An Unhealthy Work Environment Can Be Deeply Damaging

The work environment may be more important than the job itself. Think about it: Have you ever worked somewhere that you loved the people and the place but hated the tasks? Working in a great environment can make even the worst jobs bearable. But when the environment is toxic or unhealthy, it can be both mentally and physically dangerous. Here’s how.

What Makes a Work Environment Unhealthy?

Work environments are important because we spend so much of our lives at work. But many workplaces can have toxic or unhealthy aspects. These places add to the stress and strain, making it very difficult to feel connected to the work or to focus on the tasks at hand. And as you might expect, most unhealthy work environments come from interactions with other people.

Toxic bosses, backstabbing coworkers and demanding or demeaning customers all contribute to unhealthy working conditions that add to the strain that a person feels while working there. Of course, there may be physically harmful or challenging working conditions, too. Even something as seemingly benign as the wrong type of chairs may lead to health issues for those asked to sit all day. But safety infractions make everything even harder as some of an employee's mental focus must be aimed at staying safe in a threatening environment.

The Mental Health Effects of a Poor Work Environment

Toxic environments can come from a number of causes. They may lack positive feedback and interaction, or they may feel sterile and impersonal leaving a worker feeling like they can’t do anything right which can contribute to, or even cause, depression or anxiety.

The red tape and bureaucracy of some workplaces may also lead to another mental health issue — stress. The strain of “jumping through hoops” may take its toll on workers, leaving them feeling frazzled and upset. It may also lead to angry workers who are frustrated that their efforts to get things done are met with rules, regulations, and seemingly unnecessary requirements.  

But almost nothing is as common in terms of toxic workplaces as an employee who struggles to get along with their boss or other coworkers. Whether the boss themselves sets the stage for a non-supportive environment or the employee's coworkers are difficult to get along with, personality conflicts cause the ost workplace strain. This is probably why they say "people don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses."

How a Toxic Work Environment Affects Physical Health

Mental health wellness challenges are not the only concerns when it comes to unhealthy work conditions. Physical health may also be affected. Back and neck pain from non-ergonomic chairs, desks, and keyboards can cause strain injuries. So might repetitive stress such as can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

For more physically demanding jobs, an unhealthy work environment might mean big risks to physical health from toxic exposure to physically risky tasks or unsafe conditions. 

There is a tie-in between mental and physical health problems that may come from toxic work locations, too. For example, a worker who’s under a lot of stress and strain daily may struggle with depression but may also have a heart attack brought on by long-term stress. Even if the environment was not the cause, it might be a contributing factor.

Who Else Is Affected by Unhealthy Work Environments?

It’s not just the workers who have the potential to be affected by a toxic working environment. It’s also the bosses, the customers, and the families and friends of those who work at the company. These people have to hear the complaints and see the struggles being faced by others, which may negatively impact their own health. 

What to Do if Your Work Environment is Toxic

If the environment is coming from the top-down, there's not usually much to be done. HR can be helpful sometimes if the problem is in middle-management but if the attitudes are coming from the very top, then it may be best to start looking for a new job. It's just not worth it to stay in a place that's harming your health. HR may be able to help in the case of a coworker, though. And, honestly, sometimes a long conversation and a clearing of the air can help fix strains that come from a misunderstanding.

Safety infractions should be reported to the Department of Labor and Industries for your state (they can also help with issues of non-payment or paycheck withholding, discrimination, or other workplace problems that cross a legal line), and they may put you in touch with OSHA

A toxic or unhealthy work environment may damage a much larger group of people than many would assume. The effects of unhealthy working conditions extend out in ripples so we all have a responsibility to help others overcome these conditions and to put an end to them if possible. Fortunately, changing jobs or finding other ways to adjust the situation can reduce both mental and physical health risks even while doing the work to report and fix the situation post-employment.

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9/30/2023 4:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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