When Your Job is Literally Killing You

When your job is literally killing you, it’s time to pay attention.

when your job is literally killing you

Cases in point: I was at a conference this past week providing career coaching advice, and three separate individuals sat down in front of me with two very different stories about how their job was hurting them.


One person was in a situation where her client had her running morning, noon, and night – which meant 90-hour work weeks. It was high-intensity, high-volume work with unrelenting requests from the customer.

She wasn’t getting any help, despite a sympathetic boss whose hands were tied by the executives above him.

The person sitting in front of me literally had tears running down her cheeks the entire time we talked. It was like the moment I asked her why she set up the appointment for a career coaching session, the flood gates opened.

She was very dignified despite her emotional distress.

But as we talked, she revealed that she had to get out of this employment, yet had no time to even conduct a job search.

And then, she said she had a “heart incident” the previous summer, and is now currently on high blood pressure medicine.

This woman was literally a heart attack waiting to happen.

I asked her when was the last time she had any fun, and she just blinked at me.

From that reaction, I guessed that it had been a long time.

When your job is literally killing you, the signs are tough to see at first. Or maybe you don’t want to see them.

Panic attacks, elevated heart rates, fear, being sick to the stomach, headaches, skyrocketing blood pressure – those are all signs. So is depression.

Case #2: involved another woman who had recently left BossZilla who had an old-school clamp down, control-freak management style that left staff quivering in their boots. She told me that he even started pacing outside the restroom when employees took necessity breaks, timing them and complaining if they didn’t get done fast enough.

This person, too, had heart problems. Like 3 incidents that sent her to the emergency room with preliminary markers in her blood for the enzyme that is a precursor to heart attacks. Her stress was so high that she was nearly a victim of the stress that was killing her. And she was only 28 at the time.

Case #3: Involved a person in a situation where her immediate boss was likely having an affair with a much-younger employee within a government agency. She started as a fresh-out-of-college, no experience at all, attractive intern and quickly rose to a director level based on his favoritism, despite much more qualified staff ready with demonstrated work histories. The staff were stymied because the actual head of the entire governmental organization is a “good old boy” and was looking the other way. The woman speaking to me said this whole situation was making her sick to her stomach, combined with several other highly unethical things the boss was doing. She was worried about when he would get caught, and then try to pin the blame on the rest of the staff in an attempt to direct attention from himself.

Each of these cases point to the fact that when you job literally killing you, you have to take a good, long, hard look at yourself and realize this:

You are highly unlikely to affect change on the job issue. You can, however, make change within yourself. And that means getting out.

When your job is literally killing you, you can’t wait. Your life, health, and future are at stake.

Employers unwilling or unable to see the damage that they are causing to employees don’t take steps to fix problem supervisors, unfair work loads, unreasonable expectations, or unethical / illegal behavior, they aren’t going to intervene.

They see YOU as disposable. Turn and burn, as they say.

So what you need to do is realize that it’s time to take action when your job is literally killing you.

Find a way to get out. But here’s what you need to do to prioritize things so you can make a successful transition:

  1. Take a vacation day. Self care is important, so do something that is fun, revitalizes you, or is something you enjoy. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE AND DON’T ANSWER EMAIL. This is YOU time.
  2. Take sick time. This counts. When your job is literally killing you, you are SICK. Take a day(s) off to get away from work to get nuts-and-bolts serious about your job search. Spend a day networking. Take the time to update your resume. Apply for jobs. Set up an informational interview. Do SOMETHING that will positively contribute towards moving you forward in getting out of your current situation.
  3. If your boss isn’t the problem and is receptive, try approaching them to discuss the issues. “I wanted to come to you to discuss my workload. In order to provide the continued quality of service to our projects/clients, I need to let you know that the current rate is not sustainable. I want to do the work, but I am burning out and need your help.”
  4. If you have the financial security, get out now. This situation is costing you your health and well-being. The job may pay well, but the cost might be greater.
  5. Get help. Find a mentor, counselor, etc. who can act as a sounding board and trusted resource to help you cope. You likely are suffering from PTSD from the situation.

It is so important to not throw up your hands.  You have choices… always. They may not be easy or straightforward. They are often scary ones. But life is often full of scary things but many times, they look a lot worse than what the reality actually is.

Hang in there, have faith in yourself, and remember: You and you alone are the only person driving your career. It’s up to you to take charge.