One of the saddest, most frustrating situations I encounter on a frequent basis has to do with obsession. I regularly meet employees who have what appears to be an obsession with a perceived injustice in the workplace.
The sense of grievance, the sense of being wronged and the injustice felt as a consequence can be all consuming and prevent the employee from getting over the issue, putting it in context, putting it behind them and moving on.
I must tell them that life is not fair sometimes, that the goalposts move, the rules change, and there are no guarantees.
But I simply cannot get through to them. They simply won’t accept this and cannot get over it.
And I accept that now, I accept that in many cases this obsession is bordering on mental illness and health.
I am certain that there is a medical term for what I am trying to describe.
This medical term might have a fancy name, might sound very serious but the fundamental fact is this: the obsession with a relatively minor matter in the overall context of a life or a career is unhealthy and exceedingly difficult to deal with.
Difficult for the employee and difficult for me as an employment law advisor trying to help with an employment problem.
I have little knowledge of psychiatric conditions or the best treatments for the various illnesses that overbear a person’s mind from time to time.
But I do know that a relentless, all consuming preoccupation with a ‘wrong’ that the employee has suffered is unhealthy and harmful.
So, what type of things am I referring to?
Let me give you a couple of examples.
An employee who is dismissed is understandably shocked taken aback.
Losing your job can have tremendously serious consequences such as loss of income, inability to pay a mortgage, inability to provide for one’s family, loss of status, loss of self esteem, and so forth. This is a significant life event that can leave long term psychological and emotional scarring.
I recognise and understand this.
This is not what I am talking about.
What I am referring to is the employee who has been correctly subjected to a disciplinary procedure and has received some sanction but simply cannot accept it. He becomes obsessive about the verbal or written warning placed on his file, but which almost certainly disappear off after 6 months and will not rest until it is removed and he gets an apology.
Or the girl who goes for a promotion in her workplace but is unsuccessful and a colleague and rival is appointed to the position instead. The colleague may have a perfectly valid claim to the position but my client cannot see this. She can only see the long hard hours she has put into her career and education, the late nights and overtime, the extra courses and qualifications.
And she simply cannot accept that on the day of the interview the colleague may have just done a better interview or clicked with the particular make up of the interview panel on that particular day.
I could give you countless examples of what most of us would see as relatively minor setbacks, and nothing more.
And yet the employee is looking to go to the WRC, to the Labour Court, to the Civil Courts, to Europe if necessary, to right the wrong.
Sometimes you just must accept that life isn’t fair, ‘stuff’ happens, and how you respond to setbacks and inequalities is entirely a choice you can make.
This is not a trivial matter and is one I encounter on a weekly basis. If you have a loved one who appears to suffer from this problem you need to know it is not unique.