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In a perfect world, we would all get along with our co-workers and the office would be both productive. And an enjoyable place.

On average Americans spend 34.4 hours a week at work, but nearly half of full-time workers work more than 50 hours on the job. That is a lot of time spent at the job, so it’s important owners create a stress-free office environment.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. The Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School, and the University of California conducted a study that surveyed 3,066 American workers and asked them questions about their workplace. The results of the study concluded that nearly 55% of participants feel their office is “unpleasant and potentially hazardous.”

1 in 5 workers goes on to say they go to work and face a “hostile and threatening environment” that includes sexual harassment and even bullying.

With such toxic work environments, it isn’t surprising to learn when people are expected to work in a toxic work environment they feel undervalued, unappreciated, and uncomfortable. All of which leads to a decline in productivity.  

Dissatisfaction at the workplace is such a problem that 51% of American workers say they feel disconnected from their jobs. And 16% of those individuals are tuned out completely from their jobs and are utterly miserable.

The Effects of a Toxic Workplace

When you subject yourself to continue to work in a hostile environment, you aren’t just losing your desire to work, you are putting your health at risk! When you work in a toxic environment, you are putting a lot of unnecessary strain on your physical and mental health.  

Sadly, many people chaulk this stress up as part of the job. When works complain about the negative energy in the workplace, they are often met with pushback from owners and upper management. Employees are often led to believe that a bad job is better for your health than being unemployed.

That isn’t the case at all. Tarani Chandola, leading author of the International Journal of Epidemiology study and a professor of Medical Sociology at the University of Manchester, and co-author, Nan Zhang, surveyed 1,116 people between the ages of 35 and 75 residing in the United Kingdom. In the survey, they found that people who went from being unemployed to a job with a toxic environment had higher biological stress indicators than those who remained out of work.

These biological indicators show that people can develop diseases that affect the cardiovascular and immune system as well as their metabolism. When someone who works in a positive work environment, they have lower levels of these stress indicators, which means they’re happier, healthier, and more productive.

What Are the Main Causes of a Toxic Environment?

There are many different reasons why a work environment could become toxic. The main causes of a negative work environment include:

1. Your Boss

A workplace is only as good as the boss who supervises it. The most common reason a workplace is toxic is that there are some bosses who abuse their authority and will abuse their staff. Or they don’t encourage a positive work environment.

Some examples of the abuse that could occur can include:

  • Belittling someone in front of other employees
  • Bully employees by calling them degrading names
  • Make unwanted sexual advances
  • Singling out one or more employees for negative reasons

Not only can a boss abuse their power. But they also may not be supportive of your goals and your desire to further your career. Some additional signs of an abusive manager include taking credit for your work, placing the blame on you whenever something goes wrong. Or they prevent you from getting a promotion that you’re qualified for if they even make you aware of possible advancement opportunities at all.

2. Bullies in the Workplace

Bullying isn’t just something children encounter, nor does it have to happen face to face. Many companies rely on email communication and instant messaging platforms like Slack.

The use of these digital communication mediums can lead to employees feeling singled out, isolated, and even ridiculed by their co-workers and/or management.

Cyberbullying is especially toxic to the workplace because it can be done anonymously and on any platform. It doesn’t just have to be work-related.

For example, people can create fake social media accounts and harass a fellow co-worker. Or they can use text messaging to spread rumors about a person, without that person ever knowing.

Bullying is a very big problem because when someone endures harassment, it could cause the individual to become severely depressed. Or worse, as victims of cyberbullying, are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide.  

3. Workplace & Domestic Violence

Did you know that 2,000,000 American workers experience victims of workplace violence each year? That number is even higher for occurrences of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is a nasty problem whose effects aren’t just felt inside the home. When someone is in an abusive relationship, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience domestic violence, they endure emotional, mental, and physical abuse.

Just imagine how difficult it is to work with someone who has visible bruises or flinches every time someone comes near them. You want to help, but you don’t know-how. Even if you do offer some kind of support, the individual may refuse, may become withdrawn, evasive, or belligerent because they don’t know how to react. This can lead to lower company morale and productivity.

Some signs that someone is in an abusive relationship include:

  • Signs of physical harm such as bruising, burns, broken bones, or cuts
  • Visibly flinch when someone comes too close
  • Seem afraid or anxious when discussing their partner
  • Frequently checks in with their partner to report what they are doing/going
  • Receives frequent calls or visits from a partner during the workday
  • Always declines to hang out outside of work unless partner goes
  • Does not have access to money, credit cards, or a vehicle
  • Obvious signs of personality change

4. Lack of Communication

Like anything else in your life, communication is an essential component behind a happy and healthy workplace. When there is a breakdown in the line of communication, it throws productivity out the window.

Communication is so important that in a 2010 study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Boston discovered the medical industry in the United States throws over $12 billion down the drain. As a result of the inefficiencies that are a direct result of poor communication.

When a workplace has good communication, conflict can be avoided or worked out in a productive manner. Good communication can also help employees feel satisfied with their work and even avoid feeling burnt out.

5. Poorly Implemented Policies

You can easily tell the difference between a business who does not implement or enforce their policies and procedures and one who does. When your boss enforces policies, everything seems to run like a finely oiled machine. However, when your boss has a “don’t care” attitude, chaos ensues and people do whatever they want.

Tasks get neglected or only get completed by some employees. The lack of teamwork and enforcement can cause people to feel resentment toward management and their co-workers. The hardworking employees can adopt that “don’t care” attitude as a result and their work will begin to suffer.

6. Cliques in the Office

Office drama is often a result of having office cliques who like to gossip and spread negative energy. They can make a mountain out of a molehill and ruin whatever kind of enjoyment you may get from your job. These office cliques can be a big source of drama that can bring down the whole vibe of the workspace.

Workers often believe that there will always be some kind of conflict or friction in the workplace. It makes sense because with so many different personalities coming together under one roof, people are bound to clash from time to time.

Small conflicts are to be expected from time to time, but when those small disagreements blow up and full-on drama ensues, then you are not working in a healthy environment.

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