Life, Mindfulness

Stressed Out: Toxic Work Environments and Mental Health

Did you know that 52% of employees believe they work in a toxic work environment? (White, 2019).  You might be thinking that a toxic work environment is solely a workplace filled with drama, but it is so much more than that, and toxic work environments can be dangerous to your mental health.

Thanks to the pandemic, I have been working from home since March.  I miss my coworker, and while we talk on the phone or text Monday through Friday, it is not the same.  Things seemed to go downhill once our teammate was let go during the height of it.  Since then, we have been stressed out, overworked, feeling unappreciated, and, most importantly, left to fight the sharks on our own.  While both of us know that our work life will never be the same, neither one of us could have imagined the events that would continue to unfold as the months passed.

I am a huge stickler on one not being able to heal in the same environment that made you sick so let us dive into the traits of a toxic work environment:

  • Unhealthy Communication Patterns: Yes, your work environment may be toxic based on the type of communication it displays.  Whether the communication breakdown is between employees and supervisors, across departments, or customers, if the communication is not sufficient, the organization cannot rely on teamwork (White, 2019).

Unhealthy communication patterns can look like:

  • Lack of communication: decisions made are only discovered after they have been implemented
    • Indirect communication: sending messages through others
    • Withholding information
    • Giving misleading information (White, 2019).
  • Policies and procedures are non-existent or poorly implemented: This can look like unclear answers to questions or different responses to the same problem that can cause an employee not to understand the real needs of the organization.  With a lack of structure, chaos, inconsistency, and poor quality are sure to follow (White, 2019).
  • The organization is led by one (or more) toxic leaders: The keyword here is “narcissism,” they take credit for the excellent work done by others, take no accountability for mishaps, and destroy the trust, teamwork, and health of its employees (White, 2019).
  • Negative communication patterns: Employees begin to respond with sarcasm and cynicism, showing a lack of trust in management and leadership, which then turns into dissatisfaction.  Excuses and blaming others become routine (White, 2019).
  • Personal life begins to be affected negatively: Your toxic work environment can cause you to lose sleep, gain weight, and have increased medical problems.  You might find yourself becoming discouraged or more irritable as a result (White, 2019).

So now that we know what a toxic work environment looks like, what can you do to preserve your mental health?

  • Before and After Work: Unplug.  Sign out of your work e-mail and do not respond to any work requests beyond your scheduled hours.  The keyword there is “scheduled hours.”  Just because we are currently working from home does not mean that you are on call 24/7.  Remember what your work hours are and stick to them, state your hours in your e-mail.  Put your phone on do not disturb for applications where you might feel inclined to check in on work matters.

Do not forget to practice self-care.  There are hidden self-care moments that we take part in daily such as practicing personal hygiene, having your morning coffee, structuring your day, or spending time with pets.  But when dealing with a toxic work environment, you need to practice self-care that respects your boundaries.  Schedule your “me time,” say “no” to things that do not serve you well, allowing yourself to take time off, and as previously stated, establishing your availability, and communicating it to others. 

  • During Work:  If you are like me, your group already shares in the frustration.  Lean on each other, work together, and do not let the work suffer.  If you are struggling, ask for help.  Create a schedule of tasks for the day to meet your deadlines and stick to them.  Mark yourself busy in your work calendar if you must, to avoid unexpected phone calls or meetings from popping up and derailing you.

Remember also to take your mandatory breaks!  Just because we are working from home does not mean that you are not allowed to take your two fifteen-minute breaks and your lunch break.  You need these breaks to re-center yourself, let your brain to decompress, and allow yourself the opportunity to come back into your work with a fresh mind.

What if you are already doing these things, and your mental health is still suffering?  Well, one could easily say, “get the heck out of dodge,” but it is essential to remember not to make any hasty decisions. 

If you do choose to go back out on the job hunt, make sure whatever job offers you receive that you outweigh the pros and cons.  The job offer you accept should be one that helps propel you further in your career, not one that is just a sidestep to get out of a miserable situation as you may find yourself walking into yet another toxic work environment.  Find out about the company goals, work culture, how the manager deals with conflict, and communication practices.  Please take all the things that bother you currently and use them as a tool to interview your interviewer!   

Whatever path you decide to take, remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health.  If you find yourself losing sleep because of your job or becoming more irritable both on and off the clock, make the conscious effort to implement your self-care routines that respect your boundaries.  While you might not be able to say “no” to a task at work, you can restructure your schedule to allow time to meet your deadlines while making sure to schedule your much-needed breaks as well. 

Take care of yourself. 

Until next time, Love, Peace, and Chicken Grease ❤

References:

White, P. (2019). 5 signs of a toxic workplace.  Retrieved from:  https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/the-5-signs-of-a-toxic-workplace

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