January 8, 2019

The Toxic Workplace


It’s no secret that the workplace is often a stressful environment for employees. With deadlines, frustrating coworkers, and unfair bosses it’s not surprising that people all over the US (and the world!) describe their workplace as a stressful one. Professor Pfeffer from Stanford University suggests that that stress causes much more damage than we give it credit for, and he is in good company. Many researchers are taking a closer look at the costs of workplace stress, which in short include and increase in general physical and mental health difficulties.

What is “Workplace Stress”

There are plenty of examples of workplace stress. Long hours or excessive overtime, layoffs or general under- or unemployment, a lack of benefits, little job control or security, unsupportive coworkers, workplace bullying, etc.

While every work environment is likely to be a little stressful or even unpleasant at times, if you notice there is a consistent pattern of unfair treatment, unrealistic expectations, deadlines that can’t be met, or continual after-hours work/contact then it might be time to look at the changes you can make either inside your workplace or in yourself to better deal with the environment and it’s toll.

Change Inside the Workplace

A good place to start in creating change within your environments is with boundary-setting. Make it clear to your boss or coworkers what modes of communication you will not be checking after-hours or on vacation, and which they can use for emergencies. Speak up when you can’t take on an additional project, or when you’ve already worked overtime and can’t add more hours. Being clear about your expectations and asking your workplace to clarify theirs is a great start to boundary-setting, and can help you maintain a sense of control in your job.

Know Your Backup System

If you’ve tried to set realistic and appropriate boundaries and they are being ignored, or again if you are noticing a pattern of disrespect, bullying, or unfair pressure, consider talking to a higher-up or to the human resources department. It is beneficial for the bosses to have a pleasant or at least reasonable work environment for their employees, so they might welcome the feedback and make appropriate changes. Similarly, HR departments are involved in employee relations and benefits, and might have the ability to make policy changes.

When Movement Isn’t Happening Inside the Workplace

If you’ve tried setting boundaries and talking with the relevant employees, or if you are just in a place where the stress is overwhelming and those steps don’t feel worth it, it might be time to look for new opportunities. Maybe there is a different position within the organization that you could apply for, with different bosses or different support staff. Maybe it’s time for an even bigger change- to look outside for new job opportunities.

Change Outside the Workplace

Sometimes, the job is just demanding and the bosses are difficult. If you are committed to your job and stress is just par for the course, take some time to remind yourself of why you chose this job/what’s the bigger picture. The importance of a sense of purpose and meaning in your job is often overlooked or forgotten. See if you can remind yourself of those things and renew that purposefulness and meaningfulness.

Lastly, find support. Try to find some support at your workplace, but also build up your support network outside of work. Significant relationships that offer support and empathy and perspective can be game-changers. It is great to have those people at work, but if you don’t, get involved in a community elsewhere. Build friendships and learn to lean on each other.

If you are struggling at work and wondering what steps to take next, give us a call! We would love to explore your options with you.

Written by therapist Clair Miller

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