Managing Stress Overload
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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I work in a fast-paced trading environment. I knew when I took the job that it was a stressful place to be. I don’t mind the work, but I can’t take the stress of my colleagues. People are so sarcastic and insulting. It’s as if the bad attitudes are “okay” just because the work is tough. Everyone tolerates this, and no one dares to say anything. One of my colleagues in particular is just plain nasty. He literally sneers at people when they talk to him. I really can’t afford to just up and quit this job. But I can’t take much more of the negativity and abuse here. Please do not recommend that I speak to HR. I’m not lying when I say the head of HR is related to the guy who is particularly brutal. HR is not a safe place for me. Is there anything I can do or say to these people who are being so abusive?
Why do people allow their crazy, nasty side to emerge at work? You are describing the response to stress and a generally hostile culture that obviously accepts this type of behavior as normal. I’ve heard harrowing stories about abusive bosses, and abusive co-workers over the years. I still haven’t found a rationale as to why anyone feels the need to behave this way.
That said, when you encounter a bully, the worst thing you can do is bow to them. Bullies will always find the person who either won’t fight or fights in an unproductive, provoked manner. Similar to the rules of the playground, you don’t want people to see you reacting to this behavior. As hard as it is, the more you react, the more the fires get fueled.
You may want to consider another workplace. I understand your points about the trading floor and having been in this business for decades now, I realize it can have its own culture. That said, I know of many situations where people act as a team despite their stress and band together instead of picking on one another!
If you can’t leave for whatever reason, you need to build a shell around yourself to be able to deal with the vitriol. I recommend preparing yourself each day before you even go into the office by using self-talk that strengthens and encourages you. You should prepare some “mantras” that you find useful. Some of my favorites for situations like this would be:
“I am sorry for these people/this person that they feel the need to act like this, but it has nothing to do with me.”
“This is a job. I’m not related or married to these people. They are a passing time in my life.”
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whatever they want to say literally cannot hurt me unless I let it.”
I’m not a big fan of being overly positive in your self-talk when a situation is this negative. Our brains can reject things that just seem too unreal. Instead, talk to yourself as a friend might. Be more objective and observant. Have the self-talk ready, and say these things to yourself over and over again before you enter the workplace each day and several times throughout the day as the craziness unfolds. Keep your attention on the self-talk that strengthens you. When you find yourself reacting, make a conscious choice to talk to yourself with your prepared statements.
In many cases with bullies like these, if you cease to react or even notice what they are doing, they will lose interest in you and move on to something (or someone) else. Just remember to practice – it takes time to build new skills like this.