It is not unusual for everyone to have a bad day at work from time to time. You may be annoyed by some of your colleagues’ habits, or you may have to work over to get things finished. However, if you are working in a toxic environment, bad days will be more common than good ones.
What Is a Toxic Work Environment?
A toxic work environment will often have a lot of drama, and it can also feel somewhat dysfunctional. This could be because of the actions of your boss or co-workers, or it could just be that there is no order in the workplace. Stanford University professor Robert Sutton has described being in this situation as making you ‘feel like dirt.’
As well as being damaging to your morale, a toxic work environment can also cause issues with your health. Stress can sometimes manifest in physical ways. Research has shown that the most common illnesses that result from a toxic work environment include hypertension, declining mental health, and cardiovascular disease. In extreme cases, some of these conditions can be fatal.
Business leadership coach Cheri Torres believes this is because of the fight or flight response created by a toxic work environment. The release of hormones such as norepinephrine, cortisol, and testosterone all at the same time can cause problems with your mental and physical health. It is challenging to produce your best work when you are in a toxic work environment.
To preserve your health, you need to know what to look out for at work, indicating a toxic environment. You do not want to be caught off guard by a toxic work environment.
Everyone has days when they don’t want to go to work as they would rather be doing instead. However, if the thought of going to work makes you depressed or physically ill, then this may be a sign that you are working in a toxic environment.
Physical Signs of A Toxic Work Environment
If the people’s environment or the actual work causes significant disruption to your life, then it can be described as a toxic work environment.
It is common for your body to have a physical reaction to the stress caused by this environment. It is also likely that these physical symptoms will start to impact all other areas of your life, which can cause even more stress. Some of these physical symptoms are listed below, and thinking about whether they apply to you can help you keep on top of them.
- You may be finding it difficult to sleep. Ideally, you should be getting eight hours a night, but you may find that you are regularly waking throughout the night or that you find it hard to drift off.
- Your eating habits may be different from usual. For example, you may find that your appetite is reduced, or on the other hand, you may be overeating to try and make yourself feel better.
- You may also notice that you are feeling more anxious than usual. This could lead to you feeling less safe, both at work and home
Signs of A Toxic Workplace Environment
Even if you have not had any physical symptoms, there may be other indications that you are working in a toxic environment that come from the workplace itself.
High rates of employee sickness – High levels of stress caused by toxic environments can lead to people feeling tired and physically unwell. You may notice that many of your colleagues are calling in sick or coming to work when they are ill.
Narcissistic leadership – Your boss will not be told that they are wrong and believe that the rules do not apply to them. Instead, they will criticize others for actions they take themselves.
Employees do not have much enthusiasm – If other employees do not seem to have much enthusiasm for their work, it may not just be you that is finding the environment toxic. Think about whether there is anyone that seems to be happy in their work.
There is no communication – Trying to do your job will be made quite difficult because there is a distinct lack of communication. You may also find that nobody ever receives any positive feedback.
High rate of employee turnover – Some employees will not stick around if they are not happy with the job or the work environment. If there are many people who are leaving, this is a sign that something is not right.
There is a lot of gossip and rumors – There are no real genuine friendships, and everyone just seems to be out for themselves. Gossip and rumors are rife and focus on making people look bad.
How To Handle A Toxic Work Environment
If you have identified that your work environment is a toxic place, then there are strategies you can use to help you handle the situation. Even if you have decided to look for a new job, it can help when you have left less toxic.
Find people who feel the same way you do – Develop friendships with others who also feel the environment is toxic. This will allow you to all look out for each other.
Do something after work that will help relieve your stress – This could be going to the gym or just making time to take part in a hobby. If your time away from work is more fulfilling, then you may feel more able to deal with stress while you are there.
Keep yourself busy by creating a list – Making a to-do list gives you something to focus on and means you can distract yourself from everything else around you.
Keep a record of everything you do – You should save all emails and keep records of any conversations you have over the phone or in person. If you need to make a complaint, then you will have evidence to back up your claims. It can also be used to defend yourself if someone tries to accuse you of not doing your job.
Plan your exit strategy – If you think you are not going to stay at the job in the long term, you might want to start your job hunt now. This can also help you feel more positive when things are not going right in your current role. On the other hand, if you don’t feel you can stick with this job much longer, you may want to think about getting a job that will see you through until you can find something in your chosen career.
How To Detoxify Your Workplace
If one specific person causes the main problems in the workplace, you have a few options available to you to try and make the workplace less toxic.
Confront The Person on Your Own
The person you have a problem with may not be aware of how their behavior affects you. Therefore, a good first step is to have a private conversation with them.
Try not to focus on their negative behavior too much, but try to make them understand how their actions affect you.
Confront The Person as a Team
If you have gotten nowhere after taking the first step, then you may want to get some help from your colleagues.
Try and find out if other people are having the same problems as you. This may mean your complaints are taken more seriously. The more evidence you can present, the better, as this will show other people that you have been facing problems.
Plan Your Exit
If, after speaking to all the people involved, you still do not feel as if the situation will get resolved, then you might want to think about getting a new job.
Knowing that you will soon be able to hand in your notice and get away from the toxic environment can also help to make your last few weeks more bearable.