How a Toxic Workplace Environment Affects Your Mental Health

In 1999, an international poll on the universal qualities that are desirable in the workplace was conducted among 10,339 employees in 13 countries. As discovered by the poll’s researchers, the five most desirable qualities include the ability to balance work and personal life, truly enjoyable work, job security for the future, a fair wage or salary, and co-workers who are enjoyable to work with. More than 20 years later, these can still be considered qualities that most, if not all, employees seek when applying for or working in a job.

While healthy organizations are employee-oriented, toxic ones are profit-driven. Knowing what kind of work environment you’re in is extremely important to understand how both your work performance and mental wellness could be impacted.

Drawing the line between a toxic and healthy work environment

In line with the Australian & New Zealand Mental Health Association, it can involve feeling discriminated against and more discouraged than appreciated for hard work, feeling left out in team-associated subjects, and being spoken to unkindly over emails and chats. In short, a toxic work environment is the opposite of the five qualities mentioned earlier. However, these don’t encompass all possible scenarios that could happen in a toxic workplace.

If you feel that your boundaries are not being respected, are being expected to reach unrealistic standards, and notice traits of individualistic culture (or that it’s every person for themselves) in your workplace, then chances are that you’re in the least ideal environment to become the best working professional you can be. Feeling stressed, anxious, or under pressure too often because of work can say enough about whether or not your work environment is harmful. In some cases, until you take the time to really pause and reflect on how great the toll of your work is on you, you won’t notice how toxic your work environment actually is.

On the other hand, a healthy workplace consists of open discussion and strong professional relationships where increased productivity can be achieved. A place like this is where both employees and management can work together to promote actions and behaviors that keep each person safe and well, such as valuing employee wellness. This is done internally and even externally, which can be done in many ways—like investing in employee mental well-being through the company’s EAP, for example.

The extended effects on employee mental health

Whether it be physically or virtually, employees spend around a third to a half of their day at work. Spending several hours in one place can make a significant impression on one’s mental health.

One of the most unfavorable effects of a toxic work environment on mental health is negative rumination. The Australian & New Zealand Mental Health Association defines negative rumination as the constant replay of negative experiences throughout an individual’s day. Be it to determine where they went wrong or simply because it disturbed them so much, an employee may be involuntarily replaying these events and ruin their entire day, leaving them to become dysfunctional for other tasks. Negative rumination is the most unfortunate outcome of being in a toxic workplace because experiencing it routinely can lead to long-term consequences such as the development of different disorders.

Several studies have proven that employees are likely to suffer through depression and anxiety in toxic workplaces. In a study administered by the University of South Australia, it was found that organizations that failed to prioritize employee mental well-being saw a 300% increased risk of their workers being diagnosed with depression. Consequently, the risk of having depression is much greater as compared to the risk of being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or having a stroke.

In addition, toxic workplaces can cause sleep disorders like insomnia in employees. Relaxation and sleep is an essential part of recovering from a long day of work and of a healthy work-life balance. Relaxation is considered as a moderator of the relationship between negative rumination and a good night’s sleep. Without that halt from work-related demands, an employee can fail to relax and recuperate, which can later cause symptoms of insomnia and prevent them from restoring to their pre-stressor state.

Moving forward

The scope of the problem was addressed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2019, where a Global Commission on the Future of Work was implemented to call for a “human-centered approach that puts people and the work they do at the center of economic and social policy and business practice”.

High levels of worker burnout that accompany mental disorders are especially costly to companies. To eradicate toxicity in the workplace, it is a must for companies to allow their workers to release work stress, chat, and take a healthy amount of breaks. Other activities outside the office can also foster recovery among employees. Volunteering, meditation, taking a walk and spending time with family, friends, and other positive social supports are great places to start. For prevailing toxic workplaces, top-level organizational change and further action are needed.

Every employee encounters stress and tension be it in the physical or remote setting. Meanwhile, mental health remains a sensitive issue in the work industry, when it is an integral part of each individual’s life. Workers and business owners must make the best decisions for both their professional futures and the futures of their mental health. At the end of the day, it is never too much to ask for nor provide healthy and supportive working environments for hardworking and deserving employees.


References:

Abrams, A. (2020, January 17). How a Toxic Work Environment Affects Your Mental Health. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-a-toxic-work-environment-may-affect-mental-health-4165338

Field, T. (2014). Toxic work environment. Mental illness in the workplace: Psychological disability management, 207.

Gibson, C. (2021, June 23). Toxic workplaces increase risk of depression by 300%. EurekAlert! Retrieved from: https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/708076

Mack, S. (2020, October 2). How Does a Toxic Work Environment Affect Mental Health? Australian & New Zealand Mental Health Association. Retrieved from: https://anzmh.asn.au/blog/uncategorized/toxic-work-environment-mental-health

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