MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

How a Toxic Work Environment Affects Employees and How You Can Help

From the receptionist to the CEO, toxic work environments can affect everyone in your office. All employees play a central role in the company, and therefore anybody can fall victim to the toxic patterns of an unhealthy workplace.

While some people are firm believers in the qualities that make a company toxic, ample research has proven employee satisfaction leads to better-quality work. There’s no excuse for fostering a toxic workplace environment.

What Is Workplace Toxicity?

Just like unhealthy relationships, it’s difficult to precisely define what makes a workplace toxic. So many factors contribute to workplace toxicity. Chief among these are a poor sense of balance, lack of morale, constant negativity and ill-defined boundaries.

A toxic work environment is more than a job you hate or a particularly bad day. Usually, two hallmarks of toxic workplaces are low employee satisfaction and high turnover. Impossibly high standards rarely get met, and employees who dislike the culture won’t stay around long.

In short, while a particular job may not be right for one person, a toxic workplace is bad for everybody in it. While every workplace is different and each comes with various struggles, you can watch for a few defining qualities of toxicity in your office.

1. Lack of Work-Life Balance

It’s unfair to ask anybody to devote their entire life to their job — even the person or people who founded or own the business. Some jobs are highly demanding. Surgeons may need to rush to work to perform an emergency procedure, and firefighters must sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to save lives and properties. But even those hard working professionals get time off. Nobody should be on call 24/7. Not checking your email on a Sunday afternoon and going home on time shouldn’t be a mark against your work ethic. People need to have time for their outside lives, or they won’t stick around.

2. Constant Stress

Again, some jobs are more stressful than others, but a constant high-stress environment is not conducive to producing quality work. If you and all your peers are always on high alert, have more tasks than you can realistically handle and can’t seem to catch a break, you may be looking at some toxic stress.

3. Burnout

Related to stress, burnout often comes with constant exhaustion, a negative attitude toward work, fatigue and lack of motivation. This outcome tends to happen when employees are overworked or under-rewarded. It can often adversely affect workplace performance, which means it’s awful for everyone involved.

4. Stagnation

Sometimes, toxicity can be a result of too little challenge, rather than too much. When employees feel like they can’t use their skills and move forward in their careers, they can become unmotivated and stop putting their best foot forward. People want to advance and reach their long-term goals, and a healthy workplace should help them get there, not hold them back.

How You Can Build a Healthy Workplace

Even if your workplace has some elements of toxicity, don’t lose hope. You have the power to build a healthy workplace, so everyone at your company is happier at work — including you.

1. Compensate Your Employees Fairly

There’s not much of a way around this one. People need to earn what they’re worth, and this doesn’t only come in the form of their salaries. Offering health care, benefits, time off, room for growth and bonus programs are all part of ensuring your employees feel valued and taken care of. The struggle of being overworked and underpaid is real, and your employees will be much happier if they feel appreciated.

2. Allow for Self-Care and Boundaries

When employees have enough downtime to focus on their lives and care, they’ll show up to work more present and refreshed. Encouraging people to take their earned time off, setting policies that don’t expect employees to work outside their standard hours and encouraging self-care in the workplace can help achieve a better work-life balance across your office.

3. Communicate Effectively

So much workplace toxicity stems from poor communication. When you don’t know what your employees want and they don’t know what you want, nobody will feel satisfied. Make an effort to reach out to your employees for input and have clear communication systems in place for solving problems, suggesting ideas and finding creative solutions.

Healthy Staff, Happy Working

Workplaces that consistently rise and accomplish their goals will make everyone healthier, more satisfied and happier to be there. When your employees love the culture you create, they’ll feel motivated and ready to make all kinds of new strides. It’s all about allocating resources and effort — when those things go to your team, your staff will give them right back to you.

About the author

Mia Barnes is a health writer interested in mental health and growth in all facets of life. She is also the Editor-in-Chief at BodyMind.com.