Is Your Job Making You Sick?

A couple of my friends are facing difficulties at work. The first one gets a migraine whenever she works with a particular client. The second had to start seeing a therapist because she found her work environment unreasonably stressful. My response to both, when they told me about these situations? “Quit!”

I know a little something about hostile work environments. In my 20s, I was hired as a team leader for a Big 4 accounting firm. My boss, a managing partner, decided he wasn’t going to tell the team that I was the new lead; instead, he asserted that “they’ll figure it out over time.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong. And, worse, his attitude made the situation difficult for all of us. One team member started exhibiting paranoia. Whenever we chatted, she told me that she was being watched. Scary, right? A second developed panic attacks. I manifested high blood pressure (just at work), stomach pain, and anxiety. The bottom line: Having significant work stress made all of us sick.

I ended up transferring to another group, as did the woman having panic attacks. The first simply disappeared from work one day and may have been hospitalized for treatment. That wouldn’t have been unusual because another member of that same team entered psychiatric care a year or so later. Yeah, it was that much of a snake pit.

As a result of these experiences, I learned an important lesson: Work situations that make you sick are NEVER worth it.

You can make plenty of excuses for staying in a bad situation, just as my friends did when I first suggested they quit:

  • You need the money.
  • It might be difficult, if not impossible, to get another job.
  • You don’t want to rock the boat.
  • It will get better. Probably. Well, maybe.
  • You’re overreacting. It’s not really that bad.
  • You need to get to the next milestone or promotion and everything will be a-ok.

None of these excuses matter, though, if you don’t have your health. As Michelle Ward shared in her recent post about begrudging life lessons, “Your health is preeeeeeetty much the most important thing.”

Taking care of yourself is one of your primary responsibilities in life. If you don’t ensure your needs are being met, no one else will. If you don’t prioritize your health and sanity, no one else will do that for you, either. Quitting a job that makes you sick is simple self care.

And if that logic doesn’t sway you, ask yourself if the reasons you have for staying at your current job are valid or if they’re excuses:

  • Do you really have money concerns? Could you overcome them with a new job or temporary assignment?
  • Is it true you’d have difficulty finding a new job? No one likes job hunting, but isn’t your overall health and happiness worth the short-term pain of writing a new resume and interviewing?
  • Will the current situation improve? How likely is that to happen, and in what timeframe?
  • Are you overreacting? What do you think is contributing to your overreaction?

Is your job making you sick?

If your job is making you sick and your excuses don’t withstand critical analysis, here’s your plan:

  • Get a new job, sweetie. If you can’t do that…
  • Contact a temp agency and get some temporary work. If you’re not comfortable doing that…
  • Take a leave of absence. If you don’t think that will fly…
  • Transfer to another location or department. If you don’t want to do that…
  • Create greater separation between your work and personal lives so you have more downtime and decrease your stress. While you’re at it, also…
  • Set boundaries about what you will and won’t accept. And…
  • Refuse to allow anyone to speak to you in an inappropriate manner. Talk to HR if you have concerns.

Did I leave anything out? If you’ve done something else to solve the problem of a job making you sick, please share your experience in the comments.

Kate Watson