Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Office Blues and Office Battleshock: Two Occupational Hazards

Every profession has its occupational hazards. Construction workers have to worry about falling, miners about being buried alive; chefs run the risk of burning or cutting themselves. You might think that people who sit and stare at a screen all day have no occupational hazards, but this is not the case. Office work carries with it, first of all, the risk of muscular-skeletal problems such as back and neck pain and carpal-tunnel syndrome. But the occupation hazards for office workers are not just physical. As a mental health professional, I’ve come to believe that the psychological hazards for office workers, especially those at the bottom of the pecking order, are formidable, largely because workers and employers alike tend to ignore their existence and thus do little to address them.

Without appropriate protective measures, workers in contemporary offices may fall prey to either or both of two psychiatric conditions which I call office blues and office battleshock. In DSM-IV terms, these conditions translate into “adjustment disorder with depressed mood.” “adjustment disorder with anxious mood” or “adjustment disorder with depressed and anxious mood.” Adjustment disorders are caused by environmental conditions or events, not merely by differences in brain wiring. A single painful event such as a death or a divorce may cause an adjustment disorder, but so may an ongoing, toxic situation such as a bad marriage - or a bad job. I believe many office workers suffer from eight-to-five adjustment disorders that they experience as a result of multiple psychological challenges, including confinement, inactivity, deprivation, disconnection, frustration, overwhelm, toxicity, and uncertainty. These people may be fine outside of the workplace, but when they’re at the office, they become symptomatic.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Welcome, Fellow Office Misfits!

Do you feel that your office job isn’t “you”?

Do you find it hard to relate to coworkers who love talking about “best practices” and seem to find updates to online systems fascinating?

Do some of the challenges of office life – confinement, inactivity, sensory/emotional/intellectual deprivation, disconnection, frustration, overwhelm, toxicity, uncertainty – seem to bother you more than they do other people?

Do you resent having to flush away hours and hours typing nonsense into a plastic box when your real passion is playing the piano, climbing rocks, writing novels, studying Greek, making quilts, or taking care of your own kids?

Do you dread coming to work every day even though you know millions of unemployed would love to have your job?
    If so, you’re in the right place. These days, there are lots of us office misfits out there, and this blog is to be a place where we can congregate and share war stories as well as suggestions for coping with an office world that is at once unnatural, undemocratic, ungenerous, and unrelenting. While to our coworkers, a routine office job may represent success, to many of us it represents either failure to succeed at something else we’d rather be doing or dreams being sacrificed for the sake of loved ones who need our support. Consequently, we may feel lonely and isolated at work, which is why we need each other!