How a Psychologist can help you with Workplace Issues
Many of us probably wouldn’t think about seeing a psychologist for work-related problems. Yet, since we spend the majority of our adult years working – around 90,000 hours over our lifetime (read more at our article on Is your job harming your wellbeing?) – work issues are bound to arise at some point or another. To learn more on what impact wellbeing has on the workplace check out our post on Mental Health + Wellbeing at Work: Why it Matters and what you can do about it.
Now, many of us have the skills to cope with adversity, however sometimes our circumstances change and we may not have the necessary coping resources.
There may be major events that occur at work (e.g. takeovers, restructures, job losses), but also there could also be many ‘daily hassles’ that build up over time (e.g. deadlines, workload). Psychologists are well-placed to teach practical skills to help you manage the build up of stress and other negative emotions from the workplace.
Psychologists can also help you build up your resilience so that you have healthier coping skills that allow you to bounce back easier, and teach you skills specific to the workplace to help in the work environment. Below are some examples of how we've worked with individuals facing difficulties in the workplace (*names have been changed).
Anxiety, depression, and mental health issues that arise from workplace issues
Jenny suffered from anxiety symptoms and was frequently in a low mood due to having a hostile manager. Worried by Jenny’s decrease in motivation for work and, more generally in life, her husband suggested that Jenny see a psychologist.
In sessions, it was uncovered that Jenny’s boss’s behaviour reminded her of her hostile mother who constantly criticised Jenny as a child. We worked on helping Jenny to recognise triggers (e.g. her boss’s words or certain behaviours) and develop alternate strategies to respond to the triggers. We also worked on improving Jenny’s sense of self and confidence by building on her strengths and values.
Healthy coping skills to manage work-related stress
Kevin had a young family and was the sole breadwinner. He worked in a niche area and as a result of his expertise he quickly rose up the ranks and his responsibilities at work correspondingly increased. With that came long hours at work and increased levels of stress.
To cope, Kevin turned to alcohol at home after the kids were asleep as a way to wind down and relax. Kevin justified it by telling himself it was his reward after a long day of hard work. This, however, impacted on his quality of sleep, and he soon found he wasn’t functioning optimally at work.
As a result, Kevin made a mistake that had a huge impact on the company’s bottom line. Now worried about losing his job, Kevin drank even more to calm his nerves and to distract from his thoughts of being fired.
In working with Kevin we looked at the unhelpful cycle he had become locked into with alcohol. His self-talk about alcohol was identified and modified, and we worked on developing helpful coping strategies in line with Kevin’s values and implemented them in bite-sized chunks to fit in with his busy lifestyle (e.g. carving out small chunks of time throughout the week for Kevin to spend quality time with his family; finding ways to incorporate exercise into his hectic routine).
Improve communication skills, assertiveness skills, conflict resolution skills
Lenny was a latecomer to a career in customer service following decades of work as a tradie in a workshop. His decision to switch was one designed to see him through to retirement.
Shortly after commencing in his new role, complaints started coming in that Lenny was “rough” and “not tactful.” Lenny also noticed that his co-workers were always busy during lunch and they would go for drinks together after work without inviting him. Finally, Lenny's manager told him he'd received a complaint that he (Lenny) had been “racist” towards a customer and suggested Lenny learn some ways to communicate better.
In working together, we helped Lenny increase his awareness of his behaviour and its impact on others. Lenny hadn't realised that the way he talked to others stemmed from the way his family interacted with each other. He learned the difference between reacting and responding, especially in times of stress. The sessions were also a place for Lenny to learn how to handle differently those automatic thoughts of stereotyping and prejudice that he experienced.
As you can see, a psychologist can really add value to workplace problems that you may encounter. Learning tips and strategies to add to your toolkit means that you're better able to face the challenges that the workplace may bring.
Of course, while the approach we've taken in this article is very much at the individual level and based on our clinical expertise, there's a lot that can be done for wellbeing in the workplace at an organisational level (in fact, see how organisational psychology can enhance performance and wellbeing at individual, team, and organisational levels at our corporate arm Perquiro).
We've also been fortunate to work with some amazing organisations where we've run workshops on topics such as resilience and stress, managing burnout, developing a healthier work culture through better wellbeing, and reducing stigma when it comes to seeking help. It's been humbling and heartening to see organisations take a real interest in the wellbeing of their individuals and teams.
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Verkuil, B., Atasayi, S., & Molendijk, M.L. (2015). Workplace bullying and mental health: A meta-analysis on cross-sectional and longitudinal data. PLoS ONE 10(8): e0135225. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0135225