The number of men and women that are unemployed remains a serious problem in today’s economy, and one that the media focuses on almost every day. But it’s not the only issue that comes out of a struggling economy. Another problem is that many employees are finding that their job is incredibly stressful, and yet because of the difficulty that others have in finding a job, they’re forced to experience the anxiety and stress of their career every day.
I had this type of job at the end of college. My direct supervisor and a high level executive within the small company was what could best be described as a “bully,” often sending profanity laced emails about issues that he himself caused. My coworkers spent much of their time trying to deflect the blame, and this turned the workplace into an increasingly toxic environment. Every day I would go to work with extreme stress – nausea, fear, anxiety – and yet at the time (due primarily to financial commitments) I knew that quitting was not an option.
Finding the Fun in a Toxic Workplace
For a while I felt increasingly helpless. But it wasn’t long until I started to realize that I was in the wrong mindset. Yes – I was in a toxic work environment, and yes – I couldn’t change that environment on my own (especially in my position, which was close to entry level). But that didn’t mean that there weren’t ways that I could make my workplace more fun for me, so that even though the workplace environment didn’t necessary change, my own ability to cope with the stress of that environment changed dramatically. Here are some of the strategies I used:
1. Making a Game
My personal favorite technique was to turn my stress into a game. To do this, I made a bingo card about likely causes of my stress, including all of the issues that would commonly arise. For example, a particular four-letter word in my inbox from my direct supervisor merited an X in that box. A coworker sending a group email accusing me of something I had nothing to do with was another X. If I reached a bingo, I’d treat myself to ice cream. I also had a few fun spaces, like “seeing an employee leave the bathroom without washing their hands.” Also, “going to work while experiencing anxiety” was my free space, so my day always started with a box X’d out.
2. Organizing Group Events
I convinced my office to let me schedule group events for other officemates, as a way of team building. While I certainly did my best at this role, I also used it as a way to convince the company to pay for events that I myself wanted to do anyway, such as go to the zoo. With a “+1” option, I was able to take my close friend to all of these activities that we had planned to do anyway, all on the company’s dime. While that may sound scandalous, I always put 110% into planning each event, so that it could always be the team building exercise that the company hoped it would be.
My company had a more relaxed dress code, but it wasn’t a t-shirt and jeans environment. So I decided to have a little fun – all behind the scenes. I went to a local t-shirt shop and bought about a dozen inexpensive Superman t-shirts. Underneath my dress shirt and tie, I would wear one of these t-shirts, so that in my head, I could daydream about a scenario where I rip off my dress shirt and reveal that yes, I am really Superman.
These were all things that were personal to me. But they all made my career more fun despite the toxic workplace, none of them were necessarily unprofessional (at least not publicly), and all of them helped me change the way I see work from one that caused me regular anxiety attacks to one that could still bring me joy on a daily basis.
About the Author: Ryan Rivera is a strong believer in changing mindsets as a potential tool to combat anxiety. He provides his own thoughts and cure articles at www.calmclinic.com.
Picture: Okko Pyykkö