People spend nearly one-third of their adult lives at work, which causes workplace issues to become common source of stress for many. It is impossible to have a workplace where everyone's roles, expectations, and personalities work perfectly together, without conflict. As such, certain workplace issues may cause negative psychological symptoms. Research shows that perceived stress in the workplace, for example, is associated with a higher prevalence of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Workers may find that discussing their workplace stress or challenges with a trained mental health professional is helpful to them both professionally and personally.
Common workplace issues that employees face include:
- Interpersonal conflict
- Communication problems
- Low motivation and job satisfaction
- Performance issues
- Poor job fit
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Workplace issues can lead to decreased performance/productivity, loss of job/termination, decreased satisfaction/happiness, stress, and a wide variety of mental health issues. Harassment in the workplace can also lead to legal troubles. The American Psychological Association notes that job insecurity and lack of support at work can exacerbate workplace issues.
Some jobs involve a particularly high degree of stress. One theory, known as the job demand-control (JDC) model, posits that high degrees of work stress are prevalent in jobs with many demands and little control over working conditions. Some jobs that are known to be particularly stressful include firefighter, airline pilot, enlisted military personnel, police officer, and event coordinator. Additionally, some jobs such as healthcare worker, teacher, social worker, and administrative support worker have been associated with increased levels of depression. Elevated rates of substance abuse are prevalent among employees who work in mining, construction, and the food service industry.
Work-related stress is a significant problem, with an estimated 40% of workers describing their job as very or extremely stressful. In addition to mental health symptoms, work-related stress can cause physical health problems such as heart attacks, hypertension, pain, and insomnia.
There are various ways in which psychotherapy may be useful to help resolve workplace issues. Therapy can effectively treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms that result from workplace issues. Therapists can also teach healthy coping skills that employees can use to manage work-related stress and other issues. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy helps people to identify and change unhealthy thoughts, which often results in improved mood and overall well-being. Mindfulness, meditation, and other stress management techniques can be taught in psychotherapy. Therapy can also be useful for improving an individual’s assertive communication skills, as well as other conflict resolution skills. These skills can then be applied in the workplace to improve one’s experience at work.
Vocational counseling is a specific type of counseling that can be useful for workplace issues such as job fit, performance, and satisfaction. Vocational counselors help employees identify their specific skills and abilities in order to help them develop career goals and find jobs for which they are well suited. Industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology is also particularly relevant to workplace issues, as it focuses on human behavior in the workplace. I-O psychologists are sometimes brought into a workplace to identify areas of concern within an organization, as well as to help workers create a more collaborative, healthy work environment.
Some employers, including many federal agencies, offer counseling to their employees at no cost through employee assistance programs (EAPs). These counseling sessions provide an opportunity for employees to discuss any issues that may be affecting their work performance with trained professionals.
The decision to disclose a mental health condition to an employer can be a difficult one. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from firing employees with mental health conditions as long as they can perform the functions of their job, employees who make a disclosure may still face negative consequences such as not getting promoted, being treated differently, or even being fired. For this reason, many employees may not feel safe disclosing their mental health condition. While informing a supervisor about mental health issues can help an employee get additional support or necessary accommodations at work, there is also the potential for stigma and other negative effects. Ultimately, the decision to disclose is a personal one.
- Police officer experiencing psychological symptoms as a result of job stress: Jose, 48, is experiencing a lot of stress-related symptoms due to the high demands of his work as a police officer. He has been having difficulty sleeping and has noticed that his appetite has been decreasing. Additionally, he experiences muscle tension and headaches on a daily basis. Jose seeks therapy to help manage his stress. In his therapy sessions, he learns meditation and breathing techniques that he can practice each day in order to decrease his stress level. His therapist also helps him identify thinking patterns that contribute to his stress. For example, Jose realizes that he has been putting unrealistic expectations on himself. He has placed a lot of focus on small mistakes that he has made, while ignoring the times that he gets praise and positive feedback about his performance at work. Through his work in therapy, he is able to take a more realistic approach and accept that mistakes are inevitable while also allowing himself to acknowledge times when he performs well. Additionally, Jose and his therapist collaborate to develop a plan for increasing Jose’s lifestyle balance. He has been able to make time each day for exercise and relaxation, which has helped him decrease his overall stress level.
- Therapist helps with workplace bullying: Sara, 23, is consistently getting bullied by a coworker at the office. It's made her workplace environment incredibly uncomfortable, and she finds herself getting less and less work done. She also experiences a heavy feeling of anxiety before heading to the office and often calls in sick to avoid the issue all together. In lieu of quitting her job, Sara decided to find a therapist with whom to work. She has learned that she does not have to accept the current office environment as her reality, and has identified what steps to take to feel more comfortable at work. To communicate her feelings at the office, she had an open conversation with her boss about why her work is suffering, and organized a meeting with her coworker and boss to be mediated by the therapist. After a series of enlightening discussions, Sara feels more confident about going in to work and dealing with coworkers, who are treating her with a newfound respect.
- Bush, D.M., & Lipari, R.N.(2015). Substance use and substance use disorder by industry. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_1959/ShortReport-1959.html
- Hash, K.M., & Ceperich, S.D. (2006). Workplace issues. In D.F. Morrow, & L. Messinger (Eds.), Sexual orientation and gender expression in social work practice: Working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, & transgender people. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Rubino, C., Perry, S.J., Milam, A.C., Spitzmueller, C., & Zapf, D. (2012). Demand-control-person: Integrating the demand-control and conversation of resources models to test an expanded stressor-strain model. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 17(4), 456-472.
- Szeto, A.C.H., & Dobson, K.S. (2013). Mental disorders and their association with perceived work stress: An investigation of the 2010 Canadian community health survey. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18(2), 191-197.
- Ten careers with high rates of depression. (n.d.). Health.com. Retrieved from http://www.health.com/health/gallery/thumbnails/0,,20428990,00.html
- The most stressful jobs of 2015. (n.d.). CareerCast. Retrieved from http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/most-stressful-jobs-2015
- Tugend, A. (2014). Deciding whether to disclose mental disorders to the boss. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/15/your-money/disclosing-mental-disorders-at-work.html?_r=0
- Weir, K. (2013). Work, stress and health. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/09/stress-health.aspx
- Workplace stress. (n.d.). The American Institute of Stress. Retrieved from http://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/
Last updated: 07-03-2015