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Is your job making you sick? 6 key indicators of a toxic work environment ( and how to manage them)


Do you dread going to work in the morning? Do you come home mentally exhausted? Do you experience frequent headaches, stomach aches, or other physical ailments? Read on for key indicators of a toxic work environment and how to manage them.

Do you work in a high stress job? Are the demands of the job toxic to the rest of your well-being? Have you crossed the line from typical job stress to burnout?

Stress is a normal part of life in general, and it can have positive effects or negative effects on our physical and mental well-being. There is good stress that motivates and helps us grow, increases work performance, and results in a positive outcome. Then there is toxic stress which can lead to increased health issues such as high blood pressure, difficulty with sleep habits, overeating, weight loss or gain, lack of motivation, depression, and sometimes even suicide.


How do you know if your work environment is having a toxic effect on your health and well-being? Here are 6 key indicators that your work environment might be toxic:

  1. Employees are consistently talked down to, belittled or berated by superiors. An environment where there is no room to share ideas or feedback with others without fear of retaliation from superiors can cause toxic stress in the work environment.
  2. No clear indication of goals or goals that do not match up with the actions of those in the company. Most companies have a list of goals or a mission statement that in theory guides day-to-day processes. When the actions of those in charge don’t appear to line up with the mission statement or goals of the company, this can cause increase levels of stress in the workplace.
  3. There is a lack of trust and respect throughout the organization. If superiors micromanage employees, this indicates a lack of trust in those employees and leads to increases in employee dissatisfaction. Lack of trust and respect is often reciprocated, and when trust and respect are gone, work environments become toxic.
  4. Little to no support from management. When employees are given a list of demands but feel they have little to no support from their management staff, this leads to decreases in employee productivity and motivation and increases in toxic stress in the workplace.
  5. Increase in demands with no personal control. When the expectations of employees are paired with very specific prescribed ways of completing tasks, employees can experience a feeling that nothing will ever be good enough no matter how hard they try. When hopelessness takes over, toxic stress moves in.
  6. When the “other duties as assigned” part of your job description becomes your job description. In toxic work environments, people are often hired for one job but end up taking on multiple other jobs along the way. When the job description expands drastically or employees are taking on duties of multiple job descriptions, the increase in toxic stress can be overwhelming.

So what does one do when faced with toxic work stress?

  • Arm yourself with information. What is your company’s policy for filing complaints? Does your company have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) for support? Research your company’s policies and procedures so you are aware of what steps you can take to make your work environment better.
  • Stay healthy. Making mindful decisions on what you can control like diet and exercise can help decrease levels of stress and assist in being able to manage stress more effectively.
  • Control what you can control. None of us have the power to control other people’s thoughts, feelings, or behavior. However, we all have the ability to control how we respond to others. Choosing to take the high road and respond to others in a kind, collected, and calm manner can help not only reduce your own toxic stress but can reduce the stress of others as well.
  • Explore other options. If the toxic work environment is becoming too much to manage, look for other employment options. You could transfer departments (if your company is large enough), take a position with another company, or reinvent yourself and completely change careers.

If you are an employer trying to reel in a toxic work environment, there are some steps you can take as well.

  • Employee satisfaction surveys. These can provide valuable information on what employees are thinking and feeling. Make sure they are completely anonymous though or you will not get honest answers.
  • Communications training. Provide communication training for everyone in your company. Communication is not just for managers, but it is for everyone!
  • Hire a team fitness consultant. Sometimes bringing in an outside consultant can shed more light on problems and concerns rather than having someone internal do it. These people are more likely to provide unbiased advice and feedback on your company’s work environment and can help you design a program to get things back on track.

No matter what the work environment, take control of your life. Toxic work environments can have a lasting effect on your physical and emotional health that can take years to reverse and sometimes can’t be reversed at all. If your work environment is toxic, don’t ignore it! Take action! You are responsible for your personal happiness, so if you don’t do something to protect your personal happiness, nobody else will!

Amanda Elder