“We ought to find suffering as a significant aspect of organizational life…” ~ (Frost, 1999)
When individuals enter the workplace, we like to believe that work is a safe place that benefits employees both financially and socially. Although it is true that work has a number of positive benefits to individuals, in addition to them receiving a salary. However, work unfortunately can have devastating effects on individuals’ mental health. Here I outline the top types of suffering that can be caused by work. These are things to watch out for at work and if you notice a number of these issues at your organization it might be time for an intervention.
As individuals suffer on a personal level, their misery also inundates their professional lives. This suffering can come in many forms—both from inside the organization and from outside the organization. Here we will only focus on suffering caused by work.
Abusive supervision, in which a leader engages in continuous hostile behaviours to their employees, can have devastating impact on employees. For those who are not able to escape the sustained abuse, the injustice these employees face affects both their physical and psychological wellbeing, including increased stress, burnout, depression, and anxiety, as well as lowered life satisfaction, job satisfaction and family satisfaction.
It is not only the leaders who can cause this kind of suffering in employees. Research has suggested that approximately half of employees have experienced workplace bullying, and over three-quarters have witnessed it.
A systematic review suggests that sexual harassment affects both job and health-related outcomes. Sexual harassment experiences are related to decreased job satisfaction, increased withdrawal, and decreased productivity, as well as decreased mental and physical health, increased PTSD, and decreased life satisfaction.
Acute injuries can lead to severe suffering for employees: post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are common in individuals who experience a workplace injury. Not only are these disorders difficult and come with a wide array of symptoms, the community also stigmatizes them. The employee’s suffering is now increased, having to deal with PTSD or depression, while also combatting stigma and potential isolation from coworkers.
Although suffering can happen at work. Suffering can also happen when individuals are excluded from work by unemployment. Using data from European Union countries, researchers have found that every 1% increase in unemployment was associated with a 0.79% rise in suicides at ages younger than 65 years. This means that on average there will be 310 excess deaths because of a 1% increase in unemployment. When the unemployment rate increase by 3%, on average an there will be 1740 more deaths from suicide and 3500 more from alcohol abuse.
It is clear that employees are suffering at work, from abusive supervision, bullying, sexual abuse, discrimination and stigma, injury, underemployment, and unemployment, in addition to the suffering and emotions employees bring from their home life. As a response to this suffering, organizations must take steps to intervene to create more productive and psychologically safe work environments. This will not only help employees psychologically, but it will also help organizations by having a more productive and engaged workforce.