No one wants workplace stress and drama. It’s not like we go into the office in the morning and announce to our co-workers that we are currently accepting exorbitant doses of gossip, last-minute deadlines, impossibly difficult clients, and emotionally draining decisions regarding work/life balance. (And if you are going into the office and asking for any or all of that . . . well, that’s for another blog altogether.)
Jobs can be fun. They can be rewarding creative outlets and provide us with some of our most cherished moments of pride. But we all know that not every minute of every work day is filled with rainbows and star stickers at the top of our expense reports. Some days our office is brimming with agitated colleagues and fiery-tempered bosses. Some days we arrive to work bright-eyed, optimistic, and fueled by our morning latte, only to discover looming stacks of reports and projects waiting for us, already riddled with stress and frustration. Some days we are automatically forced into the heat of an ongoing attack between two co-workers vying for a rumored promotion and willing to stop at nothing to bash their competition out of the running.
When I started my first job, I was a hopelessly optimistic college grad with preconceived notions of how my career in the advertising world would go. I imagined creating award-winning campaigns, meeting and working with major clients, and clocking out every day with a feeling of immense accomplishment.
Did that happen sometimes? Sure. Did it happen most of the time? Absolutely not.
In the first few months at my job, I forced my way through meetings, projects, reports, and countless other common yet mind-numbing tasks college professors conveniently forget to divulge about in classes. I had conjured up an image of what I thought my career would look like, and instead I found myself getting more and more defeated with each 8-hour day spent behind my desk.
Rather than clocking out feeling accomplished, I would clock out and shuffle across the street to my car, either fighting to keep from bursting into frustrated tears or choking back seething anger at a difficult client or unrealistic project deadline. My car became a petri dish on my short fifteen minute commute home. My negative emotions multiplied at alarming rates, and by the time I pulled into my driveway, I was a human hurricane ready to pound the life out of anything in front of me.
At first, I thought I was good at keeping all my “work stuff” internalized. I didn’t burst through the door and start verbally vomiting out all the chaos of my day at work. I didn’t stomp upstairs and collapse onto the bed in puddles of tears. I just greeted my husband, tried to push my anger and frustration down into its cage for the night, and set about my nightly routine.
Then one day, I came home after a really stressful client meeting. It had been a long, drawn out debacle that no one on my team left feeling very good about. For whatever reason, it took an extra toll on my nerves and by the time I arrived home, my vision was already blurry with hot tears of hopelessness. My husband took one look at me as I slunk in from the garage and immediately pulled me into a hug so I could ugly sob into his chest.
I completely unloaded every stress, frustration, and fear into his now soggy shirt. Everything that I had been so bravely keeping from him was now out in the open. I felt much better about my job and what I was doing after this amazing mental release.
Until I got to work the next morning. My stress reservoir was filled to the brim yet again.
Now that my brain had tasted the notion of unloading everything brewing in it the second I got home, I absorbed any and every negative thought and feeling from work and couldn’t get home fast enough to spew everything out to my husband. After a week of this, I noticed that he was no longer waiting for me in the kitchen when I came home. I noticed that I wasn’t asked about my day or what I had done at the office. In fact, all talk of work seemed to be off the table.
Well, this didn’t help me at all. I had stress to get rid of! Frustrations to vent! Co-workers to bash! What happened to my captive audience?
One night, I came home and confronted my husband about his sudden lack of interest in how his poor wife’s day had gone. I demanded to know why he seemed to care more about his gaming console than greeting me with a hug or maybe starting dinner so I could talk to him about the atrocities which had befallen me that day.
He looked me square in the eye and said, “I have had a very rough week. We had a project completely fall apart. We lost a big bid on a project that financially we really needed. I also think one of our salespeople is leaving, which means we won’t be getting as many business prospects coming in.” He paused for a moment, carefully considering his next words. “I already am dealing with a ton of stress at work. Why would I want to come home to more?”
I suddenly realized all my workplace baggage had hitched a ride home and was strewn throughout my relationship with my husband, blinding me from seeing how this draining clutter was affecting my marriage. While he has always been there to support me, my husband is human. If he is experiencing equal or greater stress at his workplace, it is entirely unfair of me to assume that he has the capacity to digest my stress, too.
Right then and there, I decided it was time for some spring cleaning. I promised my husband I would try to focus more on the positives of my day, even if there was only one bright spot to share. I would ask him about how his day went and give him some “stress download time,” too. We would both take a few minutes together after we were home from work and discuss how the day had gone, and then that was it. No more work talk. It was silenced until the next weeknight.
As my husband and I fell into this new habit, I noticed that my attitude at work was improving. The drama and stress didn’t disappear, but I diligently kept an eye out for bright spots during the day that I could eagerly tell my husband about that night. Did I still have challenges and frustrations to share? Of course. But they were healthily balanced with positive and funny happenings from the day.
So can you escape the office drama? Yes, and I dare say it is vital that you do. But it will require some serious work on your part. If you’re having repeated issues with something at work, don’t internalize it. Bring your concerns to your manager and ask them to help you deal with the situation. If you have co-workers who are unfailing sources of gossip and tension in the office, limit your interaction with them and be sure to not fall into a trap of negativity when you do spend time with them. Find or create positive moments in your day.
And when you arrive home, whether to a spouse, family, or roommates, resist the urge to treat them like work stress dumping grounds. Will you have days filled with entirely too much and you really need their love and support? Yes, and they will be there for you on those days. But respect your relationships and honor your mutual decision to be a source of joy, encouragement, and edification.
Don’t let work come to dinner. It can survive on takeout at the office.