I think the second largest area of relationship problems people come to me about, after family, is work. This isn’t difficult to understand once you factor in that many people spend more time during the week with co-workers than they do with family and the financial incentives inherent in employment. Add into that the differences in position involved in most work settings, and work relationships begin to get very interesting.
Work isn’t family, but it’s still relationship. Work involved different people of different backgrounds, skills, and temperaments all coming together to accomplish a common goal. They do this multiple hours per day, often in stressful circumstances. there are differences in roles and responsibilities, positions of power, personalities and perspectives. How well each person individually and collectively does his job has significant financial impacts.
Society places a great deal of value on not only what you do but also how well you do it. That’s a whole lot of pressure rolled up into a job. The more the pressure, the higher the stress; the higher the stress, the more a person’s work life can begin to affect and overtake their personal life. Once work overtakes your personal life, it’s pretty easy to look up and realize a co-worker or boss has wrestled control of your happiness away from you.
It is not difficult to imagine how a work situation, in which there is a disparity in position, can imitate a family relationship. Bosses can sometimes treat subordinates like their own children. They can also treat them like they themselves were treated growing up. Subordinates can sometimes react to bosses or supervisors in the same way they did to a parent or sibling. With a boss as a parent and co-workers as siblings, workplaces can become surrogate sites for family dynamics and sibling rivalries to be played out. Work relationships simply can have a way of triggering old familial relationships, especially dysfunctional ones. When this occurs, the secondary work relationship gains an unfair advantage through the tie-in to the primary family relationship. The only way to sort it out is to learn how to separate the two.
Work is a contract between an employer and employee. The employee agrees to give energy, expertise, effort, and time to the employer in exchange for an agreed-upon wage. This is a limited contract and has numerous built-in legal safeguards regarding conduct, reimbursement, expectations, etc. While the law certainly can and does provide protection for workers in many areas, it is up to the worker to protect himself or herself personally from being unduly influenced by what goes on at work. It is up to you to put guardrails up around your work, to help keep it from spilling over and overtaking your personal life. Employers will not do that for you.
This can be especially difficult for those individuals who grew up to believe that their value and self-worth derive from what they do as opposed to who they are. For these individuals, there is no such thing as a good day at work because there’s always more to be done. For these individuals, the thoughts and opinions of those they work with take on out-of-proportion importance. A negative comments about one area of work by a co-worker can turn into a total condemnation of all the areas of work. The desire to please the boss, often as a surrogate parent, compels them to demand an ever greater performance in order to achieve an elusive state of perfection and parental affirmation.
When this happens, the person becomes more concerned with how others feel he or she is doing, as opposed to what they are actually doing. This can interfere with work productivity, morale, and job satisfaction. When these suffer, the person as a whole suffers, and what is going on at work becomes the driving force in a person’s life. This enjoyment of family, friends, recreation, and other pursuits are all tainted by this negative shroud of work dissatisfaction and the constant pressure to do more.
Work, because of the large role it plays in life, has a tendency to want to flood over its banks. Because of fear of failure, you end up doing more than you should. Because the past hurts, you are acutely sensitive to the unintentional actions of others. Because of insecurity, you pay more attention to the negative things said about you than the positive things.
Work should not be in the driver’s seat of your life. It should be firmly relegated to the backseat. It is part of your life; it certainly is along for the ride in your life, but it is not who you are, nor should it determine how valuable you are. Your satisfaction from work should come from who you are expressed within what you do, whatever it is you do. When you derive a sense of satisfaction from who you are, expressed through work, activities, and relationships, you provide yourself an anchor even when things don’t go as planned.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.