Toxic workplaces are bad for your mental and physical health. In a recent survey, an astonishing 53 percent of workers said their place of employment brings no happiness to their lives. Too many Americans are trapped in toxic jobs. Are you one of those people? Perhaps it is time to do something about it.
What Is a Toxic Job or Workplace
A toxic workplace can be defined as any job where the work, the atmosphere, the people, or any combination of those things cause serious disruptions in the rest of your life.
The interruptions can include “sleepless nights, feeling constantly vigilant, sweaty palms, and a racing heartbeat.”
A toxic workplace also has negative health impacts that can affect your personal life by damaging everything from your self-esteem to your friendships.
Signs of a Toxic Workplace
Below are some solid indicators of a toxic work environment:
- Employee Sickness: Toxic workplaces lead to employee burnout, fatigue, and illness due to high levels of stress that wreak havoc on our bodies. If people are calling in sick or worse, are working sick, that’s a good sign of a toxic work environment.
- Employees Are Not Using Their Vacation Days: It is estimated that 54 percent of employees only take half of their vacation days for fear they will fall too far behind and a whopping 66 percent do work-related activities when they do use vacation days. So employees never truly relax.
- High Turnover: When the work environment has nothing good to offer except dysfunction, poor morale, and sickness, people will start heading for the door to find a better situation. If you notice a high turnover rate in your company or department, take that as a sign of a toxic workplace.
- Narcissistic Leadership: Your higher-ups demand that you always agree with them, tell them they’re right, and feel they’re above the rules. They expect everyone else to be perfect while they can meet lower standards.
- Employees Stuck Behind a Desk All Day: The average worker spends 9 hours a day sitting down. Sitting that much increases the risk of premature death and the worker’s chances of developing diabetes by 25 percent. Productivity and efficiency could be increased by standing and movement
- Little to No Enthusiasm: Look around the office. Is anyone happy to be working there? Is anyone smiling? Are conversations positive and upbeat? Is anyone talking at all? A ”no” to these questions equals toxicity. If employers discourage conversation between employees, that is even more toxic.
- Lack of Communication or Negative Communication: You and others don’t get the necessary information to do your job. You work hard with no positive feedback and no recognition, and you might even be told to be glad you have a job at all.
- Cliques, Gossip, and Rumors: Everyone seems to be out for themselves, and there are no genuine friendships among employees. There’s lots of infighting and paranoia as well as gossip and rumors. Gossip tends to trickle through poor communication channels, and it starts at the top. Did you know gossip is actually a form of workplace violence?
Signs You are Affected by a Toxic Job
Your body may know before your brain that your job is to blame for your stress symptoms, sending you red alerts that you are not okay.
When your job is toxic, it can feel like you’re fighting off a wild tiger at your desk. Under a perceived threat, your brains flood your system with adrenaline and other stress hormones.
Not being able to sleep because your mind is racing or not being able to stay asleep. You wake up in the middle of the night thinking about your to-do list.
A few restless nights is not a huge deal, but if it becomes a pattern, that may be a sign your job stress has become toxic.
Your muscles tense up to guard your body against injury. When you see the workplace as a danger zone, it keeps your muscles wound tight, according to the American Psychological Association. Chronic tension in the neck, shoulders, and head can be associated with migraines and tension headaches.
If you are catching colds constantly, consider how you are feeling about your job. Research shows that chronic stress can compromise the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness.
Mental Health Issues
Increased stress can exacerbate existing mental health issues.
This is fatigue, a bone-deep weariness that no nap or weekend catchup seems to cure.
Your appetite is closely linked to your brain. Under acute stress, your fight-or-flight response releases adrenaline, telling your body to suppress digestion to focus on saving us from a perceived danger. When your job is causing long-term emotional distress, you may turn to food for comfort.
Less Interest in Sex
The American Psychological Association notes that when women have to juggle professional stress on top of their ongoing personal and financial obligations, it can reduce sexual desire. For men, this chronic stress can result in lower testosterone production, which in turn leads to lower libido.
Relaxation and time are imperative and many people report not having enough time to have sex.
What Can You Do?
- Start your exit strategy. Start making the plans to look for a new job. Since it takes time to find a new job, begin your search and then take steps to improve the current situation. This will help you stay positive when things get tough. If you needed to leave yesterday, consider a bridge job that will keep you active while you find something in line with your career.
- Create lists to keep yourself busy. A list can help you stay focused on your tasks instead of the toxic atmosphere and gives you a reason to keep going every day.
- Try to develop friendships. Even if it is just one person, it is a bright spot in your day.
- Document everything you do. Save emails and write down comments and decisions from meetings, phone calls, and every person who interacts with you. If you need to file a complaint, you will need the evidence to back your claim.
- Do something after work that can help relieve stress. Go to the gym, do home repairs, or learn a new skill. The key is to make sure you’re living a fulfilling life outside of work to combat the drama of your 9 to 5.
- Take breaks. As you go through the day, take breaks to talk with co-workers, walk around the building, eat a healthy snack, do some exercises at your desk. Whatever it takes to give your mind an escape for a few minutes.
- Use your vacation time. Find a way to use it. Even if it means taking one day per week or extended weekends off. You need time away from your job to relax and rest. Do something fun when off. You don’t need to go to an exotic location to get the benefits of a vacation. Consider reading the book you have had on your nightstand for a while. Or spending time working in your yard or sleeping in each day. Whatever makes you feel relaxed and rested.
Knowing the signs of a toxic work environment and how to handle it will allow you to take your next step if and when you feel the time is right.