicate with your boss about any concerns about your work environment. Reach out to coworkers who could be experiencing the same issues.
Search for a therapist who can offer advice while you get through trying times. They can provide guidance for your current situation and help you pinpoint triggers.
Therapy isn’t the most affordable option, but check your job’s healthcare benefits to see if this could be covered by insurance.
These professionals really will give you the tools you need to heal from the past and find a path forward. That has been my experience and it’s been so helpful just to have someone listen, assess and provide me with the steps I need to take to feel better about work and my career path now.
3. Focus on your health and well-being.
After taking advice from your support system, look for ways to focus on your health. It could be as simple as taking a 20-minute walk in the morning. Keeping your body moving is a great way to get serotonin pumping to your brain.
Only a few people have the privilege of taking time off to rest.
On days when you do have time off, spend it reading for 10 mins a day or writing in a journal so you can reflect on the past week. Journaling is an excellent way to track your emotions and clarify your thoughts throughout the day.
4. Assess your goals and figure out a path forward.
Envision what your ideal workplace would be like and what your tasks would be. Write down any red flags from your current job so they are easier to avoid.
Next, reevaluate your career goals and whether this job will help you reach them. Once you know your vision for your future, you can begin searching for employment elsewhere.
You may even want to consider entrepreneurship, starting your own business or doing some creative work on the side that brings you joy.
Finding a new job doesn’t guarantee that the next place will be perfect. Knowing what to avoid and what you’re looking for can help make finding a better work environment easier.
Read more at the links below:
The most important thing you can do is acknowledge your own feelings– their validity, authenticity and power. Our experiences make us who we are, but they don’t have to define us.
There is always hope for a situation that makes you feel valued, purposeful and respected. You deserve a professional environment that cultivates those feelings.
Remember that, prioritize yourself and your health, and together, we will find a path towards the careers that help us shine.