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Written by Sterling Content
March 3, 2023
The pandemic has changed the world of work. As COVID-19 spread, millions of people across the globe made an abrupt shift to remote working—many without the necessary tools, know-how or support—before later returning to the office or adopting hybrid work patterns.
For some people, such changes generated “work-hurt”—the term for emotional damage incurred while doing one’s job. For others, the changes prompted new ways of thinking about the workplace and the meaning of work. In addition, pandemic-induced stresses have given people pause about their value and purpose, resulting in adjusting of career tracks and re-evaluation of work-life balance.
Without proper support, navigating these new ways of thinking with managers and prospective employers also has the potential to generate work-hurt, ushering in an urgent need—for both employees and managers—to identify, address and heal work-hurt. By doing so, everyone can unlock strategies to ditch doubt, rebuild confidence and overcome overwhelm in the office, according to career counsellor Dr Ashley Gary-Roper (aka Dr Ashley Dash) and global business support consultant Kina Jackson, who spoke to members of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan on the topic. Event moderator and BCCJ Executive Committee member James Nepaulsingh facilitated the conversation.
Dr Dash explained that factors impacting work-hurt could be external, such as inflation and recession, or internal, such as a toxic work environment and negative co-workers. More specifically, trouble may arise if an employee and their manager don’t gel well together or an employee trusts someone with information and then finds it used against them. Members from historically-marginalised groups, such as women and people of colour, may be subject to comments or questions about topics they consider inappropriate, she added.
Still, Dr Dash pointed out that these factors alone do not result in work-hurt. Rather, it is the addition of the individual’s inner thoughts and fears that make these experiences challenging, even painful. Such thoughts include “I can’t believe I allowed them not to promote me,” “I guess I deserve this because …” and “I shouldn’t apply because …”, which negatively impact the person’s behaviour and decision-making abilities.
“We internalise a momentary thought and make it a belief about who we are. Instead of saying, I made a bad decision due to a lapse in judgement or incorrect assumption, we end up saying ‘I am a bad person,’ which isn’t true,” said Dr Dash, adding that these thoughts can, if not managed, lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sufferers of work-hurt may even end up self-sabotaging themselves with acts of procrastination, perfectionism and control, leading to them being perceived as a “difficult employee” or even getting fired.
When work-hurt occurs, the key is not to be afraid to “share your feelings and show your scars,” according to Jackson. Recognise the physical and emotional ways that work-hurt manifests in you and check in with yourself. Ask yourself if you’re doing too much or if you feel able to be authentic at work. Next, sit in discomfort; accept the feelings and jot them down in a journal, she said, pointing out that “if we can properly frame [work-hurt], we can deal with it … we can heal.”
Jackson added that learning how to ask for help or expressing that you’re going through a challenging time is “healthy” and courageous” but said members should only unburden themselves in a safe space with trusted individuals.
Dr Dash’s three-step strategy to heal the scars of work-hurt are to practice reflection (where did the thought really come from?), honesty (is that really what happened or are there other factors at play?) and action (consider how to address thoughts and resulting behaviours). The goal is to ensure those thoughts don’t arise again, by identifying any triggers, developing steps to move forward and fostering greater self-care.
Jackson said sufferers of work-hurt should consider their professional role. How do they perceive themselves and how do others perceive them? Does their work ever infringe on their non-work roles, resulting in a loss of personal time? She noted that staff in Japan often report feeling pressure to work late or be available on weekends, but advocated the importance of cultivating personal interests for better self-care.
“Being exposed to the same things day in and day out might chip away at you over time … and if all your satisfaction comes from the workplace, work quickly takes its toll when something goes wrong,” Jackson said. “If your self-esteem is tied to work, it’s important to find other interests to fill your time.”
Addressing issues facing expats, Jackson said managers and employees may have preconceived notions about how people from certain countries or cultures should behave, which may add to any pressure felt by expats as minority staff.
Creating a support network that can offer acceptance, belonging and community are some ways to boost wellbeing and overcome or avoid work-hurt, she said. Her recommendations are to wind down with friends; find likeminded people by taking up a sport, learning a skill or joining a professional organisation; and cultivate a third space in which to forge a new identity or explore new interests.
Nepaulsingh posed members’ questions, including how to manage over-packed schedules and create boundaries between work life and private life.
Jackson suggested taking five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night to journal, which “becomes a meditative practice” and leads to making more time for oneself. Dr Dash agreed that taking time to release stress—even if it’s merely visualisations while teeth-brushing or a few breathing exercises—needs to be part of the everyday.
Combining activities, such as listening to podcasts while commuting, and enjoying hobbies with an accountability partner are other options to cultivate more personal time. And Dr Dash suggested if you really think you don’t have enough time, create space for a short activity every month initially and build on from that.
Asked how managers can address work-hurt, Jackson suggested setting up a system so employees are free to express themselves about the challenges they are facing in the workplace in a safe space, or bringing in external consultants to deliver training and resources on work-hurt. Dr Dash recommended managers check in regularly with their colleagues to see if they really are OK, especially after large projects.
Most important, though, is that addressing work-hurt is not a one-time task, but an ongoing effort, said the speakers.