How to Avoid Bringing Job Stress Home to Your Family
Research reveals how to share the silver lining of challenging careers
Posted Feb 02, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
From the conference room, to the courtroom, to the hospital emergency room, certain professions involve personal interaction characterized by tension and trauma. And on-the-job exposure to human suffering and strife is not confined to police and medical first responders. Lawyers, therapists, victim advocates, and customer service representatives of every kind frequently deal with people who are emotionally distraught.
The key, for people who work in these professions, is learning how to leave the pain, distress, and drama of the workplace there where it belongs, while bringing home positive lessons to share.
Avoiding Distress at the Dinner Table
Kaitlyn Regehr et al., in a piece aptly entitled “Murder at the Dinner Table” (2019), examined how having parents employed within traumatic professions impacted children.[i] They began by noting the expanding focus from emergency professionals who are directly impacted by exposure to trauma, to their family members, who may be affected by trauma contagion, marital discord, public scrutiny, and over-protective parenting. Eliciting stories from adult children of forensic psychiatrists, they explored the impact of exposure to disturbing material, as well as the ways in which parents attempted to mitigate risk.
Regehr et al. included a discussion of another way in which families of frontline workers can be negatively impacted even when employees do not share details of their work: the newsworthy nature of their job. They point out that because work in the fields of criminal justice and forensic mental health often involves newsworthy cases, families may be confronted with seeing the names and sometimes even photos of their loved ones in media headlines.
They also recognize that due to the potentially high-profile nature of the work, clients or colleagues may call the family home to talk about aspects of cases these professionals are handling. Consequently, because forensic professionals want to protect their families, they report fearing their children’s identities may be revealed on social media, and warn them about potential risks in public settings, as well as within supposed relationships of trust.
Practical suggestions shared by Regehr et al. include securing sensitive materials at home, making sure family members do not overhear case-related dictation, and choosing age-appropriate family entertainment. Although acknowledging the importance of efforts to limit exposure, study participants also endorsed the practice of parents engaging in age and developmentally-appropriate dialogue with children, rather than trying to hide the nature and character of their work.
Protect Your Family From Job Stress While Sharing Professional Success
Although Regehr et al. report that many study participants recalled incidents that may have jeopardized family safety, resulting in increased security measures, previous anecdotal reports from forensic psychiatrists about becoming overprotective as a result of their work were not demonstrated through their research. They note this suggests that cautionary measures were not perceived as unrealistic.
Fortunately, although their sample size was small, Regehr et al. found that in general, the influence on children of forensic mental health professions was positive. They found that such children often chose similar careers or work in related fields, armed with enhanced empathy and understanding for people suffering from mental health issues. In addition, they note that overall, study participants were proud of the work of their parents, admired parental intellect and skill, and recognized the important role their parents played in society.
Consider whether these inspirational results may be true in other professions as well, where parents work on the frontlines. Although such work no doubt involves trauma and on-the-job stress, when combined with appropriate preventative measures at home, parents may educate children about some of the ways in which their work improves the lives of others, and protects the community.
[i] Regehr, Kaitlyn, Cheryl Regehr, and Graham Glancy. “Murder at the Dinner Table: Family Narratives of Forensic Mental Health Professionals*.” Journal of Loss & Trauma 24, no. 1 (January 2019): 31–49. doi:10.1080/15325024.2018.1507108.