People in today’s workforce face challenges that did not exist 30 or 40 years ago. Jobs are scarcer and more difficult to hold onto, and performance expectations are higher. Although both minimum wage and average hourly wages have increased at roughly the same rate, neither one has kept pace with inflation. What this means is that even if most modern-day workers put in more hours and produce more output than their 1970s counterparts, they will still not be able to afford the same things.
Workers of today are under immense pressure, from the highly salaried CEOs and vice presidents to the janitors and fast-food workers making minimum wage. This stress is often carried over into the personal and family arena, where it is amplified by a different set of challenges.
Everyone has a point at which they cannot take any more. Some people are able to manage this breaking point in healthy ways, like taking time off to be with family. For others, a single stress-relieving drink can lead down a rabbit hole of addiction that is difficult to come back from.
Who Is At Risk?
A term that is used a lot is “corporate burnout”. This evokes a picture of highly paid people in suits sitting in their offices at all hours, burning the midnight oil. They get by on very little sleep and hardly see their families. Even when they are at home, they’re constantly checking their work emails and taking calls from their bosses. At some point, they start to use marijuana or cocaine to give themselves bursts of energy as they’re working all-nighters, and this starts the cycle of addiction.
While this picture may be accurate, it is by no means complete. Workplace stress, and the addiction that can stem from it, can happen to almost anyone.
Entry-Level Workers Starting Their Careers In Debt
While the prospect of getting your first job after graduating from college or university is exciting, it can also be fraught with stress. Post-secondary education comes with a high price tag: young people are entering the workforce with significant debts hanging over them. University fees in Ontario run to an average of around $7,000 for tuition alone. By the time students graduate, they have accumulated student loan debts of over $20,000.
It can be overwhelming for new members of the workforce to be confronted with salaries and hourly wages that are declining in value, combined with escalating prices and student loan debts that take an average of ten years to pay off.
Workers Earning Minimum Wage
While Ontario’s minimum wage has increased over the last 40 years, its relative value has gone down. If minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, it would be around $7 per hour higher than it is. In some locations, it is not possible to work 40 hours a week on minimum wage and earn enough to live on.
A lot of people who have minimum wage jobs do not have the means or ability to develop the skills needed for higher-paying work. But they still have to pay rent and put food on the table, so in many cases, they take on extra shifts or additional jobs.
An added challenge is that many minimum wage jobs are physically gruelling. They may involve heavy lifting, or extended periods of time standing. This increases the risk of injury, which may go untreated if the employee does not have the financial means to take time off work.
People Struggling With Work-Life Balance
People are having to juggle more responsibilities than ever before. This can take various forms: parents who have to balance their jobs with taking care of their kids; people who are holding down full-time jobs and spending their nights working towards a qualification; employees who are expected to answer work-related phone calls and emails over weekends.
In days gone by, it was easier to leave work issues at work at the end of the day. With the evolution of technology and the resulting changes to how we work, it is increasingly difficult to maintain that separation. This can result in people buckling under the pressure of trying to fulfil work and home roles, sometimes simultaneously.
How Work-Related Stress Leads To Addiction
It is no secret that workplaces can be minefields of stressful moments: performance reviews, project deadlines being shifted, things going wrong at the last minute, urgent tasks being dumped on us ten minutes before we’re supposed to go home. People in customer-facing roles have to deal with difficult customer interactions and unjustified complaints. Healthcare workers endure on-the-job trauma and the pressure of life-or-death decisions. Every occupation has its built-in stressors.
We respond to stressful events in the moment by going into “fight or flight” mode, where we gear ourselves up for action. Our heart rate increases and we breathe faster. Our muscles tighten up. We become hypervigilant.
If you are going through ongoing stress, this constant state of arousal will start to wear you down. You may start to get a lot of headaches, chest pains, and muscle pains. Digestive problems such as stomach pains and nausea may appear. You might start to feel tired yet unable to sleep. You could start to get sick frequently as your immune system weakens.
You are also likely to experience changes in your mood, such as anxiety, depression, irritability or anger, a sense of being overwhelmed, and a sense of sadness. Inevitably, these changes start to spill over into your behaviour. You may have outbursts of anger that are directed toward coworkers or customers. Lateness and absenteeism may increase, and when you are at work, your performance may suffer. You withdraw from the people you work with, and you make mistakes that can be dangerous or costly.
The more this happens, the more stressed you become. The more stressed you are, the higher that chances that you will experience these effects. As you are drawn into the cycle of stress, it can be all too easy to seek escape in substances. In the beginning it might seem harmless: a beer at the end of a stressful day, or an extra painkiller to take the edge off the aches and pains that result from your stress.
Without you noticing, having a drink, or using some other substance “once in a while” can turn into a daily occurrence. You use more of the substance more often, thinking it’s helping you cope, while in fact things are getting worse.
Addiction Is Preventable
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are things you can do to manage your stress in healthy ways and avoid going down the path of substance abuse. The following tips may be helpful:
- Ensure that you are physically active on a regular basis. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy: running, swimming, yoga, lifting weights.
- Set aside time to intentionally relax. Some techniques that can help with this include deep breathing, tai chi, meditation, and mindfulness.
- Laughter really can be the best medicine. Go and see a stand-up comic or a comedy movie. If you’re not up to going out, seek out humorous content on YouTube.
- Spend time with your loved ones. Try to focus on them when you are home from work. Plan some activities that will create opportunities for connection.
- Spend time with yourself. Everyone needs some quiet time alone to decompress. Take a long bath, go for a solitary walk, read a book.
- Talk to your employer about work/life boundaries. Agree on working hours and the extent to which you will be contactable outside of work.
- Find out if your place of work has an employee assistance program that includes mental health initiatives.
- Seek professional help. A therapist or counsellor may be able to help you identify negative thoughts and behaviours, so you can replace them with more positive ones.
If you have a problem with addiction, it’s never too late to get help. At Thousand Islands Rehab Centre, we will create an addiction treatment program that is tailored to you and your unique needs and circumstances. We will help you develop the tools and skills to succeed in the workplace without needing drugs or alcohol, and we will help you form healthy ways of coping with stress when it arises. Contact us today for more information.