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We all know the signs of a toxic relationship — many of us have had friends who’ve dealt with a controlling, obsessive, or insensitive partner. However, it’s also important to acknowledge the signs of a toxic work environment, as the consequences of staying in one can be as impactful as your friend’s toxic romantic relationship.

As the source of your income, and thus livelihood, it’s easy to excuse otherwise unacceptable behavior from your employer: unpaid overtime, the pressure to always be checked in, long and irregular working hours, and an overall unbalanced work-life experience.

However, all these factors can lead to experiencing a stressed, unhappy life.

If you feel like you are finally ready to break up with your current toxic workplace and start fresh, here are some suggestions for discerning whether a possible place of work is likely to respect your work-life boundaries.

They Offer More Than the Traditional 9-5

The 8-hour workday feels like it’s been the norm in our society since the invention of sliced bread.

However, recent studies done by Ohio University has started to show the benefits of a 6-hour workday. Taking physical and mental breaks throughout the day can lead to higher productivity rates, reduced work absentees, and overall more happiness in the workplace.

Furthermore, flexible working hours are becoming a more regularly offered alternative to the traditional in-office working hours. Using flexible hours has gained so much positive traction that in the UK employees are legally entitled to flexible working hours after their first 26 weeks with a company.

Flexible working hours offer working moms, night owls, and homebodies the ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance while still being productive and valuable to the company.

Employees can work outside the traditional office space, enjoying important life moments more often. Moreover, remote working is also becoming a popular option for employees that have to relocate away from the company or if they have to deal with long commutes.

This means that people can remain an employee at a company they like, regardless of their location. This also results in a higher rate of retention between employers and their employees.

Employees happy with their place of work don’t have to leave it behind and employers don’t have to spend the time and money hiring a new employee to fill in the missing gaps. It’s a win-win for everybody.

They Encourage You to Take Time Off

Focusing on the “life” part in the work-life balance isn’t always a bad thing. It’s important to find the time to do the things you love such as traveling or spending time with your family. It helps keep you connected to the things you enjoy outside of work.

However, finding the time to take a vacation can seem impossible if you’re always overloaded with deadlines, emails, phone calls, and meetings at work.

Over 200 million Americans forfeited their paid vacation time to companies that didn’t allow them to carry that time over to the next year. Missing out on these opportunities to take a break is beyond frustrating.

If your employer always makes it feel impossible to take a vacation, yet your vacation time is stripped away each year, it’s easy to become overworked, overstressed, and overall miserable.

A good employer will value and understand the importance of taking time off from work and will encourage you to use your allotted amount each year.

Experiencing less stress and enjoying more free time throughout the year will result in more productive achievements and happiness at work. You’ll feel more satisfied and motivated at work if you’ve had plenty of time to recharge and enjoy the things that make you happy — and smart businesses know that.  

They Have Happy Employees

Happy employees with a healthy work-life balance are usually a good sign of a well-managed company. This can seem like a given but it isn’t always easy to discern when first applying and interviewing for jobs.

Reflecting on your time in a toxic work environment (just for a moment!), what were some key factors that added to the imbalance of work and life? Constant phone calls after work? The pressure to always be available when your boss calls? Staying late with no acknowledgment or worse — no pay?

Staying late every day, with no compensation, means you’re being taken advantage of by a company that cares more about profits than their employees.

Work isn’t the only thing happening in your life and a good employer will know that.

Of course, having a caring employer doesn’t necessarily equate to never working late or having to do extra work; it means working for a company that can manage their time and employees well, along with sufficiently rewarding extra time at work with the proper pay and recognition.

It’s also crucial that if something isn’t right at a company, employees always feel comfortable bringing it up without fear of retaliation. This isn’t the playground in the third grade.

No employer should pressure or bully their employees into staying quiet about a problem. If a company is open to communicating and to listening to the issues within their company, then they’re also a company that truly values and cares about its workers.

Luckily, some great resources exist today to check in with companies to see what their employees have to say about them. Glassdoor.com or Indeed.com are great places to research potential employers and find out if they respect work-life boundaries.

When work becomes the only thing in your life, it’s hard to maintain a healthy work-life balance. However, having boundaries with your employer is crucial to feeling valued, respected, and overall happy to work for them.

Missing out on important moments in your personal life because a job is too demanding is mentally and physically draining — and simply unacceptable. It’s time to step away from the toxic work environment and find a better work so that you can finally begin enjoying your life inside and outside of work again.  

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