In today’s fast-paced and high-stress work environment, it’s not uncommon for individuals to experience workplace-induced emotional trauma. Workplace stress can have significant and long-term effects on individuals, including emotional trauma. When people are subjected to toxic work environments, abusive supervision, or other forms of stress and trauma in the workplace, it can take a significant toll on their mental and emotional health. This can lead to a range of negative outcomes, including reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and higher levels of burnout and turnover.
The hidden costs of workplace stress extend beyond just physical and emotional exhaustion. Prolonged stress can have serious long-term health consequences, including heart disease, anxiety and depression. Toxic workplaces, imposter syndrome and burnout are just a few of the ways in which stress can have serious consequences for both individuals and organizations. As younger generations become more vocal about their struggles with mental health, the issue of workplace-induced trauma is gaining increased attention.
So, what can be done to address the hidden costs of workplace stress? This article aims to help you better understand workplace trauma and its impact, and provides several strategies to address it.
Sources of workplace trauma
Workplace trauma, sometimes referred to as workplace PTSD, has gained increasing recognition as a result of recent research. It can stem from various factors, including racism, bullying, intimidation, poor work-life boundaries, emotional manipulation, criticism, coercive control, isolation and job insecurity.
The impact of workplace trauma
Workplace trauma can have a significant impact on an individual’s career, including changes in career decision-making, perceptions of safety and belonging in the workplace, and interactions with superiors. Toxic work environments can cause long-lasting emotional damage, especially when it is difficult to separate work from personal life.
In a recent study, all participants reported having direct experience with a toxic manager, and many were currently experiencing this type of toxic management. These individuals described how this damaged their confidence and competence and led to feelings of burnout. Often, they did not seek support or discuss their experiences with anyone, choosing instead to try to endure the toxic environment. However, leaving a toxic workplace can have negative career consequences, leaving many feeling that they have no choice but to “keep their head down” and try to survive the toxicity. It is important to take steps to address toxic conditions at work, such as seeking support from HR, finding a mentor or considering a job change.
“Toxic work environments can cause long-lasting emotional damage, especially when it is difficult to separate work from personal life.”
Trauma and imposter syndrome
Workplace trauma can create or worsen feelings of being an imposter, also known as imposter syndrome, impostor phenomenon or impostor complex, in several ways. When people experience trauma or abuse in the workplace, it can erode their confidence and self-esteem. They may begin to doubt their own abilities and accomplishments, and feel like they are not qualified or deserving of their job or position. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a constant fear of being discovered as a fraud.
Additionally, toxic work environments can create a culture of competition and negativity, which can further fuel imposter syndrome by causing people to constantly compare themselves to their colleagues and feel like they are not measuring up. Overall, workplace trauma can create or exacerbate feelings of being an imposter by undermining an individual’s confidence and self-worth, and by creating a negative and competitive work culture.
Women, people of colour and other marginalized groups may be particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. For example, women and people of colour may face additional challenges related to marginalization and questioning of their credibility and merit in the workplace. This external experience of being perceived as an impostor can be particularly triggering for individuals who already struggle with imposter syndrome. It can be devastating to be told or have it implied that you are not qualified or deserving of your position, especially when you are already grappling with feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. This can further compound the emotional trauma of a toxic work environment.
Workplace trauma can be isolating, as people may feel like they are facing an individual problem rather than a systemic one. In some cases, there may be an expectation to “bounce back” and pretend that everything is okay, which can make it difficult for individuals to seek help. It is important to recognize that resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and challenges, and that what is considered reasonable will vary from person to person. To build resilience, individuals can practise self-care, seek support from friends and colleagues, and find healthy ways to cope with stress.
Fix a toxic culture
Organizations and leaders have a responsibility to address workplace trauma and prevent toxic behaviors. To do this, it is important to critically examine the workplace culture and environment and take steps to foster a culture of trust and respect. This may involve implementing policies and procedures, addressing the habits and behaviours of individuals within the organization, and providing resources for self-care and mental health support.
In addition to the negative effects on individuals, workplace stress and trauma can also have significant consequences for organizations. High levels of stress and burnout can lead to decreased productivity, higher levels of absenteeism and higher rates of turnover, which can result in increased costs and a negative impact on morale and team cohesion. It is important for organizations to recognize the reality of emotional trauma and take proactive steps to address the root causes of stress and create a healthy and supportive work environment.
By implementing these strategies, organizations can address the hidden costs of workplace stress and create a healthier and more productive work environment for all employees. Remember, it is important not to suffer in silence. There are resources available to help you address workplace stress and protect your well-being and success.