When I worked in a particularly bad office environment, I remember going to therapy and talking to my therapist about how bad it was to work there. I expected to be told that I needed to re-evaluate my existence or try and think around the situation, but my therapist mostly told me that the job sucked and that I was depressed because it was bad. I had no real way to leave, and thus therapy became a form of venting. I’d talk about how bad it was, I’d get suggestions about ways to minimize the bad, but there was no real way of dealing with the problems other than removing myself from them.
There has been no more degrading experience for me as an employee than sitting through a 90 minute call while my company's management explained to us all how important employee mental wellness was to them, only to be told less than an hour later that I was being laid off. The department wanted to merge my territory with another employee's, see, and they were really grateful for all my hard work, but there was just nowhere for me anymore! Would I perhaps be interested in a retail position?
So one thing they could have done to show they cared about my wellbeing would have been to not take away my only source of income. But I'm not in management, so what do I know?
"There is no valor in suffering for a salary." that line hit me deep. In my current job, which is a cakewalk by comparison to previous gigs, I find myself nervous about taking it easy when the load is light because I've been conditioned by past employers and my folks to always have my nose to the grindstone. It wasn't until recently that I realized that this is trauma that I'm carrying.
For a while I have been thinking about the following project. League tables for universities help students and parents to choose the best university. Similarly, there should be a league table of companies helping employees to choose an ethical employer. It could be called the "Don't Be Evil" ranking. I am wondering what you would think about such a project, Ed.
I recently looked at a textbook called "Business Ethics". On the first page of the introduction it says "The central question to be answered in this textbook is the extent to which moral values play a role as productive forces for the economy." I think that says it all ...
Great commentary on our current workplace culture. I left my last employer deeply traumatized due to bad, toxic and narcissistic leadership and am currently still suffering from it (5 months later). I think you hit the nail on the head with your article (as you do usually tbh). Just registered to let you know I am a huge fan of yours (so sad that the podcast died ;)) and your well versed rants always help me to stop questioning my sanity and give me a nice morale boost. Keep up the good work - wish I could work for you instead of all the grumpy, narcissistic old dry plums that seem to rule the PR industry nowadays. Greetings from Germany! 😘￼
Most of my management practice is asking people what they like to do at work and trying to arrange matters so they spend the maximum possible time doing those things. Also, I recognize and thank people for their contribution a lot, publicly and privately. It's been working pretty well for the 25 years of managing people as part of what I had to do at work.
Oh dear. This is the essay that has been bouncing around my head for the last 3 (5? 10?) years of workplace experiences. I’m both extremely grateful to you for writing it and also kinda mad that you articulated it so well that now I don’t get to do it myself - I can just send this to the people who need to hear it.
You once again described my own experience in a toxic workplace in such a way that I'm feeling more validation than anger and shame. There are so many of us recovering from workplace abuse. I left my last job because of ALL of what you mentioned here, and though I love my new job, I've had to continue to work through PTSD with my therapist. I developed IBS and generalized panic due to being in that situation for so long. My first instinct was to try to prove myself to the new management who abused me. Once it became clear that no amount of work or praise for the division would end the abuse, I started to feel like not waking up would be preferable to going to work. That is when I started to wake up and I took the first job offer I got to get out. I am thankful every day, but the work on healing my body and mind continues.
One thing my therapist said that I think also applies here: You cannot start to heal from a toxic relationship (work-related or otherwise) until you're out of it. Once you are safe and no longer just trying to survive, your body and mind can finally process and heal. That is why therapy while in the toxic situation won't do much. You're still treading water in a situation where your body knows you're in danger. You cannot stop to process a threat that continues to press you into a corner.
When I think about how most corporate management approaches employee mental health and well-being I have a similar reaction that I have to any of those big sexual harassment scandals where some dude gets caught whipping it out on camera during a work meeting: this really isn’t that hard (no pun intended, heh).
Pay your employees well and treat them well. Maybe don’t jerk off during your work zoom calls. It’s not confusing.
The fact that so many people seemingly can’t grasp this stuff is a searing indictment of our culture.
This reminds me of the point Anne Helen Petersen made when writing about public schools and teacher "burnout"-- that so often, the epidemic of demoralization among teachers, caused by systematic and specific issues, are misleadingly labeled "burnout"-- the mental health problem of the individual, solvable with a little candle or day off. But it's not! Which is why so many teachers, and people facing similar situations in their industries, are quitting.
I nodded in agreement to everything in your post. It was however, difficult to read. Past traumatic experience with a company a long time ago changed my outlook on work, probably forever. Now there seem to be more movements percolating to address systemic workplace problems, but I don't see any simple solutions. They must include overhauling transportation and viable solutions for working and living conditions, climate change, the way people are paid, childcare and eldercare, healthcare, retirement, and more.
I will forever respect the primary care physician who told me, "Sounds like your first order of business is to get out of that job."
(And I'll always remember the allergist who said, "I can tell you like to eat! Still your blood pressure is really, really good. You must have a nice job.")
“the sense of drowning because I was left untrained yet screamed at for not performing” — oh, there’s that PTSD again. It took so much time and therapy and quitting the whole profession before I could even acknowledge that I didn’t deserve those daily screamings-at, because if my bosses weren’t going to (get someone to) even show me how to do what they wanted, how could I do it? I worried for months after I finally quit who they’d pick to abuse next, the absolute bastards. (Turns out no one, I was just special!)