How to Handle Work Guilt

How to Handle Work Guilt

Jen Lawrence
Jen Lawrence

Business Process Consultant focusing on streamlining workflows, optimizing tools, and aligning teams for operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Call it whatever you want – on some level, we all experience some level of guilt around our jobs, especially if our work is particularly demanding. Today, there’s a focused emphasis on “Mom Guilt,” but the reality is that dads experience it, caregivers experience it, married people experience it, single people experience it. Unfortunately, the guilt is real for most workers.

Why is guilt so prevalent in our society? First, it’s important to note that this guilt is nothing new. We’re just talking about it more – and making more memes about it. However, due to the climbing cost of living, we have more people in the workforce who are working longer hours to make ends meet, which is resulting in less time at home with our loved ones. Also, technology, while wonderful, is keeping us perpetually connected to both work and home, stretching our attention to full life awareness at all times. We’re hyperaware of all the things we aren’t doing and all the people we aren’t spending time with.

Work Guilt can be overwhelming and lead to emotionality, rash decisions, and mental breakdowns. While you may not be able to change the circumstances around the core of the work guilt (if you have to work, you have to work), there are ways we can manage how we feel.

Change Your Job

Stick with me here. If your guilt is stemming from hating your job (whether your role or the environment), seek out another form of employment. Consistently showing up at work resentful, angry, or stressed serves absolutely no one. And if you’re going to make the argument that the job pays too well to leave, I pose a different perspective – what is it costing you?

Change Your Dialogue

Pause to consider the language you are using with yourself and others about work. We hear this all the time – mindset matters. Talking about work like it’s the bane of our existence and a pain in the ass will only set you up to expect and receive just that from your job.

Instead, start by focusing on a positive aspect every day. You could keep a list somewhere, journal it, or just think about it – whatever works for you, but once a day, fixate on one good thing that happened that day. It could be anything such as Donut Day, getting over the hurdle of a project, learning a new skill, or even just that you have a job.

And when someone asks how work is going, here are two suggestions. First, don’t use the word “busy”. Newsflash, we’re all busy. Second, create a balance in your language, such as “It’s been demanding lately, but I’ve learned a lot in the past few weeks, and we’re almost to the end of the project!” You don’t have to lie, but again, land on a positive note.

Have Conversations About Your Actual Work with Loved Ones

Every job goes through busy and slow times, whether seasonally – like accountants and retail workers – or project-based. However, the accountants have a leg up on everyone else – we know when they’re underwater. Have you ever tried to make plans with an accountant at the end of the quarter or during tax time? Sheesh!

However, for the vast majority of us, our loved ones have no perspective on what we do all day. Remember those memes about the different perspectives around various job roles? We have fallen so hard into the practice of not bringing our work home with us that we’re compartmentalizing to our detriment.

Alternatively, involve your loved ones in conversations about your actual work. And no – I don’t mean fill them in on all the office gossip. Talk about (as much as you can) current projects that are on your plate. Discuss challenges that popped up and how you worked to resolve them. If you’re hitting a high season, let them know and fill them in on what to expect during that time.

For example, if you have reports due at the end of every quarter, let your family know! Let them know what the reports require you to do (tons of meetings, putting together spreadsheets and charts, working a few extra hours) and explain to them why it’s essential to your job. This opens up a conversation about what you actually do and sets expectations around your availability and energy levels.

Improve Your Time Management

Work Guilt can stem from feeling overworked. However, let’s have an honest moment – could you be better at time management? Take a quick look at your schedule. Are you overcommitting yourself? Are you handling tasks in a timely manner? Are you allowing yourself the personal time you actually need?

Do an honest and thorough evaluation of your habits and see what could be tweaked. If you need help getting started, check out my blog posts on scheduling your to-dos, setting daily priorities, and batching your work.

Be Present When at Home

Finally, be present when you’re at home. Turn off work and other unnecessary notifications on your phone and computer. Allow yourself to decompress and be with the ones you love – giving them your full attention. Even better, create an active, engaging environment at home. If you’re cooking dinner, involve the whole family. Nothing on the agenda for the day? Take a walk and then have a board game tournament. Or have your own movie marathon with the added fun of trivia questions. Make home a place where you suddenly wonder where your phone is because you haven’t seen it in a few hours. Work, social media, games, sports updates – they’ll all be there when you decide to check back in.

Above all, remember that you’re not in this alone. Everyone experiences some form of guilt related to their work. Chat it out with friends – find out their techniques for coping. And if you feel like that’s not enough, seek professional help. Therapists can do wonders by giving you perspective and tools.

Be kind to yourself!

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