First Generational Professionals and Work TraumaJun 02, 2022
There's been a lot of talk about generational differences in the workplace. Generational conflicts can be seen in several different areas like communication style, opinions, work ethic, and career choice. One factor that has an impact on these other differences is how each generation is affected by work trauma. But what is work trauma? And how does it affect First Generation professionals?
Work trauma is defined as "the experience of psychological distress caused by events at work," while first generation professionals are those who are the first in their family to go to college and graduate with a degree, or those who are the first in their families to pursue a career in a specific field.
This means that when they enter the workforce, they have been conditioned to think of themselves as "something more" than their parents. As a result, first-generation professionals often experience work trauma differently than other employees because they feel like they have something to prove. This can come in various forms. For example, they may be more likely to take on extra projects and responsibilities that are outside of their job descriptions and work long hours without complaint or question.
What are the Symptoms of Trauma?
Emotional trauma can be traced to a variety of causes – from workplace violence, sexual harassment, racism, discrimination or a toxic workplace culture to natural disasters, the loss of a family member or loved one, or a childhood event. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) study found that 70 percent of people across 24 countries have experienced traumas, with an average of 3.2 traumatic events over the course of a lifetime. (Forbes)
These symptoms are more intense among first-generation professionals as they are more predisposed to want to prove themselves. For instance, they tend to be more loyal to their jobs than other employees — they don't want to disappoint their parents by quitting or being let go from a job. This can lead them down a path of taking on too much responsibility and putting their health at risk.
Did you know that first-gens have it hard to thrive in professional settings? This is because they often don't have access to mentors who may guide them professionally. As a result, they often don’t get the best job offers. The effect of this is that they are more predisposed to accepting offers faster and making less, even when they are overqualified. In fact, according to scholars at North Carolina State and Duke universities, first-generation students earn substantially less than their classmates whose parents finished college.
When it comes to immersion at the workplace, first gens tend to feel out of place with the rest of the staff as they often do not have much in common with other people. With most coming from low income backgrounds, first gen professionals are less likely to have non-work experiences such as traveling, club membership, or sports. This alone is enough to cause difficulty for them to freely mix up with colleagues.
First gen professionals have more to lose when they get out of a job. On top of the pressure that they are likely to experience, most of these professionals are viewed as the ‘final break’ for the rest of their families. Studies back this up, stating that a majority of professionals in this category attend college in hope of eventually helping their families. And while this is the case a lot of times, it results in a lot of guilt for the professionals coming from the pressure to excel.
Another challenge faced by first gen professionals is that they are not likely to come forward to seek help when they are faced with a challenge. Overall, there is a lot of stigma that is associated with first generation status. Their backgrounds can be easily viewed by others as a weakness, and so they are likely to be overlooked. This could be anything, from seeking training, or dealing with something that is as serious as harassment.
How to navigate trauma as a first gen professional
Thriving in the workplace as a first gen is challenging, but it can be done. Here are some tips to help you through:
- Be Positive, Efficient and Effective
- Flex those 'self’ muscles: self esteem, self confidence and self belief muscles
- Make sure you take your allocated break times at work.
- Take advantage of resources and seek help when you need it.
- Spend time with people who make you feel great and make you laugh.
- Look after you!