Is Your Work Environment Unhealthy?
Does the idea of going to work make you feel physically ill? Have you been getting recurring headaches, waves of fatigue, or bouts of stomach sickness on the job? Chances are, you either have a diagnosable illness like the flu, or you’re dealing with the somatic effects of a toxic work environment.
Sadly, few of us go through life without enduring a hostile work environment at least once. While it’s easy to say “just quit!”, that’s not always a possibility. For those who’re stuck in their toxic work environments, here are some ways to get by—and maybe even to get something good out of the negative experience.
1. Communicate the Issue
Whether it’s a coworker being disrespectful or a supervisor with unrealistic expectations, try to talk with them one-on-one about the issue. Plan what you want to say beforehand, and have a solution in mind—it helps to come to the table with ideas of how to improve things, and shows your coworker that you take the issue seriously. Maintain your integrity by remaining respectful and focused on the discussion at hand.
Your coworker may refuse to engage, becoming defensive or shifting all the blame on you as a person. If that happens, move on to our next tip…
2. Realize that this isn’t a Reflection of Your Worth
While some employers or coworkers may use guilt, shame, or fear to get you to do what they want, it’s important to recognize when their criticisms are unfair and to not take them to heart.
Does your employer make you feel like you can’t do anything right? Like no matter how hard you try, it’s never good enough? It’s hard not to take these interactions personally, but for your wellness it’s essential that you realize that they don’t do this because you are legitimately the *worst employee of all time*—they do it because, for whatever misguided reason, this is how they’ve learned to treat people.
Try to notice when your employer or coworker makes you feel bad, and instead of dwelling on self-doubt or criticism, ask questions like these:
Is this really my fault, or is it a systemic issue?
Is this person acknowledging all of the hard work I put into this and other projects?
Are their expectations realistic?
Noticing when their comments present a warped view of reality will prevent you from doing the same. You’re less likely to absorb negative words when you realize that the problem isn’t necessarily yours.
3. Make Allies
You don’t want to go through this alone, and chances are, you don’t have to. It’s unlikely that you’re the only person struggling within your work environment, even if it seems like everyone else is performing effortlessly. Try to make friends within the office, inviting others to grab coffee or hit up happy hour. Say hi in the halls and pass on funny stories to your officemates.
If you feel safe and comfortable (i.e. they won’t report you or make your complaints the talk of the office), you can unload some of your concerns on your friend. Chances are, they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. If you don’t feel comfortable divulging the problems you’re having, you’ve at least made a buddy to chat and laugh with when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Associating at least one positive thing with your office will make it easier to commute over in the morning.
4. Take Breaks
It’s easy to get so caught up in your work that you forget to take breaks, but this is a major error. Your work environment is bad enough—don’t make it worse by missing meals, burning yourself out, or simply sitting in a negative space for a full day.
Take a walk: Research shows that exposure to the sun causes our bodies to release endorphins, which make us feel good. Exercise also decreases stress and improves mood and energy levels. This solution is an all-around win.
Go get coffee or lunch: Get out of the office and treat yourself to a nice latte or a healthy meal. Not only will you get the benefits of being outdoors, you’ll also have a mood boost from getting a nice snack.
Meditate: Even a few minutes of meditation can help decrease stress, and you can do it from inside your workplace. Check out websites like The Chopra Center or podcasts like The Meditation Podcast to find free samples.
5. Personalize your office space
Put a few things that make you feel happy around your office or cubicle. They can be visual (pictures of family and friends, letters from happy clients), olfactory (air freshener, a nice smelling lotion), gustatory (snacks in your drawer), or anything else you can imagine! When you’re working, listen to soothing or energizing music with your headphones. Make your workplace as pleasant as it can be, given the circumstances.
6. Know when leaving is absolutely necessary
Leaving a job when you have nothing else lined up or feel you need the position to move forward in your given field is not ideal. However, if your psychological and physical health are seriously in danger, it’s time to move on. You won’t be the first person to take a drastic step like this, and you won’t be the last. Try to outline what you would do in case of emergency—how much do you have saved up, and is there more you can save in the meantime? What are some alternate job opportunities, even small, part-time ones? How would your social network be willing to help you if worst came to worst?
Most importantly, know that you deserve a happy and healthy workplace, and there are plenty of them out there. Your life and self-worth don’t have to be defined by your current workplace. You’re so much more than that.
Lilly McGee is Viva’s Director of Operations and Communication. A published poet, she enjoys writing about mental health, literature, and identity. Other pieces include “The Psychological Effects of Stereotyping” and “Mental Health on TV.”