Surviving Employee PTSD

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Do I have Employee PTSD?

I entered a new world recently, very enthusiastically. I’ve got a new job, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

And, in all honesty, I’m thankful for everyone who has ever handed me a work contract. I’ve always been fully confident in my ability to do everything I’ve done, from my lowly job scrubbing pots and pans in a bakery, to running a summer camp, to my current job working in digital reputation management.

But I’ve also done a fair amount of career hopping, so to some extent, I understand why someone might look at my resume with a level of trepidation. Is he really qualified for what we’re going to be tossing his way? Is he going to once again decide to move on to something very different with his life?

Is he a product of his previous employment, incapable of shifting to become the kind of worker we need him to be?

Suffering from Employee PTSD


And this last question is a major part of what I want to write about today.

I think I’m suffering from a bit of Employee PTSD… which may or may not be a term I’m coining. Or it might even be a term I’m using wildly incorrectly.


When you’ve been employed for a while, you build up a reservoir of experiences. And, unfortunately, inevitably many of those experiences will be harsh or negative.

And they start shaping your outlook.

Here are some examples of workplace situations that have shaped my perspective, which I will need to shed in order to live a comfortable life, and be the best I can possibly be at what I do.

On Edge, All The Time


I had several jobs over the years with one-year contracts. These contracts contained clauses stating I could be let go at any time for any reason whatsoever. And the contracts never improved, they just got renewed from year to year… If you were lucky.

They left me feeling unnerved, never fully comfortable. Never fully feeling like I was protected or that my career was going anywhere.

And they’ve helped me develop a mindset like I’m always on the chopping block. Like my job could be snatched out from me at any moment. I can do exceptional work. I can be a team player. I can be innovative and put in tons of hours. But it does not matter. When the smoke clears, it can all be snatched right out from under me in an instant.

It’s an unsustainable way to feel in the workplace. I, and I assume most people, are infinitely better at what we do if we have a certain level of freedom, a certain level of knowing we can come and go, do our thing, and not live in panic that every misstep, big or small, could result in our termination.

This was especially true from my teaching days, where it didn’t even need to be a real misstep. All that was needed was a false accusation from an angry student or parent, and not only would the job disappear in the blink of an eye, but the career would be gone as well. Vanished into thin air, regardless of anything I had done prior.

And it’s still there. That ever-oppressive voice in the back of my head that tells me I need to be perfect or the chopping block is in my future. Don’t take days off. Don’t socialize too much. You must over-perform. And you need to be the best at everything, otherwise they’ll just find someone else.

Merger PTSD


That PTSD is following me around, alongside a fear of mergers and acquisitions.

I’ve now worked for several companies either during or shortly after the company was part of a massive restructuring, either bought by someone else or combined with another company.

In every case, the mood is awful. Everyone’s terrified of change, and they’re panicking that the company culture is about to be shifted drastically. And they’re right! These are always filled with massive change and culture shifts. And often gigantic layoffs as well.

And these restructurings can happen at any moment.

It takes some of us months or even years to get fully settled in a role. To know your boss, and the way things flow, and the nuances of the company culture, and to start feeling like you belong, like you’re a part of the fabric of the company.

And there are countless ways that can be uprooted in the blink of an eye.

I once worked for a company that excitedly talked about it’s new merger with a competitor. I’m sure someone in some office somewhere made millions off the deal. But the rest of just felt doom and gloom as we watched everything we had grown to know and love get flipped on its head.

And before we knew it, half of us were unceremoniously let go.

Fear of change is real. Fear of change in the workplace is very real. And it’s not going away for me anytime soon.

Questioning PTSD


My final workplace PTSD is about asking questions.

In any new work situation, or really at any point along the way, people should be strongly encouraged to ask copious amounts of questions. It’s how we learn. How could we be expected to know everything, or really anything at all? And if the job involves any level of complexity or there are moving parts that change all the time, you will need to rely on others to help in the process.

And this should be encouraged!

But some people are really bad at this. Some people or institutions don’t have a simple way to ask questions. Or they’ll go so far as to make you feel inadequate for even asking.

And this happened to me enough times that I fear asking, despite knowing full well how much of a necessity it is.

Whenever I need to ask someone a question, I have to brace myself. I feel like I’m inconveniencing others. And that I should have an alternative way of finding our the information. And then when I finally break through and ask what I needed, I’m still shocked and in awe when they graciously answer me and are not bothered by the fact that I asked.

I’ve got a lot of growth and an odd uphill battle ahead of me. I know I’ll emerge on the other end of this a better, stronger person. I just wish I didn’t have to wash off so many years of muck and grime to get there.

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