Don't let a toxic work environment catch you off guard.
All jobs have some level of stress — even on good days. However, if going to work (or just the thought of going to work) makes you tired, depressed, or even physically ill, that's more than just general work stress; these are the signs of a toxic work environment.
Physical signs of a toxic work environment
Toxic workplaces can be defined as any job where the work, the atmosphere, the people, or any combination of those things cause serious disruptions in the rest of your life.
These disruptions can show up in any number of physical symptoms, says a recent article by coach and human-behavior professor Melody Wilding. These include “sleepless nights, feeling constantly vigilant, sweaty palms, and a racing heartbeat.”
What's more, toxic or hostile work environments have negative health impacts that can affect your personal life by “damaging everything from your self-esteem to your friendships,” states Wilding.
Our bodies are very adept at letting us know there's a “danger” that needs to be addressed, so we need to pay attention. Check in with yourself frequently with these questions:
How are you sleeping? Are you regularly getting at least eight hours?
What's your eating like? Are you often too stressed to eat, or do you tend to overeat?
Are you feeling safe at home and at work?
If the answers to these questions raise red flags, then it's time to assess your work and office environment to see what exactly is causing your health and well-being to suffer.
Related: 12 Tips to Manage Workplace Stress
Workplace signs of a toxic environment
These are some solid indicators that you're working in a toxic office environment:
Employee Sickness: Toxic work environments lead to employee burnout, fatigue, and illness due to high levels of stress that wreak havoc on our bodies. If people are calling in sick or worse, are working sick, that's a good sign of a toxic work environment.
Narcissistic Leadership: Your higher-ups or boss demand that you always agree with them, tell them they're right, and feel they're above the rules. They expect everyone else to be perfect while they can meet lower standards.
Little to No Enthusiasm: Look around the office. Does anyone appear to be happy working there? Is anyone ever smiling? If people typically seem downright miserable to be working at the company, you can assume the work environment is toxic.
Lack of Communication or Negative Communication: You and others don't get the necessary information to do your job. You work hard with no positive feedback and no recognition, and you might even be told to be glad you have a job at all.
High Turnover: When the work environment has nothing good to offer except dysfunction, poor morale, and sickness, colleagues will start heading for the door to find a better situation. If you notice a high turnover rate in your company or department, take that as a sign of a toxic workplace.
Cliques, Gossip, and Rumors: Everyone seems to be out for themselves, and there are no genuine friendships among coworkers. There's lots of infighting and paranoia as well as office gossip and rumors.
In addition to the list above, trust your gut if it tells you something is wrong. Once you know what problem you're dealing with, it's time to develop strategies that can help you stay sane day to day.
How to handle a toxic work environment
Since it takes time to find a new job and you can't just walk away from this difficult situation immediately, it helps to develop ways to handle the dysfunction until you can step into a new job somewhere else:
Find people who feel the same way you do. Develop friendships with people who feel the same way as you. The hope is that you'll watch each other's back and will share any news with the group.
Do something after work that can help relieve stress. Go to the gym, do home repairs, or learn a new skill. The key is to make sure you're living a fulfilling life outside of work to combat the drama of your 9 to 5.
Create lists to keep yourself busy. A list can help you stay focused on your tasks instead of the toxic atmosphere and gives you a reason to keep going every day.
Document everything you do. Save emails and write down comments and decisions from meetings, phone calls, and every person who interacts with you. If you need to file a complaint, you will need the evidence to back your claim.
Start your exit strategy. It is possible that things could improve at your job, in which case it might make sense to stay. However, while waiting it out, begin your search for a new job. This will help you stay positive when things get rough. If you needed to leave yesterday, consider a bridge job that will keep you active while you find something in line with your career.
Knowing the signs of a toxic workplace and how to handle it will allow you to take your next step on your terms and in your time — so your next job will be a place you truly enjoy working.
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