If you find that you can't escape from PowerPoint presentations, vendor invoices, and other trappings of your working life even when you're passed out cold, you're not alone — 80 percent of women and 60 percent of men report regularly dreaming about work. And, unfortunately, very few of those dreams are about how awesome it is to have a job (or even about how awesome it is to steal manila envelopes from your job). Typically, work-related dreams are linked to job stress: of those who reported work dreams, 65 percent of women and 43 percent of men reported waking up from them feeling stressed out and fearful about their jobs.
But having a work anxiety dream doesn't mean that you have subconsciously picked up on some sign that you're about to be axed. Since dreams are our mind's way of sorting through the stresses and anxieties of our our conscious life, work dreams are primarily just about working through the things that stress us out about our jobs.
And since eight out of 10 Americans are stressed about work, it's no wonder that work anxiety dreams are so common. So consider your dreams about cluttered desks, unfamiliar offices, and confusing corporate bathrooms an opportunity to learn more about what you want and need out of work, to resolve some lingering issues about your job, and to pull together some insights about how to make your own relationship with your job healthier.
With the help of "definitive" dream interpretation site Dream Moods, as well as a few other sources, let's get to the bottom of that reoccurring nightmare about getting it on with your boss once and for all.
Dreams About Coworkers
Your Real Coworkers
Have that weird dream where Tim from Accounts Payable is riding a unicorn across a rainbow again? Special appearances by a coworker in your dreams may relate to aspects of your individual relationship with that person — including whether you feel like they're a supportive presence, or a mean jerk who's always on the look out for a new and exciting way to undermine you.
And don't panic if you dream about having sex with a coworker who gives you no panty tingles in waking life — it may just be a sign that you need to figure out how to work with this person in a better, more productive way at your (non-sex) job.
Coworkers Who Do Not Actually Exist
A dream that takes place in an office populated by made-up, dream-world coworkers may be dramatizing an aspect of your personal psychological life that you need to address, via their behavior. Are all your new, pretend coworkers very angry, or very jealous, or very into online shopping way outside their budgets? Then this may be your subconscious trying to draw your attention to your own similar behavior. Dreams of imaginary coworkers can also just be a variation on ye olde work stress dream.
Dreams About Workplaces And Spaces
When you can't get away from the office, even when you're unconscious, that typically means that you're overwhelmed by work, to the point where it is infringing on your personal life. But if your trip to the dream office feels celebratory, rather than stressful, it can indicate accomplishment and a feeling of status and professional pride. You're so proud of the work you do there, the Sandman himself cannot tear you from its bosom! Good for you (I think?).
An Office You've Never Been To Before
Wandering around an unfamiliar office suggests that you might be comparing yourself — professionally or otherwise — to someone else. Perhaps the person whose "#1 Aunt" mug you just found soaking in the sink of this weird dream office kitchenette?
Getting Lost In Your Office On The Way To The Bathroom
Can't find the place that you secretly consider your "second office" during your waking hours? Struggling to find the bathroom in your office can be a sign that your basic needs (as symbolized by, um, your basic needs) just aren't being met by your job.
Showing Up To Work At An Old Job
Dreaming that you're still at that annoying internship you did your junior year of college? It could mean that there's a lesson from your past that you need to apply to your current life — literally, something you finished learning long ago.
Alternately, it can be a symbol of regression — a sign that you're falling back into old aspects of your life because they're more comfortable, even if they're not the best or ideal for your current situation. Are you picking up other habits from your junior year, such as looking to authority figures for approval, drinking too much, and sleeping with 22-year-old lacrosse players? Might be time to look into that (but let those lacrosse players down easy — they're more sensitive than they seem).
Dreams About Office Supplies
Calmly working at your computer in your office can symbolize either that you're encountering new opportunities, or that you're feeling like you have no real opportunities to voice your real feelings and concerns in your life — it all depends on how you feel about your magic internet box in your dream. But if your work computer is crashing, has a virus, or is otherwise misbehaving, you may be facing down some anxiety about an aspect of your real life that is out of control.
Sitting at your desk in a dream can be a symbol of self-exploration and inner discovery; but sitting at someone else's desk can symbolize a lack of confidence. Dreaming that your desk is cluttered can mean that you need to re-prioritize some aspects of your life. And dreaming that you're sleeping under your desk may just mean that you are in the middle of napping under your desk, George Costanza-style (no shade here — I salute your risk-taking spirit).
These ergonomic wonders signal professional mobility and adaptability — you can move through the corporate world just as easily as one of these babies can sail across your break room while you're doing lunchtime chair races (you know, if you're into that sort of thing).
Dreams About Job Searching
Looking For A New Job
Spending your REM hours imagining that you're surfing Monster.com typically means that you're feeling frustrated in your waking life, and need to make changes to feel more fulfilled. To dream that you're applying for multiple jobs typically means that you need more focus overall in your life.
Getting Fired Or Laid Off From Your Job
Losing your job in a dream can point to instability in your life — and not exclusively on the work front. Any kind of anxiety you have about anything that you feel insecure about, from your love life to your housing situation, can manifest itself as a dream about being fired.
Dreams About HR Violations
Showing Up For Work Naked
Just because you're out of school doesn't mean you have to give up the ol' "show up for a test naked" dream. It can transform into the "show up naked for work" dream, which dream expert Gillian Holloway told Time magazine signifies feeling vulnerable and unprepared — like, say, for a new position that you don't feel totally confident about or qualified for.
Showing Up Unprepared For A Big Meeting
This stress dream is most common among those who are ultra-prepared for every aspect of work life — but having it doesn't mean that you're about to forget to bring your presentation to a huge investor's meeting. Much like the nude interlude above, Holloway claims that dreaming about showing up to work unprepared is just a way for your subconscious to process anxiety about any variable or unknown aspects of your life.
Showing Up Late For Work
Though for many of us, running late for work is a staple of our actual working life, when dream-you misses your bus or gets stuck in traffic on the way to the office, dream expert Lauri Quinn Loewenberg tells Fortune, it can be a sign that you feel "stuck" in life, or like you're missing out on a career opportunity.
Having Sex With Your Boss
If you're crushing on your boss, this could be a simple case of wish fulfillment. But if your boss is very, very not your type — like "I woke up from this dream and wanted to take a nine hour shower"-level not your type — a sex dream about your boss can be about the power and authority that they hold, and how you want some of that power yourself.
Psychologist and dream expert Ian Wallace suggests in Forbes that a sex dream about your boss might show that you want that power in order to act on a great professional idea that you have, but have been too scared to put into action.
Is that any comfort the next time you see your 75-year-old boss, and remember the part of your dream where you saw his scrotum? No? Sorry. I'm doing my best here, but your subconscious is only giving me so much to work with.