It’s a Monday today, which means there’s a slew of emails in my inbox from clients who don’t understand that I don’t work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’ve got a long meeting scheduled in which it’s likely nothing’s going to be done. My colleague has already asked me three times today (I’m keeping track) to do something for her which she should be doing herself.
Venting about work at home is a time-honored tradition for me, something I’ve always viewed as a right of passage to adulthood. I used to believe that it helped me, to talk about what was frustrating me, think about the problems that might be facing me the next morning, and maybe even make me feel better about going to work.
What I want to do more than anything else is go home and complain about it. But I won’t. I’ve learned it’s not worth it, and it’s actively harmful.
It’s not fair on my partner.
It would be one thing if I just ranted about a crappy workday to myself and my cats. It’s entirely another if I’m spending any considerable time venting aloud to my partner, who realistically won’t be able to help me.
I’m putting the burden on him to make me feel better, and I’m bringing negativity into his day that he doesn’t necessarily want or need.
And because I know he’s a problem solver by nature, I also know that he’ll try to suggest ways I can fix work problems. I also know that because he doesn’t have enough context, the solutions won’t help much. So I’ll just be frustrated even more than before, and my partner will have been dragged into a conflict that has nothing to with him, and which he can’t help with, which makes him feel bad too.
In short, venting about work at home is boring at best, and frustrating or annoying at worst for my partner, and could escalate even further as he tries futilely to help me, and I get annoyed at him for trying. Better to keep it to myself and my cats.
I’m not being paid for those hours.
It’s possible I’ve never sounded more millennial, but one of the deciding factors for me is that when I worry about work at home, when I try to think of ways to deal with annoying clients, or problem-solve for a current issue, I’m effectively doing free, unpaid work, at home when I should be relaxing, playing with my cats, painting, cooking, or sleeping.
I’m guilty of lying awake in bed at night, dwelling on work — things that went wrong, clients that were angry at me, upcoming meetings. And none of it is profitable.
In fact, I’d be better off completely cutting off work thoughts and coming back to the problem the next day, when I’m refreshed and ready to tackle whatever the problem is, head on. Plus at that point I’ll once again be getting paid to work.
You know what I could be doing instead? Side-gig work that actually pays me, or might pay me soon. For example, writing stories or posting on Instagram. Those might actually bring me cash, while worrying about work will not.
When I voluntarily add unpaid hours to my working week, that’s on me. I have the power to change that, and I should.
It doesn’t make me feel better.
Here’s what happens when I ignore the advice and decide to burden myself (and sometimes my partner) with work venting in the hopes that it will relax me, or that it will help me.
I get really riled up. I get angry. I think about getting a new job.
I rarely think productively about a problem; I rarely feel better after talking about it. I normally feel a lot worse. What I have to force myself to do is consciously disengage: go take a walk, read a book, watch TV.
Honestly, even if venting or stressing was paid for by my company (it’s not) and if it didn’t have negative effects on my partner (it does), just the fact that I don’t feel better after venting should be enough to get me to stop.
What can you do instead?
When you have the desperate urge to think about work when you’re at home, take just one minute to consider whether it will help. When you finish, will you feel better? What effects will it have on your mood, or the mood of anyone you’re venting to? Is it worth it?
Instead of giving into the temptation, think about the underlying need. Why are you so caught up about work at home? Is it a need to feel more in control? Should you consider changing jobs, or speaking to your manager?
By finding the source, you can treat the cause directly, rather than the symptom.
If I’m feeling like I’m not good at my job, I do something I know I’m good at — like baking, or reading a book, or helping one of my friends solve a problem.
If I’m feeling like I’m being unproductive, I create something — a painting, a story, a small cat-tent for my cats.
If I’m feeling like the job isn’t right for me, I browse job openings. I might never take one, but it’s good to be reminded of why I’m at my current place, even if just by comparing to others.
Essentially, instead of hollering out my woes or internally stressing where it won’t do any good, I do something to address the underlying feeling.
It’s always tempting to vent. Whether it’s about friends, current events, or work, you’re tricked into thinking it’s a helpful thing, that it “gets it off your chest.” It can feel cathartic.
But venting has been shown by scientists (as well as by your personal experience, no doubt) that venting just makes you more miserable. It makes you dwell on something that is causing you to be unhappy, without taking any steps towards resolving it.
Ignoring it doesn’t help either, as it just represses the emotions deeper. There’s no need to suffer in silence. But instead of bringing your work home with you, where it’ll do no good, focus on changing what you can.
At the end of the day, complaining and worrying won’t make you any better off. Addressing the underlying needs, of boredom, lack of satisfaction, no creativity — that’s what will make you feel better.