What is a Toxic Workplace?
A toxic workplace is a workplace in which employers, employees, or both consistently engage in unhealthy work practices that create a stressful professional environment. A toxic workplace may also involve an unhealthy atmosphere, or the work itself could have toxic effects. Characterized by high levels of drama, stress, confrontation, and a lack of communication, a toxic workplace can have a serious negative impact on the health of employees. Toxic workplaces often show poor productivity and the work of the organization suffers from the poor work environment.
Toxic workplaces can vary greatly in the problems that they exhibit. For example, one company may show employees a lack of respect and demand unreasonable working hours, leading employees to be unhappy, gossip, and even call out sick more often. A different company may engage in illegal activity and exhibit verbal and physical violence in the workplace. Workplace dysfunction comes in all different forms and isn’t always easy to recognize. But, when the health, wellness, and happiness of the employees are consistently compromised, it’s reasonable to consider that you’re working in a toxic workplace.
Signs of a Toxic Workplace
The main sign of a toxic workplace is consistent unhappiness and high stress levels among employees. Extreme stress and anxiety in the workplace can have severe health implications. Over time, anxiety, panic disorder, and depression may stem from working in a toxic environment. Your place of work is where you spend a large portion of your time during the week; therefore, a toxic workplace can have an overwhelmingly negative effect on your health.
Stress can be spurred by other issues and poor practices within the office, including:
- Negative gossip between employees
- Leaders who frown upon suggestions or other opinions
- Leaders who don’t foster growth among employees and/or value their long-term goals
- Employees feel voiceless and unable to express concerns
- Poor communication and transparency
- Disparities in rules and measurements of performance (promotions, work hours, etc.)
- Fatigue and frequent sickness among employees
- More experienced employees aren’t willing to work as hard as new hires
- When there’s a pitfall, people shift blame onto others
- Underlying motivations other than the company’s best interests (money, power, status, etc.)
- Lack of company pride or loyalty among employees
- No social support between employees
How Can You Deal With a Toxic Workplace?
When you’re working in a toxic workplace, coping strategies can be helpful to reduce stress and improve your quality of life. Try these tips to deal with working in a toxic atmosphere:
Consider the root of the problem.
Reflect on the main cause of toxicity in your workplace. Perhaps it’s an individual in a leadership position who’s abusing power or has too little experience. Or, your current coworkers may be unmotivated and unwilling to work hard. The issue may even involve the office itself - harsh lighting, cramped quarters, or run-down equipment can severely diminish your experience at work.
If you can pinpoint a main issue in your workplace, consider if it’s temporary or permanent. A temporary issue, like a leader who may soon be dismissed or an office that will soon be renovated, could be worth waiting it out. Knowing that the main cause of your stress and unhappiness will eventually disappear may help you cope with a toxic work environment.
Seek out employees to connect with.
If you’re experiencing the impact of a toxic workplace, other employees certainly are, too. Connecting with your coworkers can help you relate to them and feel supported, which can make the workplace more tolerable.
In a toxic workplace, some employees could be the problem. Look past these co-workers and seek out others who likely share your feelings. You don’t have to share your concerns outright, but simply starting a conversation with coworkers is the first step towards building a support system at work.
Keep an eye out for other opportunities.
Some toxic environments are simply intolerable on a long-term basis. If your workplace shows little hope of improving in the near future, make the pursuit of a different job a priority. Your job hunt can remain unknown by your coworkers and employers to avoid extra tension at work. Your next job should be a great opportunity and an improvement from your current position. It’s likely not a wise decision to take anything that comes your way just to escape your present situation.
Keep a work journal.
Journaling can be helpful for all aspects of your personal growth and emotional health. When you’re working in a toxic environment every day, documenting your feelings and experiences is a helpful habit to implement. A work journal is also helpful for recording the projects that you work on, the sales you make, the phone calls you take, etc. Being hyper organized in prepared in a stressful work environment will work to your advantage when problems and discrepancies arise. By writing everything down, you may even be able to foresee an issue before it occurs.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.