Navigating Workplace Trauma

We are currently witnessing the era of the Great Resignation. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened the floodgates to a massive employment shift: workers making minimum wage became “essential” overnight, risking their health and wellbeing in order to provide food, basic needs, and services; office workers enjoyed the luxury of the “WFH” lifestyle, trading workwear for joggers, and finding flexibility in schedules that allowed them to spend time with family, reconnect with hobbies, and find the distance from office drama; Educators, already overworked and underpaid, had to restructure, relearn, and problem solve as the format of education was completely upended.

Overall, the pandemic has pulled the curtain and exposed the impact of toxic workspaces, unsupportive supervisors, and the fragility of employment structures and wage brackets. Employees are refusing to settle for abusive environments, and are demanding better care, higher pay, and more room for work/life balance. Employees are essentially standing up for their own humanity.

This “Great Resignation” acts as a loud demand for change of a system that has been challenging and unsupportive for decades. Although the issues leading employees to resign are not new, this movement is gaining traction, and putting pressure on employers to improve work conditions in order to continue functioning.

The power of this collective movement helps us acknowledge the trauma that our workspaces have caused–trauma that has long been swept under the rug or seen as “business as usual.”

Workplace trauma can be cultivated by various factors:

Imbalance between pay and responsibilities

Many workplaces (especially the nonprofit industry, but that’s for another blog post) tend to pay what they claim is “market rate,” which ends up being lower than a living wage, leaving employees to scrape the bottom of the barrel in order to afford the “self care” their employers preach about (but don’t provide opportunities for). At the same time, employees are tasked with responsibilities beyond their job description, with little opportunity for support or flexibility.

Poor supervision and lack of support

Many employees have faced the brunt of the economic downturn: layoffs, lack of funding, and lack of accommodations have left employees scrambling to coordinate childcare, health, and work responsibilities. Lack of support or appropriate leadership from those in charge can leave employees feeling left in the dark, lacking direction, or vulnerable to negative consequences based on issues out of their control.

Workplace toxicity

Harassment, unhealthy communication, and guilt trips are not new to the workplace. The pandemic and the shut downs it led to, however, have brought attention to the fact that life at work doesn’t have to be this way. We have become even more aware of our mortality, and employees have decided that they will no longer put up with workplace practices that make them feel less than human or taken advantage of.

Layoffs, job loss, and loss of benefits

COVID-19 shut down industries that seemed well established. It halted nearly every moving part of our communities. It left people without income or having to choose between protecting their health or continuing to make a living. Even worse, during the worst health crisis in recent history, these job losses also meant the loss of health insurance for many. In a moment when hospitalizations and viral spread were at an all-time high, people were left with no protection, support, and at risk of not only severe health issues but also significant hospital bills and the inability to receive the care they needed.

We became even more aware of the hold our jobs have on our lifestyles, our access to resources, and our ability to live and thrive as human beings.

None of these issues are new, and folks have been advocating for change for a long time. But what happens when you as an individual are experiencing this? What happens when you reimagine the relationship between work and your personal life? Taking the step to advocate for yourself, and even acknowledge the impact your workplace has had on your wellness, can bring up pain, realizations, and fear. It can also feel isolating, especially when we have normalized these experiences as just “part of the gig.”

In reality, these feelings are real and valid and are worth navigating. It is worth doing the work to dismantle all of these constructs we have normalized for ourselves so that we can move toward a better future, where we demand space to exist as who we are and a way of life that supports our humanity above all else.

When employment and life circumstances feel out of your control, validating, navigating, and understanding your experiences through counseling can provide a space for this exploration, allowing you to process what you have been through, and establish a strong foundation for the future. You are deserving of healing.

By Margie Muñoz, MA LLPC

Sources:

Kelly, J. (2021, June 14). Workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers, as the U.S. experiences a booming job market. Forbes.

Morgan, K. (2021, July 1). The great resignation: How employers drove workers to quit. BBC.

Hsu, A. (2021, June 24). As the pandemic recedes, millions of workers are saying ‘I quit.” NPR.

Cook, I. (2021, September 15). Who is driving the great resignation? Harvard Business Review

U.S. Bureau of labor statistics (2021, September 8). Job openings and labor turnover summary. Economic news release. United States Department of Labor.

Learn more about the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

Learn more about Counseling and Therapy services at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

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