Job Hunting

What Dreams May Come

Experts say nightmares reveal a lot about your work life.
Lisa YoonFebruary 11, 2003

In last week’s New Yorker, author Hendrik Hertzberg relayed an anecdote in which Secretary of State Colin Powell reportedly remarked, “I sleep like a baby… Every two hours I wake up screaming.”

According to a survey released Monday, Powell is not alone.

In the poll of more than 1,000 workers by online-learning specialist Learndirect, 57 percent of U.K. employees regularly wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night because of work-related nightmares. Not surprisingly, more than half of these nightmares come from stress.

But a host of other reasons contribute to sleepless nights and bad dreams. Interestingly, fear of getting laid off accounts for only 10 percent of nightmares. So what are Brits more worried about?

Remarkably, fully forty-one percent of the respondents say they toss and turn because they can’t stop thinking about work once they leave the office. Twenty-three percent blame fitful sleep on being stuck in a career rut, and 20 percent lie awake because of feelings of inadequacy at work.

Almost a quarter of the nightmares came on a Sunday evening, said the survey respondents. But most nightmares happen during busy work periods. A quarter say they dream about work once a week or more.

So what are the top job nightmares — and what exactly do these dreams tell us about our jobs?

Apparently, stress manifests itself in the most common work-related dream: arguing with the boss. That’s not to be confused with killing your boss — the eighth most common dream — which experts say indicates inability to get along with colleagues. Gee, thanks.

Dreaming about being late for an important meeting indicates the inability to switch off work, according to Learndirect. And lusting after a colleague (third place) means a career rut. Coming in fourth: dreaming about having to give an unexpected presentation, which shows worries about poor performance at work.

The infamous naked dream is the fifth most common nightmare. Going to work naked indicates feelings of career-ladder pressure, experts say.

Some dreams are fairly straightforward in their meaning. Dreams in which the computer permanently crashes suggests a concern about not being savvy enough about technology

As for dreams of getting the axe: Guess what that nightmare says about your state of mind?