Categorized | Life

The Ghosts of Work Experience Past

Posted on 22 April 2009

There’s something comforting and familiar about Casper haunting the Saturday morning airwaves. But there’s nothing comforting about the ghosts of your former workplace. Manifesting themselves as feelings of inadequacy, layoff threats or even fear of physical violence, ignored phantoms from your past are affecting you, whether you know it or not.

Physical Evidence
As we trek from one job to the next, we carry with us the baggage of past experience. Sometimes these experiences–and even the fear of re-experiencing them–can actually make us physically ill. In Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Invisible Injury, author David Kinchin defines this disorder as “a natural emotional reaction to a deeply shocking and disturbing experience.” Whether it’s a one-time major event (e.g., war) or a continued series of events (e.g., harassment), all can cause PTSD. Symptoms include forgetfulness, physical numbness, and depression. Most workers don’t know that “their ill health symptoms collectively” comprise PTSD.

“Prospects for recovery are good, especially when you are in the company of fellow survivors or those with genuine insight, empathy and experience,” he concludes.

Anger, frustration, and irritation weaken the human body’s immune system and drain its energy.

In his study Neutralizing Workplace Stress: The Physiology of Human Performance and Organizational Effectiveness, Bruce Cryer, the president and chief and executive officer of HeartMath LLC, cites his institute’s tell-tale research. The study says anger, frustration and irritation weaken the human body’s immune system and drain its energy, leaving it “more susceptible to colds, flu, and more serious illnesses.” Cryer also notes that the converse is true: positive attitudes give the body ammunition to fight illness better.

“The more our system is balanced, the more intuitive insight we are capable of–intuition that can anticipate problems before they turn ugly,” he says.

The Power of Intuition
According to Nancy Rosanoff, an intuition consultant, trainer and author, “Analytic data is based on the past and gives an overview of similar circumstances. Intuition enhances analytic thinking and focuses on the present situation, providing insights as to timing, specific strategy and innovation.”

She suggests keeping a journal to track your intuitive impressions and results because “once you experience how accurate your intuitions are, you will pay more attention, and so will others.”

For example, if your intuition tells you that your potential new boss is like a former nightmarish boss, “run for the hills,” says Roberta Chinsky Matuson, the principal of Massachusetts-based Human Resource Solutions. The signs and the experiences are there and they’re real, she says. “Use information from the past. Learn from your mistakes and from what you did right” so next time “you’ll do the right thing for you.”

Sometimes “who you work for is the most important element of a job,” says Helene Lauer, a private career consultant in Wellesley, MA. She recommends checking references on the boss, once he makes the offer. Probe the industry and discover what knowledgeable people are saying about him.

Investigate his career history and management style. If the style is a stumbling block, take a positive approach and acknowledge it. Say “I don’t do well with those whose management style is X,” says Matuson.

Taking Charge
If your work situation worsens, your next question is: will you leave or stay and try to resolve it? Sometimes it’s as easy as going to a new department or reporting to a new supervisor. “You are more likely to find a good match with your new boss if you have common backgrounds and interests,” Lauer continues.

But, whether your ghosts are people, places, or things, you can exorcise them from your workplace if you “always pay attention to any strong emotional reaction you may have,” pick up on the cues, and analyze what happened in your past that prompts this reaction, advises Susan Gottlieb, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Arlington, MA. That, she says, is the best way to avoid having the ghosts of workplace past re-visit you.

Be Your Own Ghostbuster
If you see an unsatisfactory pattern in your work life, ask yourself why this keeps happening. Do you keep selecting a bad situation or is it bad luck? Is it a lack of knowledge?

Sometimes outside help is the answer. Boston-based e-commerce consultant Patricia O’Hern found herself in a familiar, negative situation with a new client. She realized she needed help to be successful and hired a career coach. “We discussed the situations and alternatives,” O’Hern says. “He taught me how to develop the tools and skills to deal with a variety of challenges so I can serve my clients better.”

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