should I be this emotionally drained by managing?

A reader writes:

I’ve been with my company over a decade. We are a manufacturing environment. I started as an analyst and worked my way up to manager and then senior manager, leading a team of warehouse operators and administrative staff, about 40 headcount altogether. I love my job and I love my company, and most of the time my work feels rewarding. I feel very much that I make a positive difference in my team members’ lives. My company strongly values employee engagement and our leadership model is based on training managers to be effective coaches, identifying the needs of their team and helping them to achieve success. Like anyone else, I have my struggles and learning opportunities, but they don’t often weigh me down.

The biggest issue I have found is managing my emotions and reactions when I have to deal with certain personnel issues. Twice this year I have had employee issues turn into compliance investigations. In one case, the investigation showed that there was no actual wrongdoing, which was an enormous relief. In the second case, it was discovered that a long-term employee had been systematically targeting a group of female workers in incredibly inappropriate ways, and it resulted in a termination. I feel I should mention that in neither case was I personally being investigated, nor was there any accusation of wrongful behavior on my part. I was allowed to take an active part in the interviews and decision-making process.

What I’m struggling with is that in both of these situations, as the investigation and interviews were ongoing, I felt horribly depressed and exhausted, to a degree I have not often experienced. I could hold it together just fine at work but I would go home and be unable to eat, crying, feeling like the world was just an awful place to be in. Both times I found that I couldn’t even cope with social media or listening to the news as it made me feel even more hopeless. After the first investigation, it took maybe a day or two for me to feel normal again, but it lasted longer the second time, I’m guessing because it ended in someone losing their job and because of my feelings around knowing people I am responsible for were working in an environment that felt unsafe and frightening to them.

Is it normal for managers to be so affected by wrongful behaviors or the process of uncovering whether wrongful behaviors have occurred? Do other managers feel similarly affected when dealing with these kinds of situations? What have your or other managers done to cope?

It’s pretty normal for parts of management to be draining, stressful, and sometimes upsetting. Firing someone, in particular, is a terrible feeling in most cases. (Here’s some advice on how to deal with that.)

But feeling horribly depressed and unable to eat — that’s not typical.

I’m curious to know whether you have strong emotional reactions in other areas of your life. If you’re someone who’s unusually empathetic (like way more so than the average person), that might be at play here.

Alternately, what’s your relationship with work like in general? If you’re defined by your work life and heavily invested in it going smoothly (again, way more so than the average person), it might make sense that this kind of upheaval in it affects you more deeply.

Or, is there something else going on in your life that’s making you feel depressed and hopeless? If so, it’s not uncommon for everything else to seem more bleak too.

Or (I’m just going to keep coming up with possibilities, apparently), it’s possible that this tapped into something much older and more deeply-rooted. For example, if you grew up in a family where even as a child you were expected to keep everything functioning smoothly because your parents weren’t doing that themselves, and disaster would strike if you didn’t, you might now be wired to react to problems very strongly. Or if growing up you were harshly blamed for things around you that went wrong, even if they weren’t your fault, it wouldn’t be surprising for current-day you to be extremely shaken by problems around you. So, are any of these feelings familiar to you, in a way that ties back to your childhood? If so, there might be something there. (More on this here.)

There are lots of possibilities here and I don’t know from your letter which one might be in play. But I think the take-away for you is that yes, your reactions do sound more intense than is warranted by the situation, and so something is probably going on. If anything above resonates with you, that’s where I’d start digging.

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. Ann*

    I completely understand where you are coming from. I don’t know that it is typical, but you are not alone! I recently had to deal with a situation where I had to give a deposition as part of a law suit that was filed by a former coworker of mine. It was a sexual harassment situation and was particularly uncomfortable and stressful as it involved my direct manager. While everything was going on, the pressure got to me and I went through periods where I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly and even had a couple of panic attacks. At the time I didn’t know what I was experiencing, but now I know that it was a panic attack. Anyway, I was prescribed some medication to help with the anxiety and the sleep issues to use short term, which has been helpful. So my advice to you would be for you to see your doctor and also find a licensed therapist to speak with.

    1. Lex*

      This makes a lot of sense. I wonder if the reality of the situation is what is affecting LW here? Like part of your responsibility is to provide a safe workplace, and depending on the facts of the situation this may be a physical reaction to working through the fact that several people in her company had to go through a pretty bad situation? I had to report harassment recently and the whole process caused me to be unable to eat for a while because of the stress associated with it, so I don’t think that’s necessarily unusual.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        I wonder if LW is feeling responsible for what happened, either directly (though it wasn’t warranted) or indirectly (as in, “it was my job to make people feel safe and I let them down”). Maybe LW is also absorbing some of the feelings and emotions of the issue (“my employee felt unsafe, that must have felt awful…now I feel awful”).

        Once I was in a coordinator-type position and a participant suddenly found out they were pregnant and came to me for advice. The stress hit me super hard. Looking back, I realized I was making it my issue (“what should they do now? what would I do? what if there are complications? do I have to go to the hospital?”). None of that was my responsibility to do or think about. In the end the participant quit the program and had a beautiful baby at home, and I stressed myself out over so many what-ifs that didn’t come to pass. If I could do that over, I’d try to draw stronger boundaries between me/My Job/My Problem/My Fault and others/Not My Job/Not My Problem/Not My Fault.

        1. Lex*

          100%. That is what I very inartfully was trying to express. And other than in your situation, here as a manager it falls within LWs general field of responsibility to provide a safe working environment. I want to be 100% clear – LW is not responsible for some creep becoming a harasser and nothing in the letter indicates that there were any red flags she missed or that this was in any way due to her shortcomings. But I think subjectively I would probably still feel like I let those people down for not seeing the situation, and that is probably part of what LW is working through also.
          LW, I hope you can take a few days of rest and to reset, and that things calm down at work.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    One of the things I’ve struggled with in a couple of previous positions is an overreaction when people do things that are against their best interests that directly counter the positive things I am trying to do for them. It is very frustrating to put yourself out there to try and make things better for someone else and have them completely disregard those efforts.

    I’m not sure I have advice on how to handle it. I finally realized that I cannot work in those types of support positions and found a job where I do not have to directly deal with people. I wanted to let you know that you’re not alone though.

  3. CBH*

    OP It’s nice to know you are a manager that is involved in the well being on your staff and the company. I’m sure the employees appreciate someone who (for example) knows their names. However remember you need some down time outside of work too. You need to separate yourself from work issues and let their be a line between work and personal time

  4. Mike C.*

    I work in a very similar environment, and I would look into the existence of an EAP program. If these sorts of things are causing you this much distress, then I think you will have much to gain by speaking to a professional.

    1. Tandy*

      I agree that EAP is a wonderful resource. Also OP it may be a good idea to take day off or two and or book a long weekend after such huge, draining work events.

      1. Jack Be Nimble*

        Seconding the idea of taking some time off to recharge! A few days of rest can really turn things around.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        HIGHLY recommend. When I was first diagnosed with a panic disorder, I was just about to go on some long (nearly a month) international travel for work. When I came back, I was having a really hard time (my boss was a gargoyle about PTO during travel season), so I straight-up lied and said I had food poisoning so I could have two days to decompress/go to the movies to watch “Gone Girl” in my pajamas. Technically, I wasn’t well–but she said we could only have time off if we were “bleeding or vomiting”, so I chose the latter.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. This sounds like the kind of situation where having some counseling or guidance would really help.

  5. ArtsNerd*

    I wouldn’t discount the effect of news and current events on your ability to cope with stuff in your professional life, especially since the topics are interrelated. It’s not easy to do, but stepping away from news consumption and keeping your internet/media consumption toward more positive content is a very effective way to exercise self-care. Switching my morning news binge to Discworld novels was basically the only way I could keep functioning after the Paris attacks (h/t my therapist for suggesting it.)

    There’s also the possibility there’s a medical or psychiatric reason for the depression[-type reactions], but I think it’s much, much more likely to be situational in your case.

    Excellent advice from Alison, as always.

    1. MLB*

      Agree 100% on the news and current events. I’ve been hiding and unfollowing a lot people, things and pages on Facebook since before the last election because I go there for fun stuff – memes, pics of friend’s kids, etc. Whether I agree with someone’s position or not, I don’t want to be bombarded with political stuff or the cause du jour. We also got rid of cable at the beginning of the year, so if I want to see any news I have to seek it out online. It makes a big difference.

      1. Nita*

        I agree. A few days ago I ran into a very vaguely political situation (hard to explain without going into details). Normally I’d just laugh about something like that, and go on with my life. In light of current events though, it carried a lot more context that turned into this Big Thing that I Cannot Deal With, and I was shaking and sending my family panicked texts about it. It took a few hours just to calm down enough to start figuring out if it’s even a legitimate Big Thing or not.

      2. And head not in sand!*

        Nothing constructive to add for the OP- primarily commiseration.

        But we did this! Cable was disconnected in 2005, TV donated, and we haven’t looked back. If we want to know about something, we have to look for it. Of course this is not for everyone, but it sure helped me. I opt into whatever I want to focus on/ discuss instead of having to opt out of ongoing madness.

        1. Kittyfish 76*

          Good for you! We also got rid of cable 10+ years ago, and although we still have 2 TV’s, they are barely turned on.

      3. Just Employed Here*

        I came here to say that I have had to disconnect from much of the news and the social networking stuff already a couple of years ago because it was getting me down. And I know many others who have had to, as well. I feel it’s not even been a choice, but a basic act of self preservation.

      4. Emily S.*

        I was just reading about an issue called “headline stress disorder.” It’s very real. For me, I had to disconnect from the news quite a bit starting in 2016, and that has helped me. I still keep up with news, but I’m less connected than before, and feel much healthier/happier.

        Here’s a really good article about headline stress disorder, for anyone interested. It gives 11 tips to combat news anxiety.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      I was going to say the same. Not to discount what OP is feeling, but I do think a lot of us are feeling overwhelmed with news and current events lately. For me, Anthony Bourdain’s death was the Thing I Could Not Cope With, and I ended up taking two weeks off work after that. Not that I was so upset about that one event in particular, but it was very much a “straw that broke the camel’s back” kind of situation. I also ended up cutting myself off from Facebook and Twitter altogether, and I’m going to do some serious weeding of the accounts I follow on both when I go back. It’s just too much.

      Love to you, OP – you’re certainly not alone in this!

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Sadly, I agree. I’ve been having insomnia and panic attacks in the middle of the night that were originally because of my job-hunting stress but lately have been significantly worsened by border-related news. I hate the idea of stopping reading about important national and world events but I also can’t continue to function on so little sleep.

        If you want to do good in the world but the effort starts to burn you out, you have to take care of yourself first. Easy to say, harder to live by, but important nonetheless.

    3. RUKiddingMe*

      “I wouldn’t discount the effect of news and current events on your ability to cope with stuff in your professional life,”

      I think you’re absolutely spot on here…
      —Personal life as well. During the run up to the election I had to completely disengage from any and all news/social media in order to maintain any kind of sanity.
      Not having all of that negativity happening 24/7 has really helped me cope with life. I’ve lived with (diagnosed) depression for decades but it had gotten to one of the worst points I’d ever been before I just basically shut everything down. I’m much better now, still ignoring it all this time later. Fortunately my husband keeps abreast of the world so I knew/know that anything serious happening will be related to me in pretty short order.

      “…especially since the topics are interrelated.”
      —OP says:
      “…a long-term employee had been systematically targeting a group of female workers in incredibly inappropriate ways…”
      “…it lasted longer the second time, I’m guessing because it ended in someone losing their job and because of my feelings around knowing people I am responsible for were working in an environment that felt unsafe and frightening…”

      I would think that this is absolutely interrelated to things happening in the world right now in general. Bill Cosby, Louis CK, Aziz Ansari, et al. This is a giant red “current events” flag.

    4. Thlayli*

      This. I deleted all my news apps many years ago and when I am feeling down I actually will switch the radio off when the headlines are coming on. Anything big or that affects you, you will hear about through word of mouth.

      There’s a thing called “depressive realism” which basically means that if you genuinely understand how bad the world is you will be mentally ill. Humans are not mentally and emotionally able to cope with the knowledge of all the worst things happening to 7 billon people. Knowing about all of it will literally make you depressed. And most of if you can’t do anything about anyway. Give yourself permission to switch off.

      1. L*

        Exactly! I haven’t watched any TV for more than 20 years. I usually scan online news but if I’m feeling down in any way, skip that. I have never had a facebook account. My friends are all real-and-here people. If there is something going on in the world I really, really need to know, someone will tell me about it — AND about all the horrible things I *don’t* need to know about, LOL.

  6. Jenn*

    I feel like given the circumstances some depression and anxiety would be normal but I think that just means you need to figure out the best way to deal with the depression and anxiety.

    I work at a college campus. Two years ago we had a ROUGH year. Lots of protests on campus – one of which ended in a crowd of students just screaming at me (not for anything I’d done but because I was the closest adult that they encountered when trying to scream at a higher level administrator). We had a sexual assault investigation involving students that got very heated and then on top of that I was dealing with a situation in my personal life that was just draining. I lost a ton of weight and was extremely depressed but like you – was able to hold it together at work just fine. It affected more than just me – one woman quit and completely changed industries because everything was so draining.

    I was fortunately already seeing a therapist and I continued to see her throughout this time and it really helped. It provided a safe place to share my anxieties and worries and someone was there to make sure that my emotions were within the healthy range for me. I was able to find someone very close to my work and I went on lunch breaks and oddly enough I referred another co-worker/friend in another department to the same therapist.

    So I think that what you’ve described sounds very stressful and anxiety inducing and it sounds like you might need a little bit of help getting over the hump of those emotions until you can get back to your normal.

  7. Family Med Physician*

    I highly suggest seeing your GP / PCP (primary care provider) when you can, especially if your symptoms are affecting you on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t necessarily mean medication (although that may help), but it does mean seeing someone who can help you look at it from an outside perspective and help you evaluate and understand when to seek further help.

    Best of luck! I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

  8. Ladylike*

    LW, it sounds like you’re dealing with the disappointment of discovering someone isn’t who you thought they were – or that your company isn’t as “perfect” as you thought. That’s not a criticism; I tend to process things similarly. When someone I really invested in or trusted lets me down hard, the whole world seems like a dark, scary place. You’ve built a solid foundation at this company and these events have shaken that foundation. I cannot say enough about the value of speaking with a licensed mental health professional when you have a stressful job or stressful life events. It helps me immensely to process the ups and downs of life. If you’re stressed to the point of being unable to eat or sleep – reach out for help! I wish you the best!

  9. it's all good*

    I felt like I was the worst person on the planet when I had to fire someone for the first (and turns out only) time. Even though it was well warranted (employee and client harassment), I still felt horrible for awhile. I shared this with my HR and they were kind, listened and helped me cope. The best thing that helped was walking through the situation one more time and we talked about what could of happened in detail if he did not get fired. – I hope you find peace soon.

    1. Jack Be Nimble*

      Argh, hit send too soon!!

      At a former job, I had to respond on multiple occasions to the immediate aftermath of mental health crises (I was working for housing at a university and working with 18 and 19-year-old students) which I found to be horrifically draining. My managers weren’t particularly supportive, but I was able to take at least a little bit of leave in each instance. Retreating to a safe environment, away from work really helped me care for my own mental health!

      I wanna make a plug for therapy, if it’s at all accessible for you (and there are online and text-based counseling services, now). You don’t need to have a diagnosable condition or issues stemming from trauma or childhood stress to benefit from therapy!

      A good therapist can help you develop strategies to cope with work stress. They can also act as a sounding board and help you figure out if the stresses of this position outweigh the things you love about it and help you decide your next steps. It’s not a panacea, but it sounds like your work situation is interfering with your life, and a therapist (or even therapeutic techniques, like cognitive behavioral therapy) might help you restore some balance.

  10. Girl friday*

    You might see work as a second family with yourself as a parental figure. People take these things to heart. At least at some point your second family fulfilled you. I would focus on that and the pride around the good things. And I am glad your negative emotions did not show up as anger, that shows you to be a caring person.

    1. Emily S.*

      I think a lot of people consider work similar to a “family,” but IMHO, that’s not a healthy way to view the workplace and work relationships.
      (On the other hand, plenty of people out there have met a spouse at work.)

      1. Girl friday*

        I agree, but my daughters and I are a fulfilling family for me. Some people have different roles they assume to function, some without realizing it til something averse happens that shakes their world approach.

  11. Nita*

    OP, that does sound really stressful, especially when you’ve known the people involved for a long time and care about them. You know the victims, the offender, their families. The guy that got fired may have kids, or a sick parent – not that this excuses him, but those are more people you’re worrying about. I hope you’re not also blaming yourself for not being clairvoyant and not stopping the problems sooner. Using your company’s EAP sounds like a very good place to start, they’re there exactly for situations where you’re not sure who you can talk to or where to start getting help.

  12. Mouse Princess*

    I am sorry that you are going through this. I was lucky to learn at a young age that while I am great at managing from an operational standpoint, as an empath, I can’t handle the pressure of other people’s emotions. I have decided to not seek management positions at this point in my life because I too was losing sleep and unable to eat from the stress. I do, however, wholeheartedly believe that you can learn how to put up boundaries and protect yourself if this is the career path you want to take. Best of luck.

    1. Another empath*

      Saaaaaaaaaaaame here. I take in others’ emotions like a sponge, reflexively, so all kinds of professions are just out of the question for me. I have a profound desire to never, ever manage.

      Sounds like OP is a great manager. I think the not eating/sleeping sounds serious, although there are all kinds of reasons these investigations could have triggered this. So…possibly a “normal” reaction, depending on how you define normal, but one you should definitely get care for. EAP or a few sessions with a good therapist might help you understand why your reaction was/is so pronounced, and might help you cope with future tough times as a manager.

      1. Mouse Princess*

        The curse of the empath! It must be useful for something…just haven’t found it yet.

        1. sub rosa for this*

          I sure hope someone figures it out soon. I feel like I’m drowning half the time and I just can’t shut it all out. :(

  13. Student*

    I often have a harder time dealing with issues that I have a significant personal history or experience with. For example, I have a hard time dealing, in an emotionally healthy way, with sexual harassment on my team. I know in my own case it’s because of experiences I had being the target of sexual harassment in the past, especially in situations that had extremely less-than-ideal outcomes for me. I know this particular topic gets my emotions going in a way that other incidents of similar impact/importance don’t.

    I try to cope with it by recognizing what it is, taking breaks more often when it comes up to give myself emotional space to cope outside work (maybe 10 minutes in the bathroom to have a discrete breakdown where no one will see it, or maybe taking a vacation day or sick day), and trying hard to scrutinize my decisions or evaluations for outsized emotional contributions. Sometimes, I have to remind myself very directly that I didn’t cause the problem myself, that I can’t foresee every problem, and that I can’t protect my team against every bad thing. Otherwise I tend to blame myself and question myself, looking for mistakes and missed signs.

    I don’t know if that’s what happened to you, but maybe it’s worth some introspection on why these specific things hit you harder than most things do.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Great post, Student.
      I especially like the part about the self-talk. We DO have to remind ourselves that we did not cause the situation , we can’t foresee every problem and we can’t protect the employees from everything. Say these things out loud, OP, until they become a part of you.
      I found affirming this stuff to be very helpful. I got to the point where I could say, “I am so disappointed that Subordinate chose X not Y. I wish they did not do that”, and then I could move on (or limp on) to the next thing.

      I have found it very helpful to try not to estimate how people will handle things or how people will develop as employees. Put opportunities out there for them and the rest is up to them. I saw repeatedly that the super achiever would slip up and the mediocre worker would rock the job. I came to the conclusion that the problem was me, because I needed to take one more step back emotionally. One of the ways I stepped back was to double checks on myself to make sure I am listening more and to make sure I was being as fair as possible.

      But before you conclude, “I am the one who has to do a bunch of changing”, please consider something else. How does your company handle problems? Some environments it can feel like you are sitting in the middle of a raging fire, everyone is gossiping, hand-wringing, back-stabbing, undermining each other, etc. It’s the psychological equivalent of a battle field. Take a look, was there anyone at work that “had your back? Did you have an informal mentor to talk things over with? Were you stuck alone with your thoughts most of the time? Isolation is a killer, it will absolutely tear down our thinking and in turn tear down our health. The degree of upset you describe here is the type of thing I would expect to hear from someone in a toxic place. So how were you treated through out this? Don’t answer here, just give it a little ponder.

  14. Triple Anon*

    I’m similar in that I tend to get emotionally drained by things. For me, it’s a combination of being sensitive and empathetic by nature, feeling responsible for other people’s well being due to the kind of family dysfunction that Allison mentioned, and having some post traumatic stress. I enjoy challenging work and getting to do good things for people, but I’ve found that I really need to stick to lower stress things for my primary means of income, and limit the more draining stuff to part time, flexible work and volunteering.

    But I’ve never managed 40 people. I know that when you’ve become a manager, it can be hard to switch to an independent contributer kind of role because it can look like a demotion; there can be a stigma around it (maybe depending on the employer and industry). So I feel for the OP. That must be a tough situation to be in.

    1. Triple Anon*

      PS – I should add that this site is one of the ways I deal with stress! There’s a lot of drama in other areas of my life. I enjoy reading about office problems instead of watching the news or engaging with all the emotional stuff that can come with some of the things I’m involved in.

  15. Bea*

    I’ve been there only thank God it wasn’t an employee investigation for my first rodeo, an enraged customer tried getting a regulatory body on us. We were in compliance but the paperwork and hoops were indeed exhausting. I channeled my emotions into anger over the spiteful human who did it.

    Then there was the case against a group of employees for enraging in inappropriate behaviors. Investigation was hell and I just had to listen since it didn’t pertain to me and the events were before I got there.

    It’s absolutely going to wreck you but the key is to remember these are very infrequent and not typical pressures you see daily. This is draining because you care about the company and workers. That’s part of being long term management in a business.

    You need to invest in self care for these moments. Just like a family emergency. These happen and caring for yourself is key. Even if it means some therapy or a few days off to bounce back.

    1. Girl friday*

      Wow. Sabotage! (sort of) A good reminder that OP needs emotional reserves to deal with the vagaries of the workplace. Atc least they are reaching out now.

  16. Someone else*

    Ooph. Alison’s second to last paragraph really hit me, even though I didn’t think I super identified with the OP from the letter alone.

  17. Courageous cat*

    I definitely agree that your reactions are more intense than is warranted – definitely some work/life separation is needed here, where once you walk out those doors at 5 or 6pm, you’re You, not Work You, and nothing at Work You’s life affects your real life.

    The only thing that would bleed over for me in this scenario is if I thought the investigation on my employee was directly reflecting of my behavior as a manager. If you feel that these investigations are essentially saying “you’re doing a bad job” to you, then I can see your reaction making more sense, and it would be worth addressing those feelings with those you feel comfortable with (boss, therapist, whoever).

    If you feel like your job performance is unrelated, then I definitely think a therapist or at least some heavy self-reflection would be in order to separate You You from Work You.

    1. Bea*

      I’m not the OP but I’ve never been able to separate myself from work at any time. There’s not work me and home me. I wish it was that simple.

      Yes I’ve been to a therapist and it untangled and helped a lot of anxiety that plagued me for decades but I’m still always just one “me”.

      My work is my passion and love though. I’m not mad just saying it’s not always possible or necessary with correct approaches.

      1. Emily S.*

        If you really love your job, maybe that’s not a bad thing. But it’s great that you’ve work on it in therapy.

        Bea, you’ve reminded me of an old quote I’ve heard many times. ‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’
        It’s kind of a stretch, but there’s probably some validity there.

        1. Bea*

          It’s my truth. I’ve found my calling. I’m a business person to my core and breathe it.

          I want to be Marcus Lemonis when I grow up ;)

          I’m stressed not working. But my goal as I grow is to invest myself where I’m wanted and appreciated. I’ve had jobs that suck despite loving my profession. I am now quick to leave when found in the thorny situations.

          I’m lucky, my passion isn’t a profession that’s hard to break into or hard to find places to practice my art. I am able to drift wherever I belong at any given time.

      2. Courageous cat*

        Totally, and for some careers that can be very useful and appropriate, but I think in many (maybe even the majority of) work situations it’s better to have that separation.

        1. Bea*

          I think separation needs to happen where your authority and duties end. As a person with extensive history in manufacturing management, hanging up your hat on the way out the door is a good way to not have continued success in the business overall. If I only use 8 hours to care, strategize and see the overall picture so nothing slips by, the company suffers and so does my standing in the company.

          That’s why self care is forever important because you work around the fact you bring work home.

          My dad did shift work for 35 years. He left work behind every day. His job focused on day to day. So that makes sense. He wasn’t paid to think of the future and how to make sure the shop starts up in the morning or that Jim Bob in shipping is harassing Annie in production and how to avoid that lawsuit, etc.

  18. Granny K*

    A number of commenters have mentioned EAP, which is a great place to start. But I’ll ask: when was the last time you had a vacation? Like a real vacation where you didn’t take time off for holidays (with Faaaaaamily) or to clean out the garage, but a REAL vacation where you left town for at least 2 weeks and saw something you’ve never seen before? I know you love your job but they can survive without you for a bit. If these feelings are extreme and unrelenting, I would also consider taking a leave of absence…check your employee manual and if you can afford to take 2-6 months off, do it. You are worth it. and if you are realizing that maybe going back to being an individual contributor is better for you, maybe you should consider it. (Personally, I managed 1x and I have realized I’m happier managing projects rather than people.). Keep breathing and hang in there.

    1. uranus wars*

      We were talking today about how sometimes you just need a day with no plans or distractions to get your head right. Especially after a stressful time. I think going away for 2 weeks on vacation sounds fantastic but I second take a day or 2 that is not to visit family, or have family visit, or to do something structured. Just a couple of days to lay by the pool, read a book, sleep, get a manicure if you like — just not schedule, no where to be and no one to take care of but you.

      I used to save all my vacation for family visits, which took massive planning and then trying to visit 4 different branches of family in a 3-4 day window with a day of airline travel (or 12 hour drive) on either side of that. When I quit doing that and started taking time for me my entire life got less stressful.

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      On the surface the vacation advice sounds trite (not a criticism, because I was about to suggest the same thing when I read your post), but there is something to be said for unplugging and recharging. Since I started managing, I have taken one vacation a year where expectations are set that I am not reachable (seriously, I started to plan my vacations to locations with no cell service or wifi- It’s getting hard to do, but it’s still possible to find places where you can’t be reached).

      Once I figured out that this is an absolute need for me it became a priority and I set some real boundaries around it. Just last week my boss sent out the ‘hold the date’ for our semi-annual offsite group meeting… smack dab in the middle of my vacation week. Because I had already established this* I had no hesitation letting him know this was my week off. In turn we spoke and he said he’d wait to see if anyone else had a conflict and would reschedule or asked if I could send one of my reports.

      I’ve described this particular trip to people as soul restoring. To give you a feeling of where I am before this vacation… I usually have to make my pre-vacation schedule accommodate a stress migraine

      *I offer to be semi available for all of my other time off on the condition that I get my week. I believe the conversation with him when I first started reporting to him was “Oh, by the way, you should probably know I go on a trip once a year and I’m unreachable. It’s in September, everything will be covered. All my other time off I’m generally available for emergencies or if needed for urgent business needs, but this one week I don’t exist to anyone that works at CompanyName”

  19. Sam*

    You have worked your way up the chain which makes you a valuable resource to the company and as a manager. You need to look after your health first and foremost. Keep reminding yourself you are doing a great job and take time away from work to recover from these situations.

  20. Not So NewReader*

    While I have enjoyed working with and supervising people, I have to say, get a plan because it IS draining. I ended up doing a bunch of self-care things, I roped in my diet, watch my water intake and I made sure that I deliberately put good things into my day. Sometimes work places can suck every good thing there is right out of our day and we are left with nothing. Unfairly it seems, we have to plan things into our day to recharge ourselves and to build ourselves back up.
    And here is the catch, we don’t get to pick with these crisises pop up, they just do. Then we need more energy to deal with that crisis. And we did not have enough energy to handle a regular day never mind a crisis day.

    From first hand experience, OP, I can tell you that if you are facing a problem at work and you are not eating well, not sleeping well then the crisis will get even bigger. I don’t know how old you are, OP, but for me I was in my mid 30s when I realized that skipping meals or skimping on meals was no longer an option. If I wanted to have coping tools the next day, I had to eat good meals. Same with rest, water and quiet time. If I missed any of these then my next day was not going to be good. At all.

    I hope you have someone at work who can give you a sense of the place. Is all this commotion normal? Is there always things blowing up like this? How are other people doing? Do you see people calling in a lot or taking sudden vacation time? See if you can gauge where you are in comparison to others. If there are more than a few people who now have dark circles under their eyes, pay attention to this clue.

  21. HereKittyKitty*

    OP, my heart breaks for you. I understand this feeling well, though, and hope you can find a way to feel better. I am easily emotionally drained by things, and these days a small work thing (or big) can really be the straw that breaks the camel’s back one week.

    I don’t have any great advice other than therapy, if you can, and self-care.

  22. Computer says no*

    Op i feel exactly the same way. My job performance has gotten worse since the event. I cried so much tonight because of it. I am lost and not myself. I feel so much emotion and being a people pleaser is draining too.

    1. Bea*

      I’m so sorry to hear you’re suffering right now. You are not alone and I truly hope your stress levels reset and let your mind rest. You deserve good things and happiness.

  23. Fellow*

    If it makes you feel better, I have similar reactions when I am under extreme stress at work. I am not able to just let things go when I walk out the door. I think, think, think about them ALL. THE. TIME. I generally enjoy my job, but sometimes there are situations that are just…too big and handling them leaves no emotional energy left for non-work things.

    I do find that listening to music and going to sleep earlier than usual helps me at home and brings me back a little closer to center. Also – I force myself to continue exercising. During those rough periods, that’s the the last thing I want to do but it always improves my disposition enormously and actually gives me more energy to deal with the hard stuff.

  24. LQ*

    I can relate to this a lot. The at work I seem ok (though there was the day I went in and sort of collapsed into a chair in my bosses office and just sat and talked about the giant disaster we are at the verge of tears) but I get through the threshold of my home and all bets are off. Part of this is doing things that feel like they are out of alignment with your personal values, even when they are the right thing in the big picture, until your brain manages to get those two different pieces of information to merge it is like your brain is fighting itself. (I don’t like it when people are harmed. Firing harms people. I’m good/my company is good. This person did a bad thing. This person being fired was the right thing. Firing people can be good when it achieves a larger goal. All those steps can take a while and feel bad. At least for me there was definitely some fairly active cognitive dissonance trying to happen to resolve things in my brain and that takes a lot of power.) The what else is contributing matters a lot, if this wasn’t this news cycle, if I hadn’t head deaths in the family, if I hadn’t had other personal problems it would be a lot easier. If you have those other things coming up with tools to get though helps.

    Disconnecting from social media and the like is good. I struggled with a “cool down” activity after work. I’ve found cooking and doing a puzzle, a physical puzzle, with pieces I can lift and move around a table and sort and move and it’s all ok is good for me. Having a good cool down, brain off work activity helps a lot. Changing clothes when I get home from work helps a lot. Writing down one good thing that I did to help the program before I leave work helps a lot (especially since I’m also keeping a log of bad things).

  25. Nerf Darts are CBT Tools*

    Don’t feel afraid to seek a psychiatrist or therapist! They can help so much with these kinds of things. And not just in a “Let’s talk about your feelings” kind of way. Look up “cognitive behavioral therapy” – a therapist can teach you techniques for identifying, dealing with, and avoiding these kinds of reactions without need for medication. I think they get a little bit of a bad rap in pop culture, but they’re there to teach you tools for your toolkit which will enable you to deal with your reactions and take these kinds of shakeups in stride. Really, really, seek help!

    Signed, an overly-empathetic anxiety sufferer from a broken home with an abusive relationship in their history…

  26. Bibliovore*

    I have been in a similar situation to this and often thought about writing to AAM for advice but I just didn’t know how to describe what was going on with me. And I often felt that there was something horribly wrong with me. And I did consult with a mental health professional and it didn’t feel all that helpful hearing that it wasn’t me and that I was a good person doing the best that I could in a troubling circumstance.

    I had physical symptoms that were diagnosed as stress related. It turned out that after the employee was terminated, I had a work up and I had very serious medical issues (non related to stress) that needed to be dealt with that were causing those depressive feeling.

    Also the commentator who wrote “when people do things that are against their best interests that directly counter the positive things I am trying to do for them” really rang a bell for me.

  27. Quake Johnson*

    One time one of my employees was caught stealing, and my boss informed me she would be terminated as soon as a union representative was able to make it out to our location. Until then I was told to carry on as normal and mot inform her of any of this. It took 5 weeks! I felt so terrible that whole time and several days after. My sympathies, OP.

  28. Snack Management*

    I can relate to this, particularly greener past me. I work in HR and manage people. When there’s an investigation, it’s on my shoulders and I have a front seat for all terminations. I’ve had times where I’ve cried at home over terms, when I’ve promptly drank whiskey after work and generally had some tough times (including times I’ve planned on quitting from stress). Long vacations help immensely for me, they’ve kept me from quitting more than once. Long means more than a week. It means a vacation for you not an oblivacation (obligations + your time off = oblivacation, for me those are family trips even though I love my family immensely). Exercise helps my mental health immensely, a hard workout will stop the hamster wheel of work from spinning endlessly in my head. I have sleep issues and finally found something that helps and never skip it.
    If you struggle with self care, worry about how your staff will cope without you or feel guilty for taking time off, remember that what you model to your staff matters. If you take vacations, take care of yourself and set up boundaries, it empowers them to do the same.
    I hope you find the supports you need. Investigations are incredibly stressful for those involved, even if it’s not you that’s being directly investigated.

  29. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    Dude – I totally want to give you a hug, because it sounds like you need one.

    I have a question – you mention that you’ve been with your current organization for a decade and you’ve worked your way up. How long have you been managerial? Because I’ll admit that I was SUPER emotional about everything and toxic when I first started, but time, distance, and surviving major screw-ups that I really shouldn’t have (…hell, I should air my dirty laundry one day) kind of slapped some sense into me. You sound like you’re doing a much better job at managing than I did when I first started, and probably than I do currently. But if this is your first time managing all of this…it’s okay to feel shaken by it!

    But also…you know, you survived both of those experiences.

    Finally – firings. One of the framings I’ve heard is that people get themselves fired. Which…honestly, is true – if you’re doing it right, terminations with cause should be a result of your employees’ actions or lack thereof. But it’s also a framing I’ve always hated because it removes everyone else’s agency. (The paperwork doesn’t write itself.) You don’t have to feel good about someone getting fired, but I’ve just tried to approach it now as a thing that has to be done.

  30. Safetykats*

    OP, in a small team, it’s entirely possible to have a group of medium to high performers who mostly get along, and mostly don’t get into trouble. The larger your group, the more statistically likely you are to have issues. In my experience, 36 – 40 is the point at which the issues get serious. My sister has over 150 people on her staff. They have restraining orders against each other. One of them was taken into custody on travel for child porn related issues. That’s not even the the worst

    If you’re going to keep managing at this level. You do need to figure out a strategy for stepping back and realizing that the entirety of your responsibility in every case is spelled out in the employee handbook. This is even more true if you have any kind of a personal relationship with any of these people – and is a big reason why that kind of relationship is just inadvisable.

    If dealing with these kinds of issues isn’t for you, you might look at transitioning to project management, where you’re not responsible for personnel issues, or just taking a step back to more technical work. We are taught that management should be a goal without really being taught what that means, but the higher you get the more it means you deal with personnel and political problems, and the less you deal with technical problems. If you think your best contribution is on the technical side, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    1. Becklespinax*

      This comment about project management and management as a taught goal is so relevant to me. I sought promotion and management opportunities in my current org because I thought it was the only way to progress in my career. I line managed team members and then realised I hated it so much! I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with reports that hated each other, wouldn’t take feedback, and were very protected in their roles and I had no real support in disciplinary procedures. It aggravated my depression and anxiety and I struggled with emotional response to difficult personnel issues, like the OP.

      An opportunity came up a year ago to work on an internal project in a co-ordinator role and I love it – I get all the best bits about working with varied and far reaching groups of people and using my can-do attitude and problem solving skills without having to deal with any personnel issues whatsoever. Despite an intense travel schedule and a lot of day to day firefighting I feel so much less stressed, even though my work life balance is theoretically worse.

      Management of people can be incredibly rewarding, but it shouldn’t be distressing. I hope the OP understands that career satisfaction doesn’t have to involve managing people and that it’s not the only path towards more senior roles.

  31. RUKiddingMe*

    OP I want to cosign all of the therapy advice. It’s hard to fire people, even people who “systematically” target other employees for specific types of harassment and make them feel “unsafe.” I don’t know why it’s hard to do that. In my head I think “fuck that guy, fire him before I stab him,” but in reality it is hard to do it when it comes down even when you believe 10000000% in the right of doing it.

    Targeting female employees for harassment, making them feel unsafe…can we say “sexual harassment?” That’s a very current events type deal happening all over the media, with politicians and celebrities being outed as the creeps that they are, and then…you have it at your job, and because of your particular position/seniority/etc. you have to deal with it head on while Regina the receptionists doesn’t unless she is one of the victims.

    That’s heavy stuff to realize that the world in general sucks worse than we really thought it did (or than some of us did?) and then to have it invade **our own spaces, it can be tough and something worth talking to a therapist about for a while.

    **To be clear it’s always been in our spaces (work, school, social…) but until very recently women haven’t really been speaking up and refusing to play ‘blame the victim’ as in the past. So it’s not like it wasn’t always in our spaces, we (i.e. the powers that be) just mostly ignored it.

  32. Koolhand*

    Hi OP, you’re not alone in this – your post really resonates with me.

    You talk about making a positive difference in your team members’ lives, so I’m hearing a manager who is highly empathetic, and effective as a direct result. Working in a place where a positive, coaching model of management is actively cultivated by the leadership team – that’s a really positive thing. Be proud of that – and remember to look for that in other workplaces if you move. It’s rare and hard to replicate.

    I also think of myself as highly empathetic, and I like to think that my success comes from a default mode of working where I build trust between individuals & teams, and help them understand each other better, and to get pointed in the same direction with less sand in the gears. I’ve also been promoted over time to manage larger and larger teams, and enjoy all of those satisfactions of helping a diverse team perform and thrive.

    But as my team size & reponsibilities have increased, I’ve also had times where the emotional toll has reached a tipping point. That natural empathy does have a flip side. Despite good strategies for dealing with conflict at work, and holding steady to the right outcomes, underneath it all I do find conflict somewhat draining. Up to a normal level that all works fine, but when there’s extra emotional load, it can accumulate and breach a threshold. You may be the same.

    And of course, there are all of the background stresses anyone will encounter as they progress up a career ladder:
    – Any manager occasionally has to address complex and unpleasant performance/conflict/emotional issues for their team, so as your team size expands, so does the frequency of this kind of issue.
    – In more senior roles, I’ve found that I’m dealing with a higher proportion of A-type personalities who are more forceful and less reasonable. Yes, there are tricky stakeholders to manage in any job, but I find that the proportion increases on the way up through the ranks. (Your positive, coaching management culture may be an exception.)
    – Of course responsibilities increase, expectations go up, and the larger amount of information you need to asssimilate adds to some mental drain.

    I’m not sure what I’m advising here: reflecting on my own experiences more than anything! I guess in summary I’d say:

    – This is teaching you things about yourself. Listen.
    – Self-care is important. I’ve found once I’m emotionally drained to a certain point, my emotional threshold gets set at a lower level for quite a while, it takes time to build it back up. You don’t want to get into a place of overwhelm. To that end, I don’t see any problem with limiting negative inputs, including the news.
    – It’s reasonable to find these things emotionally challenging. Responding to someone having targeted multiple female employees is understandably distressing.
    – And ultimately I’m going to recommend counselling and/or your GP too. That’s “Do as I say and not as I do” to be honest, but…for what it’s worth…I guess I’m talking to both you and me here!

  33. Thlayli*

    OP we don’t armchair diagnose here, so I’m not going to say what I really think, but I strongly suggest you speak to a doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing.

  34. alana*

    Twice, I’ve had to be part of investigation that led to the firing of a junior staffer for matters we have a zero-tolerance policy for, and in both cases for me the emotional impact lasted far beyond the initial tough conversation — the first time, it led to some anxiety issues for subsequent months, and the second time to intense, exhausted burnout.

    Given the added burden of knowing that there was an unsafe environment for your coworkers, I don’t think this is an irrational reaction at all. But I encourage you to let go of the question of whether you “should” feel this way; people react to situations in all kinds of ways! It doesn’t matter whether or not this is normal; it just matters that you be kind to yourself and take care of yourself. That might mean taking some time off, finding an activity you enjoy that disconnects your brain totally from work, seeking therapy to help you process it — whatever you need.

  35. Earl Grey Fae*

    Hi OP, I feel you. I’m a coordinator; I’ve often felt emotionally overwhelmed and dragged down by other people’s problems that had nothing to do with me/were never directed at me – my supervisor and faculty like to come to me to chat and unload all of their stress and sometimes I would have trouble breathing when I thought about coming in to work. I always get heightened anxiety if someone files a Title 9 against another faculty, even though it has nothing to do with me. You’re not weird for feeling this way! It’s a lot to process.

    I took a couple of therapy sessions to help with boundary setting, and I found the book The Highly Sensitive person to be really helpful in suggesting practical life strategies to protect me from getting sucked into too much emotional ickiness/over-stimulation. I have an office and close my door now if I’m working on a project to get little breaks of guaranteed quiet time, and if someone is telling me a terrible story about their childhood I can now respectfully ask them not to come to me with those kind of stories as it will actually raise my heart rate and put me in fight or flight mode. Going for little walks can be great too.

    Hope this helps! You’re not alone and it’s okay to accept that you’ll feel this way about conflict (you’re not “too emotional”, you’re just reaaaally good at picking up on the emotions of others – which is a fabulous skill to have as a manager!). It’s also okay to advocate for what you personally need to get through the day.

  36. OP*

    OP here. Thanks all for your very thoughtful comments and suggestions and for the love & hugs – I appreciate all of them. Sorry I did not get on the day this was posted, I was traveling and not online.

    I think there is a little of just about everything that’s been brought up feeding into this, particularly the family shame issue and the overload of stress from the gigantic wad of grossness we’re being continually bombarded with via the news and our Facebook feeds. Disconnecting helps, though it’s not something I do for long periods of time or often. I have a few FB groups of close friends and group for my personal passions/hobbies, and I don’t want to lose touch with them. The last few weeks have shown me, however, that my friend’s list needs significant thinning.

    I’ve had lots of therapy over the years and for the most part I feel fairly healed from my codependent/ACOA past, but it is obvious now that there are still areas of my life where this is going to spill over. I appreciate the EAP suggestion – we have a good program and I will definitely access it. Several of you correctly pegged me as an empath, and for all of you who struggle with this, thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I feel like we should start an online support group for dealing with empath responses in the workplace!

    In terms of whether management is the best role for me – 99% of the time I adore my job and my work family. It’s been made abundantly clear by several people at director/executive levels that I’ve been identified as a very strong candidate for development and advancement. Without counting my unhatched chickens, I know I need to do all I can to handle my current responsibilities with my psyche and self-esteem intact.

    Finally, I read this blog almost every day, and I can’t tell you what a great help it is to me – both Alison’s advice and the thoughtful comments from readers. I learn so much, and recommend it to all my peers as a resource.

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