Psychological impact of a toxic workplace
Dr Jozelle Miller
May 9, 2023

Psychological impact of a toxic workplace

Annie Dillard famously said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” For many of us as adults, a large portion of our days is spent at work; in fact, documented data shows that the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. This therefore means that our jobs will have a significant impact on the quality of our lives.

There is a strong connection between the health and well-being of people and their work environments.

When people feel valued, respected, and satisfied in their jobs and when they work in safe, healthy environments, they are more likely to be more productive and committed to their work. When the workplace is unsafe, stressful, or unhealthy, both the organization and the employees are impacted.

Everyone benefits from a healthy workplace. Conversely, a negative, toxic workplace can severely negative impact on their employees’ mental well being.
Is your workplace full of negativity, discouragement, or disrespect?

Are you dreading the thought of going to work tomorrow?

Whether it’s a hot-tempered boss, an unreasonable workload, or malicious co-workers, a toxic work environment can take a significant toll on your mental health, leading to high levels of stress, insomnia, and depression. It’s important to recognize the signs of a toxic work environment and know when it’s time to leave.

Signs of a Toxic Work Environment

A toxic working environment is one where you feel psychologically unsafe. There’s often a general feeling of negativity, unhealthy competition, and aggression.

A few Pub Med authors, recently defined a toxic workplace environment by the following:

• narcissistic behaviour
• offensive or aggressive leadership
• harassment
• bullying
• ostracism
• threatening behaviour from managers and co-workers

The following are some signs that can create or contribute to a toxic work environment:

• a sabotaging boss who sets you up for failure
• micromanagement
• excessive gossip
• cliquish behaviour
• passive aggressive boss or co-workers
• harassment or discrimination
• micro aggressions (indirect or subtle prejudice)
• bullying
• unsafe working conditions
•cut throat working conditions (environment of jealousy for others’ success or co-worker trying to make you look bad or take credit for your work)
• lack of respect
• lack of opportunities for growth
• unrealistic workloads
• low pay
• unpredictable schedule
• co-workers get away with inappropriate behaviour
• non-constructive criticism
• a boss who continuously threatens to fire employees.
• general atmosphere of chronic negativity

How a toxic work environment can affect mental health.

Most of us spend a good portion of our day at work. If eight hours of your day are filled with toxicity, it can significantly affect your mental health.
Research shows that a toxic workplace — including harassment, bullying, and ostracism — is a significant source of psychological strain for employees and can lead to high levels of stress and burnout.

This toxicity can also promote counterproductive behaviour at work and ruin the efficiency of the organization. It causes disengagement among employees, decreases productivity, stifles creativity and innovation, and results in high turnover.

According to a recent report from MIT, a toxic workplace culture is over 10 times more likely to contribute to an employee quitting their job than low pay. In fact, the report shows that a toxic work environment was the number one reason people left their jobs during the post-COVID-19 “Great Resignation” — not because of compensation.

Tips for dealing with a toxic work environment:

Remember it’s not your fault- The negativity at your job isn’t your fault. Although having a positive attitude and collaborative mindset may help in certain situations, remember that there’s only so much you can do to improve the culture at your work.

Take your lunch break elsewhere– Be sure to take a lunch break where you can get out of the work environment. Sit in nature if possible.

Set boundaries– Don’t get bullied into skipping your lunch break or working after hours for no pay. Explain to your boss that you need your breaks and time off to recharge and do your job well.

Don’t get involved in the drama– Try to walk away from any drama or gossip. Nothing positive will come from it.

Stay focused on your goals– Do your best to stay in a positive state of mind. You won’t be here forever, and you have bigger and better things ahead of you.
Have an after-work ritual to raise your vibes- Do something after work to psychologically clear away the negativity. You can take a walk in nature, take a cold/hot shower, or hang out with a friend.

Stick with a few trustworthy co-workers– It’s a good idea to keep a few work allies, so you can support and confide in one another.

Don’t compromise your values– If someone at work is being cruel to you, do your best to not respond in like manner. It will only make the situation escalate.

Engage in regular stress-coping techniques– Take up meditation or engage in daily exercise to help you handle chronic stress.

Plan your exit– If the toxic work situation isn’t going to improve anytime soon, start your search for a new position.

Leaving a Toxic Work Environment

When the day has finally come for you to escape a toxic work environment there are a few things to keep in mind. If your toxic boss is a problem on a regular day, they may act out when they find out you’re no longer at their disposal. So, stand your ground and make sure you don’t get sucked into another however many years at this job just because they’re angry or hurt. Leaving a toxic work environment might be easier said than done, so here are some tips that may help!

1. Come Prepared

Have your resignation letter printed and signed, with your last day clearly specified. And, just in case they ask, have your list of reasons for leaving written down or memorized. It will help to keep you level-headed.

2. Say No

If they’re trying to convince you to stay, know that you can just say no.

3. Stay Calm

Use a calm tone to explain why you’re leaving. You never know who you might cross paths with, in the future so try to maintain your composure (and reputation). Also, you might need a reference letter from the company in the future, so that’s another (very frustrating) reason to try to keep things civil.

4. Don’t Do It Alone

If you’re uncomfortable or too nervous to talk to your boss alone, then ask your Human Resource Manager to sit in on your meeting and act as mediator. Or, if your boss enjoys gaslighting you, ask a trusted colleague to sit in. They don’t have to say a word, but it will be SO reinforcing to have a witness there to validate your feelings and experience afterwards.

And, when it’s all said and done if anyone asks why you left just give them the generic “I was unhappy and leaving was the best decision for my health.” Simple and vague, but it gets that point across.

Take Away Message:
YOU ARE INTELLIGENT AND DESERVING OF A HAPPY WORKPLACE. Do what is best for your mental well- being!