Going to work can be good for our pocketbook and also bad for our mental health. We need a job for things such food and shelter, and most of us know that we’re not going to go to work every single day thinking, “I have the best job in the world!” We can enjoy some aspects of our job and dislike others. Having an occasional venting session with colleagues in the breakroom is normal. A 2017 Gallup poll of American workers found that 51 percent of full-time employees don’t feel engaged at work. People without a connection to their job are less likely to put in extra effort. That’s concerning, but not as concerning as the 16 percent of employees who report being “actively disengaged.” They’re unhappy and don’t hide it. So which stressors are normal and which are out of the ordinary?
Good Types of Stress
Most of us have been there: You’re about to make a presentation or give a speech, and you tell a friend or co-worker that you’re feeling nervous. Next, you hear, “That’s good! That means that you care.” This has some truth to it. Short-term stress, also known as acute stress, tends to make you more alert. When you’re more alert, you’re likelier to perform better. In the proper dosage, stress is like coffee that you don’t have to brew or pour into a cup. When your boss drops off a stack of papers at your desk and tells you to write a report by the end of the week, you may feel nervous and jittery, but you’re also probably going to feel motivated. That’s a positive development.
Not all deadlines are created equal. A news reporter who is asked to attend a city council meeting and write up a 400-word summary by deadline can do that without too much pressure. But when an editor approaches the staff crime reporter at 4 p.m. and says, “Hey, we’re going to need a front page story for tomorrow’s paper,” the reporter will respond with incredulity. Being faced with an entirely new and ridiculous challenge every time you walk into the office is hard to bear.
Bad Stress Accumulates Over Time
Humans are resilient. We can handle adversity, but we can’t handle it all day, every day. Our bodies weren’t designed for that. Every workplace has an annoying co-worker or two, but you can dislike someone without forming an adversarial relationship. That’s not true with people who never stop getting on your case. A boss who yells at you once is concerning, yet it could also be an isolated incident. But no worker should have to deal with a boss or co-worker who yells at you daily, bullies you, or otherwise harasses you. If you’re having regular breakdowns at work, you might be able to file an injury at work claim. Most people associate workplace injuries with things such as falling off a ladder or tripping over something hazardous, but it’s also possible to suffer a psychological injury.
If you feel singled out by a person (or worse yet, a whole office), you may feel like you have no choice but to sit at your desk and take the abuse. That’s not the case. Nothing is stopping you from going out and looking for a different job. Quitting immediately is tempting, but it’s not a realistic option for many people. If you have vacation time, use it to take a week off and go surf Hawaii or tour Africa or wander the streets of Paris. Get away from the toxic environment for as long as possible. If nothing else, it will remind you that what you’re experiencing at work is not common or normal, and you deserve better.