Far too many of us have worked in an unhealthy environment at one time or another. You may be wondering if you’re in an unhealthy work environment right now. Some places of employment are clearly toxic, while others are not quite as clear-cut. Any job has the potential for injury or stress, but in an unhealthy environment, your risks will be greater.
Approximately one in every five American workers reports working in a toxic environment. For too long, I was one of them. I spent three years at a company that did not allow their employees to develop or use their skills, did not offer room for advancement, and didn’t even provide water.
While I was with that company, I recognized that it was a depressing, demoralizing dead end. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the effects were also potentially dangerous to my physical and mental health.
What a Toxic Workplace Looks Like?
If you are experiencing mental stress, emotional anguish, or physical pain, it could be caused by your toxic work environment. The first step in getting out of a toxic workplace is admitting your job is toxic and understanding the effects it is having on your physical and mental health.
Answer the following questions to determine if you’re working in an unhealthy environment:
- Do you dread going to work?
- Do you feel a weight on your shoulders every time you go to work?
- Do your superiors or coworkers make you feel bad about yourself?
- Are your superiors or coworkers verbally abusive?
- Are you afraid to take time off?
- Is your salary low?
- Is your work not challenging enough?
- Do you have an excessive workload while your coworkers slack off?
- Are your performance expectations unclear?
- Do other people take credit for your work?
- Is being a team player not encouraged?
- Is there a lack of opportunity for advancement?
- Does the company not encourage and promote employee relations?
- Are you not given adequate time and support to complete your tasks?
- Are you discouraged from developing skills you could add to your resume?
- Is there a lot of workplace gossip at your place of employment?
- Are you discouraged from giving feedback or opinions?
- Do your coworkers sabotage and undermine each other?
- Do your coworkers have a negative attitude?
- Do your coworkers blame others for their own failings?
Did you answer yes to any of these questions? Even one or two yes answers is a huge red flag. More than that, and you’re definitely in an unhealthy workplace. Keep reading to learn more about the signs. If any of the following sounds familiar, your workplace is toxic.
8 Physical Risks of an Unhealthy Work Environment
Some fast-paced, high-pressure workplaces take a physical toll on their workers. This is counterproductive to the employers because it decreases worker productivity and increases costs. For the employees, they may be literally working themselves to death. Some of the physical effects of an unhealthy workplace include:
1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
According to the Mayo Clinic, carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by conditions in the workplace that cause repetitive flexing of the wrist, which can damage the median nerve or exacerbate any existing damage. Carpal tunnel syndrome can affect workers who use computers all day, grocery checkers, and assembly line workers, especially if you work in a cold environment.
2. Back Injuries
The main causes of back injuries in the workplace include inadequate training, improper lifting technique, rushing, and a skewed perception of the risks involved with lifting. Once you injure your back, you are significantly more likely to experience another back injury in the future. Employers need to make sure employees who lift have safety gear and are well-trained.
3. Illnesses From Exposure to Toxins
Exposure to toxic substances on the job can cause respiratory, renal, cardiovascular, and reproductive harm. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employees to have protocols in place to reduce workers’ exposure to chemical hazards and toxic substances. Any violation of these standards should be reported to OSHA.
Working long hours can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension. This condition can have serious effects on your health including aneurysm, strokes, heart damage, kidney failure, and even damage to your vision. If you’re working overtime, you may need to cut back your hours to protect your health.
According to OSHA, fatigue can have serious health effects. Aside from reducing your alertness and impairing your ability to make decisions, it can affect your memory and your ability to concentrate. It can also cause you to be irritable and unmotivated. Workplace fatigue can be deadly if you are a driver or you work with machinery, and it can also cause heart problems.
6. Digestive Issues
Workplace fatigue can also cause digestive problems that have symptoms similar to those experienced with irritable bowel syndrome. These can include diarrhea, nausea, constipation, and bloating. These symptoms can also be caused by stress in the workplace. Work stress can also cause you to produce excess stomach acid, leading to indigestion and heartburn.
Depression, stress, and anxiety at work can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, and there is no cure for this condition. When you’re under stress, your body may not release its insulin. This will eventually cause an excess of glucose in your blood. The longer you’re under stress for, the higher your glucose levels will become.
8. Injuries From Accidents or Explosions
Millions of Americans are injured in non-fatal workplace accidents each year, and approximately 5,000 workers are killed on the job annually. Slip, trip, and fall accidents, fires, explosions, and violence cause many disabilities. They also cost employers millions of dollars. Most of these are preventable injuries that wouldn’t have happened with better training and equipment.
Any of these physical effects of toxic workplaces can lead to lost wages, missed work, and in the most serious cases the permanent inability to work. If you’re experiencing any of these health conditions due to your job, you’re in an unhealthy work environment.
2 Common Mental Health Risks of an Unhealthy Work Environment
According to the American Psychological Association, mental health is a human right, and it is also critical for moral, legal, clinical, and economic reasons. Your right to mental health does not end once you’re on the clock.
1. Common Mental Health Risks
Some of the mental health effects a toxic workplace can have on employees include:
- Anger issues.
Many people develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking or overeating to deal with pressure. If you already had mental health challenges prior to your employment at a toxic company, the environment may make any existing problems worse. This is especially true in instances of unfair treatment or feels like your boss has it in for you.
2. About Insomnia
Many workers who are under stress also report suffering from insomnia. When you work in a toxic environment where the stressors go far beyond the norm, leaving your work behind you once you’re off the clock can be easier said than done. Too often, this leads to long, sleepless nights of worry and stress. Insomnia also robs you of your opportunity to recharge.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you can become agitated and it can be more difficult to cope with stress. It can also make you more likely to make mistakes or to have a workplace accident.
How to Fix an Unhealthy and Toxic Work Environment?
In an unhealthy workplace, the issues typically start at the top. Greed, micromanagement, competitiveness, and undermining are problems that begin at the ownership and management level, and that’s where change will need to take place.
The following steps can potentially turn the situation around.
1. Improve Your Company’s Culture
Your company’s culture needs to be improved if you’re putting profits over people. Examples of this are burning workers out with long hours and impossible demands or pitting workers against each other. When workers have more creative control and they are able to reach attainable goals, overall productivity will rise.
2. Strike the Right Work/Home Balance
When employees do not have the freedom to take time off when they need it, common needs like visiting a doctor or attending a parent-teacher conference can become huge sources of stress. If the workers at your company have to jump through hoops and risk being reprimanded because they occasionally have appointments during work hours, your workplace is toxic.
3. Understand Your Workers’ Compensation Benefits
If you have medical problems that were caused by unhealthy conditions at work, it’s important to understand your rights and the workers’ comp benefits that are available to you. According to one carpal tunnel injury lawyer, if you are temporarily or permanently unable to work due to a workplace-related condition, you are entitled to disability benefits.
Owners face increased workers’ compensation insurance premiums when they create conditions that lead to employee disability. Having the best possible company culture, adequate training, employee incentives, taking safety precautions, and giving employees flex time can all improve a company’s bottom line.
If you’re an employer, taking these steps can save you money and increase productivity. If you’re a worker at a company that refuses to follow these steps, you deserve better. Companies that offer these benefits show that they value their employees. This attracts talent, which leads to profits and greater employee satisfaction. If your talent isn’t valued, it’s time to move on.
Setting Boundaries to Protect Your Health
To overcome the negative effects of an unhealthy workplace environment on your health, you’ll need to create some boundaries and assert them. This won’t look the same for everyone because workers have unique priorities and personal lives. Your boundaries should protect your relationships and your home life as well as your job.
One area in which boundaries can make all the difference is communication. You should be upfront, direct, and professional in all of your workplace interactions. Effective communication can make you more efficient and minimize opportunities for miscommunication. Even if you’re dealing with the biggest jerk in the office, strategic communication can put him in his place.
Most of all, if you want to overcome your unhealthy work environment, you’ll need to learn to say no. That’s no to the overtime that is burning you out, no to taking on a lazy coworker’s tasks, and no to the manager who wants to take credit for your ideas.
Your attempts to set boundaries may not be well-received in an unhealthy environment. Let’s face it, toxic bosses don’t run their businesses the way they do because they appreciate seeing employees thriving. Before you decide to assert yourself at work, you should also begin developing a realistic Plan B.
It’s not always possible to leave a toxic job right away, but even if you’re not quite ready to put in your two-weeks notice you can still begin taking steps to put yourself out there. Update and refine your resume, start making connections on LinkedIn, and keep an eye on the job listings for opportunities.
Healthier Habits to Help You Cope
You don’t have to work in an unhealthy environment to benefit from the following healthier habits.
However, if you do work in a toxic workplace, these coping strategies should be added to your routine asap to protect your physical and emotional health.
- Keep a stress journal — Every time something stresses you out at work, make a note of it in your journal, and describe how you responded. After a couple of weeks, a pattern should start to emerge.
- Start an exercise routine — Take long walks, visit a yoga studio, or join group sports like soccer or softball. Any form of exercise can help reduce your stress.
- Get plenty of quality sleep — Not only is adequate sleep essential to stress management, but it can also help you to function more efficiently. If necessary, lower your caffeine intake.
- Use your vacation days — You need time to relax and recharge, and you earned those vacation days. Once you come back to the office, you may have a fresh perspective.
- Learn relaxation techniques — You may want to do deep breathing exercises, take up a meditation habit, or practice mindfulness to learn how to disconnect from job stress.
- Talk to your supervisor —Draw up a plan to manage your workplace stress and explain to your manager how you can execute it and why it’s beneficial.
Everyone needs to let it all out sometimes, especially when it comes to job stress. Whether it’s a regular lunch with friends or a trusted therapist, you need to develop a support system you can rely on.
If you’re having difficulty finding the support you need to change your habits, consider consulting a psychologist who can give you extra support to cope with your stress.