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Is it possible to escape a 'doom loop' at work?

Young businessman working late in office looking stressed. Male professional feeling tired while working on laptop in modern office.
A 'doom loop' describes a scenario in which one negative thought leads to the next. Photo: Getty (Luis Alvarez via Getty Images)

When something bad happens at work – like redundancies – it’s easy to get stuck in a negative thought cycle. Once you’ve been present for a negative event, everything seems like a threat and every inconvenience seems like a problem. It’s what has been dubbed a ‘doom loop’.

In the context of work, a doom loop describes a scenario in which one negative thought leads to the next. One negative event can lead us to perceive other events as negative – whether they are or not – and create a spiral of pessimistic thinking. Over time, this can lead to low morale, poor productivity and contribute to anxiety and low mood.

Once you’re disillusioned with your workplace, it’s hard to drag yourself out of it. So what can you do to break the negative cycle - and what can employers do to help workers feel happier and more positive?


“Let’s be honest, we are living in a tough world right now,” says Natalie Trice, a career coach and PR expert. “We have an increasingly volatile workplace landscape where rumours are rife and Glassdoor reviews put everyone on edge, so it’s little surprise that people are finding themselves falling into a doom loop.”

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Essentially, Trice explains, a doom loop is like a sticky web of negative thoughts and emotions bound together with uncertainty and discontent. “When you add in other people’s fears, social media and the cost of living crisis, breaking free from this cycle can be challenging but not impossible,” she says.

“There can be many triggers and reasons for negative mindsets. Changing teams, new management structures, missing out on promotions and the threat of redundancy can all foster insecurity and fear. Heavy workloads, unrealistic expectations, poor management and overwhelming stress can also play a role.”

However, by focusing on the things you can control, it may be possible to improve how you feel about work.

Think about what the problem is

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell exactly why you’re not happy and multiple factors may be to blame. “Identify what the contributing factors are and seek support from close colleagues or other professionals to get a new perspective,” says Trice. “If working late is making you feel resentful because you are missing time with your family, work on changing your hours and put strong boundaries in place.”

If your workload is too much – or you’ve taken on too many extra responsibilities that are eating away at your time – speak to your boss about changing things.

Improve the things you can control

You can’t control every aspect of your work life. Restructures, redundancies and new management are disruptive and often stressful, but ultimately unavoidable. So where possible, focus on the things you can control – like your time, the hours you work, the tasks you take on, or the direction you want your career to go in.

And if you really don’t think anything will improve in your current job, it may be time to spruce up your CV. But remember, a new job might not necessarily fix what is making you feel so negative about work.

Problems in business, upset woman. Violation of mental health and depression. Workplace out of office. Distant freelance job.
If an employee has survived lay-offs, they are likely to remain anxious about the security of their job. Photo: Getty (Oleg Breslavtsev via Getty Images)

“As cliché as it sounds, change starts with us - so work on yourself, then assess what would make you happy in your career,” says Trice.

Learning a new skill or starting a training course may give you renewed focus and enthusiasm, which can filter into other aspects of your life.

Avoid toxic positivity

While there are benefits to being optimistic and engaging in positive thinking, ignoring how you really feel is unlikely to end well. Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive outlook. However, this is unrealistic – and sometimes, it’s more helpful to look at what is making you unhappy so you can try to change it.

This is something employers need to take into account. If an employee has survived lay-offs, they may be told to ‘be grateful’ that they’ve still got a job. But in reality, they probably feel anxious about their future and guilty that their colleagues have been made redundant. Being told to ‘be positive’ is only going to invalidate their feelings.

Employers need to be honest and open

Fostering a culture of trust is key for employers when it comes to building a positive workplace. It’s tempting to try to keep financial problems under wraps, but people will know if things are bad - so it’s better to be honest and open about how the business is doing. Warn people if redundancies are imminent, so they have time to work on job applications.

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“If you want your people to be happy and productive, then you need to offer open communication and provide mental health and wellbeing resources as well as skills and personal development opportunities,” says Trice.

“Recognising people’s value, training managers with the right skills, offering constructive feedback as well as growth opportunities, and accommodating flexible work arrangements can also help to reduce stress.”

And, Trice adds, making sure people are positive about work is worthwhile for organisations. “If your workplace is operating on a doom loop mentality, improving morale and productivity is key to success or you will be looking at long-term sick patterns and resignations,” she says.

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