People often ask me: can your job make you depressed?
Of course it can!
It might be finding suitable work that is making you depressed – the job market can be tough.
Or if you already have a job, things like getting caught up in workplace politics, anxiety about having to present in meetings, poor management, high pressure, conflicting demands, bullying, being sacked or an involuntary redundancy.
We will all encounter job issues at some stage in our working life, and yes, it can really affect your outlook and disposition.
So what can you do when your job makes you miserable?
See a Psychologist
While I’m sure it would be great if all a psychologist had to do was wave a magic wand to solve your job woes, unfortunately it doesn’t quite work like that.
However, they can offer help in a variety of ways, such as:
- With the insights and methods of evidence-based psychology – because how you register, respond, and interpret life events (such as job issues) is as important (or even more important) than the event itself.
- Strategies to reduce your stress and worry, from spilling over into other domains of your life, eg your spouse or family. These may include de-escalation strategies such as emotional self-regulation and mindfulness exercises.
- Providing a more objective viewpoint.
- And, helping you identify unworkable solutions such as distractions (eg computer gaming), risky behaviours (eg unsafe sex), projecting bad feelings or blame onto others, self medicating (eg with alcohol, nicotine, or drugs), talking yourself into negative moods, or falling ill.
Changes at Work
Change can be extremely unsettling, and when doing my Doctoral Research in the area of Work-Life Adjustment and Mental Health, I realised just how much change will affect the modern worker. The average 21st Century worker will experience five separate careers, over approximately 50 years of work, spanning an average of 17 jobs!
So we know that things like job loss, demotion/promotion, relocation/transfer, power politics or challenging technological change are almost guaranteed.
In addition, the greater inclusion (and power) of women in the workforce, more competition (regionally and globally), and an influx of overseas born workers, makes the world of work more complicated than ever.
With so much change, each worker must come to accept that learning, self-study, retraining, and a positive outlook, must become ongoing if one is to get on (succeed) at work.
But who can you turn to if your are struggling at work, or want to talk to somebody about whether you should stay or prepare to leave or even transition to a different career?
Help with Job Decisions
Psychologists with expertise and experience in career transitioning (such as myself) can not only support you to work out ways to manage your job stress, but also, if you decide to move into something different, we have a knowledge of labour market dynamics, and can estimate your potential market attractiveness. We can help by:
- Assessing your knowledge, skills and abilities.
- Values and interests assessments.
- Teaching time management skills.
- Teaching you resilience, and emotional self-regulation.
- Providing job search education.
- Matching you to the careers and jobs which will most likely suit you.
- Coaching you to become a better interviewee, to maximise your chances of being the winning candidate.
How is this all achieved in ten or so sessions? It won’t necessarily be a walk in the park, but isn’t it better when on a journey full of stress and challenges, to have some professional support?.
In Australia, publicly funded career assessment assistance has been very much hit or miss; the availability of professional guidance to help people wisely choose jobs rises and falls depending on the era and politics of the day.
But even without direct government funding you can find career help via a psychologist with a background in this area. Medicare does not discriminate against clients with job/career issues, if they can present with a stress or anxiety issue (and if your job is making you miserable, that definitely qualifies!).
At a minimum, a career guidance professional can help you make sense of and navigate through the multitude of options available to you (even when you don’t think you have any).
Career assessment might begin with questionnaires and an interview, which helps them establish your current situation, interests, skills, temperaments and personality traits. It can get really involved and an example of what is involved at mid to high level corporate job levels is reviewed by this web-based resource: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/screeningandevaluatingcandidates.aspx
Let’s assume you were surveyed, and your psychologist has a fairly good idea what new career path you are suited for. Now comes the task of developing a strategy for acquiring a desirable job within that career path; which may include seeking re-training for that job.
After studying the job search and job counselling literature over the last 30 years, I’ve discovered that most job hunters have incorrect, idealised views of how jobs get generated, advertised, responded to, and awarded. They end up wasting a lot of time (and money and self esteem). There are much better ways!
The highly regarded job search expert Richard Bolles has devoted more than five decades of his life to researching, understanding and explaining the most effective job search methods, and what the average adult needs to do in order to find and occupy fulfilling work. Through over 15 books published around the world, he has been the great researcher and visionary to explain what labour markets are, and how institutions actually evolve and actually fill their positions/roles.
As a result, job hunters can save a lot of time and suffering in their career explorations and job hunting; so I strongly rely on Bolles’ work in career transitioning coaching with my own clients.
However reading books is not enough, I have found that my clients need to work on themselves inside out first, to even begin to successfully career transition. By modelling themselves on a good coach, clients are able to do experiental work to help them get to where they want to be.
One thing that holds a lot of miserable workers back, is that they never acquired (or didn’t fully develop) something called resilience. Resilience can be defined as a tendency to continue onwards in the face of adversity or ‘failure.’
During an assessment, your career psychologist can help you with building your resilience, using various techniques to boost your ‘bounce-backability’, a kind of inoculation. For those in the job market, it is common to encounter setbacks such as non-replies to initial inquiries and rejection letters; disappointing interview outcomes; negativity from spouse or friends; glass ceilings; prejudice; self-doubt; and diminishing finances.
The use of evidence-based approaches greatly assists in this work and may include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Solution Focused Brief Therapy, Brief Psychodynamic Therapy, and Choice Theory, to name a few.
Time and Task Management
While this might be simple to show and/or discuss, it can also be the hardest to put into practice.
One reason is laziness: we come to think that without planning “the universe” will just deliver progress to us. Plus, being miserable in your job may deplete your energy.
Another reason (less common these days) is that we were never educated about how to diarise tasks or organise a plan. Finally, many of us also confuse what is important and what is not important.
In my session, I will ask you as the client to complete a fascinating questionnaire called “Your 168 Hour Week”.
In completing this questionnaire you will provide a breakdown of how you spend your waking hours in an average week. The allocations you provide will inform me of the importance you give to things like work, family, pets, leisure, sport/exercise, socialising, sleeping, childcare, cleaning, etc.
In combination with a Values Assessment, the questionnaire can reveal how you really spend your time. And then we do some ‘hard chat’ about what you do versus what you should be doing with your time, especially in regards to career exploration and job hunting.
Healthy Lifestyle Coaching
Body and mind are intimately connected, a lesson that early cultures knew and that modern psychology is now rediscovering.
We have forgotten what healthy eating, sound sleep, and regular exercise can give us. We “grab” fast food on the run, we over-schedule ourselves, and we shortchange ourselves on deep unbroken sleep. According to many experts we no longer take the time to mindfully rest, recreate or even breathe properly.
Instead, we depend on caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, medications and sugar-rich foods to get us through our daily routines or stressful bumps in the road. The health/medical literature is filled with studies demonstrating this. In fact, I’m sure that without too much trouble you will can recall incidences of parents, friends, family, or colleagues who have exhausted themselves by living too long ‘in the fast lane’.
Perhaps you too have fallen into mental, emotional or physical illness by working overtime while raising a family, or otherwise ‘burning the candle at both ends’.
You cannot expect to conduct an effective career transition or job search, if you are not firing on all cylinders (in good health). So for those not in peak health, I work out a secondary side plan with you, to get your total functioning back on track. You are not likely to kick great career goals if you fail to be lively, mentally energised and have a positive mindset when career transitioning or job hunting.
Finally, most of us get lax with our management (control) of our emotions.
I often meet clients whose emotions roam all over creation – they are constantly worrying, over-reacting to things, fidgeting, breathing shallowly. When simple external events happen (inconveniences, delays, traffic jams, others saying ‘no’), they get distraught and their compensatory behaviours derail them.
In helping such clients I use methods of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as developed by Steven Hayes and Russ Harris. They take the view that we always have choice about how to take in events and handle experiences. In their programs, processes like emotions can be described as passengers who step onto our “bus,” the bus being our mind/ego/will.
Some passengers on the bus are civil, some not so much. Yet we the driver of the bus have the responsibility to drive everyone safely to their drop off points. As the bus driver it is we who decide who will be allowed to board, and sometimes we are required to disembark them. It is we who must assess others, and decide when to direct or remove the unruly or dangerous. It is WE who are in charge of the bus (our minds, our lives) not THEY.
As the driver we can become adept at recognising these passengers (experiences), and in so doing bring them into line.
Psychology pioneer Sigmund Freud once remarked there were two major life issues we all have to continually work at: Love and Work.
I commonly find many of my clients believe they’re “all good” in the first area (family, friends, romance, partnering), but feel they’ve hit a roadblock when it comes to work.
What can you do if you are miserable at work? Seeing an experienced psychologist can help you assert or regain control in the work domain, and not be trapped in your misery.
Author: Dr Terry Olesen, BA (Hons), M Psych, PhD Psych, MAPS.
For over 25 years, Brisbane Psychologist Dr Terry Olesen has been helping people via psychology-based counselling. He finds it particularly rewarding to work with people with a ‘life situation knot’: feeling stymied, distraught, sad or angry, while facing external challenges such as job loss, health issues or a death in the family. The topic of his doctoral research was work-life adjustment and mental health, which, in addition to his years of clinical practice, gives him the expertise to help people with career transitioning and related difficulties.
To make an appointment with psychologist Dr Terry Olesen, try Online Booking – Loganholme, or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- Olesen, Terry. Individual adaptation to discontinuous employment for Australian workers : a longitudinal mixed method study (Doctoral Thesis), Edith Cowan University, School of Psychology and Social Science, December 2012. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/522.
- Bolles, Richard. What Color is Your Parachute? 2017. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press (Penguin Books).
- Watson, Ian; Buchanan, John; et al (ACCIRT, Univ of Sydney). Fragmented Futures: New Challenges in Working Life.The Federation Press, 2003.
- Morgan, Elysse, Business Report, ABC Evening News (Broadcast and Video Clip) Rise of the machines: What jobs will survive as robots move into the workplace? URL posted 6 Jul 2017, 11:12pm http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-06/what-jobs-will-survive-as-robots-move-into-the-workplace/8685894.
- Sennett, Richard. The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism. NY: Norton & Company, Jan 2000. ISBN 978-0-393-31987-3 (NY Times Review here: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/sennett-character.html).