Updated: Nov 14
We need to work to live, but is work negatively impacting our well-being?
For most of us, work allows us to meet some of our basic needs: such as a stable living situation, healthcare, and nutritious food. The issue is that, for most of us, work also contributes to toxic stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout, which negatively impacts our mental, emotional, and physical health.
If I asked you this question: “How do you feel about your job?” How would you respond? If your answer is framed negatively, you might relate to some of these ways that work negatively impacts our well-being.
Here are eight signs that your job may be harming your mental health.
1 – Your High-Stress Job is Causing Compassion Fatigue
Many of us work high-stress jobs where our performance impacts the world around us in a big way: emergency responders, educators, healthcare workers, corrections officers, court professionals, social workers, etc. In roles like these, decisions on the job have very real repercussions in the lives of other people.
In addition to the high level of on-the-job stress, many employees also suffer from compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue happens when we endure prolonged exposure to the suffering of others.
If you hear of another person’s trauma once, it can feel devastating and upsetting. This is known as secondary trauma. When this happens repeatedly, it causes vicarious trauma. The impact of vicarious trauma is compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is characterized by indifference, apathy, pessimism, and hopelessness. As you might imagine, it can worsen symptoms of depression.
2 - Burnout is a Cultural Norm
While some jobs have a higher risk of burnout than others, you can experience burnout at any type of job.
Unfortunately, burnout is a common cultural norm. What does that mean? A cultural norm is something that we collectively agree is normal and acceptable. In many workplaces, burnout is expected and even celebrated as a sign of hard work and dedication.
The pressure to keep up with the pace of work and the fear of falling behind often lead employees to push themselves beyond their limits, neglecting their physical and emotional needs.
This culture of overworking and burnout is not sustainable, and it’s time for organizations to acknowledge the negative impact it has on employees’ mental health.
3 - Your Organization is Stuck in a Trauma Response
The classic trauma responses (fight, flight, freeze, appease) can apply to organizations as much as they can to individuals.
When an organization is stuck in a trauma response, it typically prioritizes productivity and performance over the well-being of employees and clients. The emphasis on deadlines, targets, and outcomes often comes at the expense of employees’ mental health, leading to high levels of stress, burnout, and turnover.
To break free from the cycle of trauma in the workplace, organizations need to adopt a trauma-informed approach that prioritizes safety, trust, and collaboration.
4 - You’re Always Rushing to Meet a Deadline
Deadlines are a part of any job, and while they can be motivating, they can also be a source of stress and anxiety. In some organizations, employees constantly feel as if they are behind while time-sensitive work continues to pile up. The result is that the organization is always in a rushed state of crisis.
When we’re constantly rushing to meet a deadline, we often struggle to find the time or space to take care of our physical and emotional needs, which can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue. On an organizational level, we sacrifice the overall well-being of the organization, the safety and trust of employees and clients, and quality for quantity.
The demand of deadlines can feel looming, especially for those with trauma. It can lead to procrastination and avoidance while contributing to toxic stress.
If you or your organization is in a hurried state of crisis, addressing it as soon as possible is the best way to find a solution.
5 - Unhealthy Power Dynamics Contribute to Your Stress
In any relationship, whether personal or professional, there is a power dynamic at play. In some relationships, that power is leveled, but in many, one person or group has more power than another.
And in some cases, inequitable power differences can lead to toxic imbalances. Employees who feel disempowered or marginalized are more likely to experience stress and mental health issues. Meanwhile, those in positions of power may experience pressure to maintain their status, feeding into toxic norms that negatively impact them as well.
To reduce the negative impact of power dynamics, organizations need to create a culture of respect, inclusivity, and equity—which is easier said than done.
6 – You Feel Victimized and Disempowered at Work
Victimization and disempowerment are mindsets, but they can also be the reality for many workers. Whether it’s due to toxic leadership, a lack of support, or a culture of blame and shame, feeling powerless at work can lead to stress and burnout.
Powerlessness and hopelessness can get keep us stuck and contribute to toxic reenactments that tear us down rather than build us up. This is just one way that work might be contributing to stress and impacting your well-being.
By using the “name it and tame it” method, we can identify sources of disempowerment and regain a sense of agency and control. This is why voice and choice are key components of the trauma-informed model.
7 - Your Work Environment isn’t Safe
Unsafe work environments can manifest in many ways, from microaggressions and discrimination to outright harassment and violence. When employees don't feel safe at work, it can have a significant impact on their mental health.
It’s important to remember that even if a work environment is safe for one person, it may not be safe for another. This is especially true for marginalized individuals, such as people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Safety at work is a priority in trauma-informed systems because it opens the door to many other trauma-informed topics, methods, and tools.
8 – You Struggle with Financial Insecurity
For many of us, work is a necessary means to an end: financial stability. But when we struggle financially, it can lead to stress, anxiety, and even depression.
Federal minimum wage is only $7.25/hour, which is not enough to support a household with one working adult and one child, not accounting for the cost of childcare. So, if you’re struggling financially, resist the urge to label it as a personal failure. Financial instability in the US is a systemic failure.
When we consider other factors, such as access to financial education, an unstable job market, and college debt, it’s easy to see why so many people suffer from financial stress. Whether it’s due to low pay, job insecurity, or mounting debt, financial stress can take a significant toll on our mental health—and at Chefalo Consulting, we believe that employers have a responsibility to their employees to provide resources and adequate pay to relieve some of that stress.
Final Thoughts: Trauma-Informed Solutions to Improve Mental Health
If you can relate to any of these aspects of work that negatively impact our mental health and overall well-being, then you might be tempted to reflect on all the negative things about your organization. I encourage you to see a different perspective and have hope.
While leaving your job may be the best choice in your situation, many of us—individuals and organizations—can benefit from trauma-informed change. Trauma-informed systems are those which focus on trauma-healing, perspective-shifting, and healthy professional relationships built on mutual trust and respect.
A trauma-informed consultant can help you or your organization with any and all of the issues above, and trauma-informed training can teach you the basics of the TIC model.
If you’re interested in trauma-informed care, consider enrolling in Chefalo Consulting’s Trauma-Informed Masterclass. Early bird discounts are available from now until May, and class starts in July! We hope to see you there.