Career-related stress refers to stressors associated with a person's job, career, or employment status. Career-related stress covers a wife variety of domains. It may stem from concerns around performance; anxiety about measuring up to co-workers or proving oneself to supervisors, pressure from one’s employer to perform more efficiently or effectively, and concerns around how performance may impact career-trajectory and job security. Some careers have implications beyond impressing or disappointing the boss; individuals in career fields with high stakes face added stress around performance when mistakes or missteps can be life-or-death or have meaningful financial repercussions for a business. Job insecurity can also be a major source of career-related stress. Individuals with part-time or limited employment may worry about the ability to secure more stable employment, folks working in companies or industries facing layoffs may experience uncertainty about whether or not they will be let go or keep their position, seasonal or gig workers may face a lack of guaranteed employment which may be distressing. Issues of workplace environment can also create significant stress. This stress can stem from issues with the physical work environment, such as safety in the workplace, difficult working conditions, and whether the employer makes necessary accommodations to keep workers safe and healthy. There may also be issues of a problematic social or psychological workplace environment. This may include experiences of discrimination or harassment, a lack of fairness or the presence of systemic dysfunction, or toxic dynamics between co-workers and between employer and employees. General conflict with the people you work with day to day can lead to job dissatisfaction and cause stress in return. Practical stressors such as commute, compensation, work hours or schedule, flexibility around working from home versus in the office, and quality of benefits (paid time off, health care, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave) can have a big impact on individual’s experience with career-related stress. Career-related stress may also refer to more existential concerns around whether one’s career provides them with a sense of meaning or accomplishment, worries about whether or not one is in the “right” career for them, and anxiety about the uncertainty and fear that comes up around making a career change, particularly if the change requires additional schooling, training, or an initial reduction in income.
The average person will spend 1/3 of their lives at work, reflecting the significance that high levels of career-related stress can have on individuals and their overall well-being. Research shows that stress at work is associated with a range of negative mental and physical health outcomes, including high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, and increased substance use. Career-related stress does not occur in a vacuum, and often intersects with psychosocial stressors which exist outside of the context of work. For example, struggling with depression might make it difficult to perform at work, risking termination or creating a negative feedback loop where the depressed person feels a decreased sense of effectiveness at work and in their life overall. A toxic or contentious relationship with a boss may generate irritability or anger that gets displaced or projected onto an individual’s loved ones, causing issues within one’s personal relationship that only create further distress.
Career-related stress has different impacts for different people, and a variety of factors contribute to the weight that career-related stress has on an individual’s mental health. The reach of career-related stress can be wide, and exploring whether stress is connected to circumstances related to one’s career is important to understanding that stress and moving towards easing it or lessening it’s impact.
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Emily Green, Psy.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in Washington, DC and offering telehealth to individuals, couples, and families in 33 participating Psypact states. Her expertise is in treating individuals who have experienced trauma, including acute trauma and developmental / chronic trauma. She treats a range of other issues including: anxiety, relationship dissatisfaction or conflict, life transitions, grief and loss, work stress and folks with high-stress / high-pressure careers, and general life distress. Dr. Green’s approach to therapy is grounded in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a behavioral and cognitive approach to treatment which focuses on helping clients work towards a life of meaning and value. You can contact Emily directly through her MyWellbeing profile or directly on her website.