Post-Traumatic Job Disorder

We got a call from one of our favorite people a few weeks ago (used to be a hiring client, then became a jobseeker/candidate) and she was flummoxed over getting to work one morning to her new job. She had experienced some car trouble late the night before and had concerns that she would have to get the car into the shop. A consummate professional in a mid-level management position, she let her new boss know about it that night and was told, “Don’t worry. Just keep us posted.”

Sure enough, the car was pronounced unsafe to drive at her crazy-early car repair appointment the next day. She got a ride to work, but it made me wonder why she was so worried (she ended up being only about :10 late to her new job).

Then I was reminded that her previous place of employment had been a tough place to work. There was a lot of negativity, unfounded criticism, and back-stabbing and she had worked there for more than a few years. It began to make sense then … she was suffering from PTJD. It’s hard to trust a decent work environment when you’re still cowering from former trauma.

There are many varieties of harsh employer culture that can cause PTJD. Sometimes it’s a company tolerance of supervisors who manage by keeping people off balance, or by a lack of accountability for behaviors of rudeness, harassment, deceit, disinformation, and even bullying.

Going through these kinds of experiences can actually cause stress reactions long after the events themselves. Worse, they can also sometimes teach employees, by bad example, to replicate these behaviors in future jobs, perpetuating the problem.

We often tell beginners to the workforce: what you’re doing in your first job isn’t as important as who you’re doing it for. It’s normal to think first of the importance of the learning opportunities, the career path, and the personality of your team. But it’s just as important to work for people who are kind and trustworthy.