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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 17, 2006

Dreams about your job rarely pleasant: study

By Larry Ballard

Studies show that many people have nightmares about their jobs some even experience them at least once a week.

I remember one well.

I wanted a raise. I wanted a bigger piece of the corporate pie. A la mode.

So I straightened my tie, worked up the courage and prepared myself to march right into the boss's office and ask for nay, demand what I work so hard for two times a month.

With trembling hands and constricted throat, I knocked timidly on the office door. Except the door was made of rubber. So I pounded harder to be heard. Then the door melted like milk chocolate under my flailing fists. And there stood the boss, only she looked exactly like Katie Couric, but without the overly inflated sense of self-worth.

"WHAT DO YOU WANT?" she asked in capital letters.

I tried to talk, but no words came out. When they did, my voice sounded small and squeaky.

"A raise?"

"What?" she boomed, as the chocolate door puddled around our feet. "Are you dreaming?"

Turns out, I was.

Studies show that 80 percent of men and 60 percent of women dream about the workplace. And rarely (which is to say, never) are the dreams pleasant. In other words, the boss never resembles Rachel Hunter, and the words never come out right, if at all.

Half of the people studied by a British research company described their dreams as flat-out nightmares. A quarter of them said they experience these work-related night terrors at least once a week.

The researchers asked participants what their work-related dreams typically entail. Here are the responses, in order of frequency:

  • An argument with the boss.

  • Being late or missing an important meeting.

  • Unrequited lust for a colleague.

  • Panic during an unexpected presentation.

  • Arriving at work naked.

  • A fatal computer crash that swallows months of work.

  • Getting fired.

  • A boss who punches his employees in the gut.

    That last one was actually provided by my friend, Renee, who recently joined a company that, if I mentioned the name, would make her work weekends until she retires.

    "At my last job, I had a dream early in the week that I was fighting with my boss, and in the dream he hit me in the stomach, and I woke up physically feeling pain in my stomach," Renee said. "That was the end of it. I quit later that week."

    Her story proves one important point: Renee needs professional help.

    So I pulled out the ol' Rolodex to find someone who could put this workplace dream issue into perspective.

    We started at the top, with nationally known career coach and workplace guru Nan Russell, who used to be vice president of QVC. (Even if she had no opinion on the subject, I figured she could get me a good deal on a 14k gold-woven Singapore ankle bracelet in my choice of three lengths.)

    "My personal experience with dreaming about work agrees with your colleagues: frequent, stress-producing, high anxiety, surreal," Russell said. "I found my dreams about work significantly increased during high stress periods, approaching deadlines and new responsibilities or bosses."

    But John Harrison at the School of Metaphysics in Des Moines, Iowa, said that even if our work dreams are weird and icky, there is something to be gained from them.

    That's why the school will organize a free dream interpretation hotline later this month.

    Harrison said the language of dreams cannot be learned overnight, but we can eventually decode the hidden messages. Turns out there are some universal themes being lost, naked, chased, etc. that turn up regularly.

    So I ran my Katie Couric dream by Harrison, just for kicks.

    He explained that Katie represents authority, and that I apparently have a difficult time reaching out to authority unless it's in a time of crisis.

    "Dreams always say something about the dreamer," he said.

    To think, I blamed it on that bedtime slice of leftover pizza.

    Harrison also said we can determine the type of dreams we have by our attitudes and actions.

    The next night, I donned my sleeping cap and Speed Racer pajamas, then crawled into bed determined to change the outcome.

    Trouble is, I overslept. There followed a frantic race to the office, where the boss had scheduled an important meeting.

    I arrived embarrassingly late, then stammered for a few minutes until I could blurt out an apology.

    The boss, surprisingly, was understanding.

    Then she ordered me to get out of her office and told me not to come back until I put some clothes on.