We spend a significant portion of our lives at work, so it's no surprise that our jobs can be sources of stress. While some stress is normal, it can take a toll on our mental health if it becomes chronic and we don't know how to deal with it.
Unfortunately, chronically stressful workplaces have been normalized in many organizations and businesses. The do more with less has permeated the public and private sectors equally. Red flags crop up, and we will convince ourselves that we can do nothing about it; after all, we all need to earn a livelihood. Meanwhile, our mental health is being impacted, and we adopt a mindset that says we are powerless to make a change.
Recognizing when our jobs have crossed the line from normal stress to something more toxic can be challenging. However, there are six indicators that your job is taking a toll on your mental health. If you're experiencing any of these indicators, it's time to evaluate your situation and prioritize your mental health and well-being.
The Importance of Mental Health in the Workplace
Mental health is just as important as physical health; we must prioritize it.
Chronic stress leads to burnout, decreased productivity, absenteeism and poor job performance. It can also have long-term impacts on our general sense of well-being, including increased risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes and a weakened immune system, making you susceptible to other illnesses.
Employers are responsible for creating a healthy work environment that supports the mental health of their employees. However, it's also up to us as individuals to recognize when our jobs are taking a toll on our mental health and take steps to address it.
So, What is Job Toxicity?
Job toxicity is a work environment that harms an individual's mental health. Various factors, including excessive workload, lack of support from your leaders, poor work boundaries, unclear job responsibilities and negative workplace culture, can cause it.
Trust, or at least the lack of it, is at the center of job toxicity. Of course, trust is defined differently depending on who you talk to, but for clarity, trust is a firm belief that those you work with are reliable and are telling the truth.
Job toxicity can lead to chronic stress, burnout, depression, and anxiety. Therefore, it's essential to recognize the signs of job toxicity and take steps to address it before it has long-term impacts on our mental health.
The 6 Indicators of Job Toxicity
Indicator 1: Physical Symptoms
If you're experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, or muscle tension, it could be a sign that your job is taking a toll on your mental health.
Chronic stress can lead to physical symptoms that can impact our overall health. If you're experiencing physical symptoms, taking a step back and evaluating your work environment to identify how your work impacts you is essential.
The statistics vary depending on the studies, but research shows that as much as 90 percent of illnesses and disease is stress-related. The idea here is to pay attention to the subtle clues the body gives you that something needs to shift or change before you are forced to do so.
So many wait too long to take action.
Indicator 2: Emotional Exhaustion
If you find yourself constantly exhausted, even after a full night's sleep, it could be a sign that your job is taking a toll on your mental and emotional health.
When you are emotionally stressed, your energy reserves are constantly depleted. As a result, you do not get the opportunity to recharge.
Emotional exhaustion is a common symptom of burnout, a state of chronic stress that can have long-term impacts and be very difficult to recover from.
In 2019 the World Health Organization classified 'burnout' as a syndrome related explicitly to consistent exposure to occupational stress and workplace demands.
So if you're feeling emotionally exhausted, addressing your stress's underlying causes is essential.
Indicator 3: Decreased Job Satisfaction
If you are experiencing a sense of isolation from your loved ones, have lost enthusiasm for your hobbies and pastimes, or have lost your sense of purpose, you may want to explore your job satisfaction.
Loss of motivation could indicate that your job adversely affects your mental health.
Decreased job satisfaction is a warning sign that something is off balance, and it's crucial to investigate the root causes of your discontent. Moreover, exploring ways to address these issues is imperative to improve your overall mental well-being.
Indicator 4: Lack of Work-Life Balance and Inability to Set Healthy Boundaries
If you're experiencing anxiety, panic attacks or sleepless nights related to your job, it's time to step back for reflection.
A lack of work-life balance and an inability to set healthy boundaries can lead to chronic stress, which can have long-term impacts on our mental health. The 'unwritten' rules of the job contribute to this inability to say no. Being available 24/7 in digital work, working long hours to meet unreasonable project deadlines, and overworking due to lack of staffing are all real-world challenges people face.
Many people struggle with setting healthy boundaries, so if you are in this predicament, know you are not alone. The key is to start small, prioritize self-care, and seek support to ensure a healthy balance between work and personal life.
Indicator 5: Negative Workplace Culture
Some places just have toxic environments, and it is hard to notice this when starting a new job. I am not eluding to the fact that these cultures can't change, but without the commitment of senior leadership and a deep desire to do so, the chances of change are reduced.
The challenging thing is that most workplaces won't advertise they are toxic. It isn't good for business, so it may take a while to manifest.
Pay attention, and if you feel like you're constantly walking on eggshells at work or that you're not being treated fairly, it could be a sign of a toxic work environment. Be curious, as mistakes do happen.
Remember, negative workplace culture can create exposure to unhealthy stress levels and have long-term impacts on our mental health. So if you're experiencing a negative workplace culture, speaking up and addressing the issues with management or human resources is essential. If you are in an unfortunate situation where you feel like approaching an internal resource will go well, you might want to consider some outside support.
Indicator 6: Absenteeism
Are you waking up in the morning and not wanting to go to work? If you answer, "Yes," this could indicate that your workplace is getting to you.
Unfortunately, the slow burn of toxicity is sometimes difficult to notice. Lack of motivation, mild depression, and decreased desire to participate at work are all symptoms that you may be working in a toxic work environment, and you may want to take steps to remedy it or get support.
Four Suggestions to Navigate Job Toxicity
If you're experiencing any of the indicators of job toxicity, it's essential to take steps to address the underlying causes before it leads to burnout and other serious stress-related illness.
For some, it is difficult to ask for help, but the courageous act of asking for help can lead to immense personal growth.
Start by trying to implement some coping mechanisms for dealing with job toxicity, including:
Make sure to prioritize self-care and create space to engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. These activities could include exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones. The critical thing with self-care is that it works for you.
Pay attention to how your self-care makes you feel. Remember, the idea is not to create stress or complicate things but to take a break from it all and unwind. So, for example, if you enjoy having coffee with a friend over a 30-minute session at the gym, do that!
2. Set Boundaries
Set boundaries between work and personal life to ensure a healthy work-life balance. In some workplaces, this becomes more difficult, so you might need some help exploring what it will look like to set boundaries.
Certified Coaches are a great resource to help you find healthy ways to set, express and maintain your boundaries.
At the end of the day, to stay productive and reduce the impacts on your mental health, you will need to learn how to do this.
Some boundaries could include setting specific times when you check work emails or turning off notifications outside work hours.
3. Seek Support
If you're experiencing chronic stress or feel on the brink of burnout, seek support from friends, family, a coach, a councillor or another mental health professional. It's essential to address the underlying causes of your stress and develop coping mechanisms to manage it.
Seeking support can seem like a difficult thing to do, but please don't wait until things have gotten so bad that you feel helpless and lost. When you have gotten that far along, reaching out can become more challenging.
4. Address Workplace Issues
If you're experiencing a negative workplace culture, speak up and address the issues with your senior leadership. The key is to be factual about your experience and use examples wherever possible. Workplace issues can have emotional impacts, so being objective and grounded in articulating them will be essential.
You may have to file a complaint or seek support from a human resources representative. In extreme cases, legal council may need to be consulted. Don't make assumptions when more serious workplace issues arise. It is always a good idea to talk it through with a professional.
Seeking Professional Help
If you're experiencing chronic stress or burnout, seeking professional help is essential.
A mental health professional can help you identify the underlying causes of your stress and develop coping mechanisms to manage it. They can also provide support and guidance as you navigate your work environment and make changes to prioritize your mental health.
When you are depleted, overly stressed, and not feeling like yourself, the first step is to get your health and well-being back in order. From that healthier place, you can make decisions that support you.
Awareness will be your most potent tool in navigating toxicity in the workplace.
If you're experiencing any of the six signs of job toxicity outlined in this article, it's time to take stock of your situation and identify possible solutions.
When it comes to changing jobs or taking on new challenges, it can be difficult to know if it's right for you. Trust your gut.
The next step is to look honestly at how your current job impacts your mental health and aligns with your values. This reflection will help you develop a plan for moving forward.
The quote by Gary Chapman, the author of Rising Above a Toxic Workplace, says it all "When a workplace becomes toxic, its poison spreads beyond its walls and into the lives of its workers and their families." Indicating the risks, in a very clear way, of continuing to work in a toxic workplace.
And the last thought I want to leave you with is that everyone deserves to work in a healthy environment where they are supported to be their best self and do their best work. So after exploring the suggestions in the article, if you find that just isn't possible in your work environment, then it is up to you to take action.