Career and Workplace Health: Dying for a job.
This is 2022, and considering the effect of COVID-19 , the unprecedented job openings, the shrinking middle class, high cost of accommodation, reduction in union membership, and that most people’s pay cheques have not kept up in any way with the cost of food, fuel and clothing; most individuals rely on their incomes more than ever. Inflation is at levels not seen since the 1980’s. Many people live pay cheque to pay cheque. Health Care workers were stressed, harassed and victims of violence before COVID, however the pandemic shredded what ever reserves they had left. There are shortages of staff everywhere. BCFerries is having difficulty finding staff because people are still getting sick and there is a shortage of mariners.. Surgeries have been delayed for lack of staff. People are leaving jobs in unprecedented levels.
This rather unpredictable environment has left many people keeping jobs in unsafe workplaces. Many have realized all too well that if they report a workplace accident, even though claims suppression is illegal, they will not have a job to return to when they get better and then what?? Workers have seen the writing on the wall and are leaving in droves pushing employers to address some of the issues in the workplace. Will they though? People who leave their jobs because of poor working conditions have a pretty uncertain future. Yet some are suffering from overwork and unsafe working conditions that put them at risk physically or psychologically Issues of lack of autonomy and efficacy, and either abuse or neglect in their workplace make employees reevaluate their situation.
With older workers retiring or moving to different less demanding jobs, there are opportunities. They can take their skills and market them to a different employer particularly if they are in occupations where there is a shortage of qualified workers. They also have the option of early retirement, becoming an entrepreneur and/or starting a new business or enterprise, or going on long-term disability for an stress-related illness. Many people just resign themselves to surviving until retirement, if they make it there. For those of you who do not consider any of these options reasonable, what can you do? You can take courses to improve your position or to gain other opportunities.
This purpose of this article is to explore what you can do in your workplace despite all those constraints listed above. Number one is to acknowledge the conditions in the workplace contributing to your dis-ease. Acknowledge your part in it but know that it generally is not an individual responsibility; it is one of structure, and organizational culture. If you are working overtime, skipping your breaks, isolating, having disrupted sleep, and forgetting your self-care, then it is your responsibility to take better care of yourself. If you do not have the skills to do your job or move on then you need to upgrade them with the help of management or find a different job that better suits your skills or personality. Being dissatisfied or unfulfilled in your job is your responsibility and your responsibility to change. If you are waiting for your employer to take the initiative then they just might but you will have little control. Sometimes if we are unhappy or burnout our jobs will just leave us. Things could end up even worse if you let others control your life.
If you have management that is over their head or largely incompetent, abusive or bullying and/or is not providing you with the tools and support you need to do your job the best you can; then it is a management problem. If you have management that gives lip service to your ideas and suggestions or manages in a “top down” manner, then it is a management problem. If you have management that drives you, doesn’t understand the constraints of your job, or places you “in harm’s way”, it is a management or organization responsibility to change the situation.
Despite what I have said above about working conditions, we always have choices and we can choose to take our power back!! We can take it back from unsafe physical or psychological conditions, or a workplace that does not respect or value us as individuals. We definitely need to act for our own health and wellbeing and in our own interest. We can choose to stand up to oppression!! This does not always mean that you have to quit your job. Just like a relationship that does not meet all your needs your workplace cannot meet all your needs. You can get out of relationships or situations that are very unhealthy as soon as you can. It is similar to expecting our parents to take care of us and in some cases, they just continue their abuse and abandonment instead. You are an adult now and can leave and find more considerate, caring and nurturing workplaces. One can speak up and say “no more” and move on!! Certainly during this time many people have done just that.
If you have done everything to take care of yourself, collaborated with your colleagues to advocate for your concerns with management, attempted to make changes at your workplace and it has fallen on deaf ears, then it is time to analyze your situation and make plans to change jobs or careers. Just making plans and doing something about the situation is freeing in itself. You might want to see a career or workplace specialist, and explore online resources and colleges and universities for short or longer courses that will improve your status and help you to gain a job or career that is respectful and appreciative of what you bring to a position. Talk to your network and let them know you are looking for opportunities.
Staying in an unhealthy or oppressive situations is an option, however, if you do so for any length of time you are putting your physical and psychological health at risk. You are at risk for depression/anxiety, cardiovascular, autoimmune, or gastrointestinal conditions among others. You can literally die for your job!!! Those around you are also profoundly affected if you are not well or happy where you are. You put your family at risk. I know people who have stayed in a job they hated to get a pension and then they did not even live long enough to enjoy it. Their unhappiness also affected so many others around them that they also did not live to enjoy their retirement either.
Sometimes the unhappiness at work becomes so strong that unseen forces somehow conspire to kick you out of the situation and then you are rather unprepared for the change. I think it is better to act proactively and recognize that the workplace is unhealthy and you need to do something about it. Talking and acknowledging is important but acting is far harder because the familiar is comfortable and uncertainty is scary. It is a challenging to venture out into the job finding world but most likely you are not going empty handed. Take your power back!! Be proactive and do not settle for situations that are disrespectful, unsafe, and do not value who you are. It is surprising how easy it is when you take steps to change things. Most people wish they had done it much sooner. Most of the time when we take the leap unexpected resources and opportunities show up!!
I like what Harvey Fierstein says: Never be bullied into silence, never allow yourself to be made into a victim, accept no one’s definition of your life, define yourself. This quote can easily be applied to workplaces and it is clear about what we need to do to protect ourselves!!