3 Hallmarks Of A Toxic Workplace
Is your livelihood making life difficult for you? Here's how to assess the severity of the situation.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | November 10, 2022
One of the strongest voices in American healthcare confirmed a mental health concern many of us have been reckoning with – the relentlessly demanding toxic workplace.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy's Office issued guidance outlining the potential dangers that toxic workplaces – characterized by long work hours, limited autonomy, and low wages – pose to our mental and physical health.
The negative side effects, according to the guidance, include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Poor sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased vulnerability to mental and physical ailments
Murthy's framework lists the following characteristics as the key components of a healthy workplace:
- Growth opportunities
- Work-life balance
- Protection from harm
- Employee influence on workplace decisions
In an ideal world, we would all have jobs that meet this criteria. But, our first priority should be to recognize and avoid a toxic workplace. Here are three sure-shot indicators of an unhealthy work environment.
#1. Profit over people
While workplaces are (mostly) meant for profit, there are certain offices that seem to forget that companies are run by people, not balance sheets. A solely profit-based office culture or a 'bottom-line mentality' prioritizes productivity and numbers over everything else including employees' health and relationships.
Not only does a bottom line workplace have the potential to affect your mental and physical health, it can also force you to resort to unethical means to achieve your targets, like cutting corners or throwing your colleagues under the bus.
Bottom-line workplaces can be especially draining for people who are 'obsessively passionate' about their work. Such an environment can push an obsessive person to completely ignore every other part of their life apart from their work.
If you're already a part of such an organization and quitting is not in the cards, researcher Benjamin Schellenberg suggests trying to channel your obsessive passion into 'harmonious passion', i.e pursuing your work with a sense of flexibility and harmony. Not only will this approach protect you from a burnout, it can improve the quality of your output and help you focus on other important areas of your life like your family, health, social circle, and leisure.
#2. Self-serving leadership
Our society has an understandable tolerance for narcissistic and 'me-first' types of leaders – their charismatic, risk-taking, and confident nature makes it seem like they always know exactly what they are doing.
However, their leadership comes at a heavy cost to the fabric of the organization. According to research, a narcissistic leader can hurt your workplace in two ways:
- They promote cultures that undermine collaboration and integrity creating a cut-throat and competitive environment.
- They also show a preference for similar narcissistic candidates as their employees, thus constructing an echo chamber of ethically questionable personnel.
If you have a preference for a collaborative space, then an organization with narcissistic people at the top, endorsing strict hierarchies and an 'every man for himself' philosophy, is not the best pick for you.
#3. Stress reigns supreme
High-stress environments can damage you, especially if you are someone who requires their own space to experiment and make decisions. If you have a predisposition towards neuroticism, a high-stress work environment can send your anxiety levels through the roof.
Stress-driven workplaces also force you to be in a constant state of insecurity with the threat of the 'pink slip' always around the corner. Even if you are someone who enjoys working long hours, a lack of job security can make the experience insufferable for you.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology goes so far as to say that it can also cause long-term changes to your personality, like making you more disagreeable and neurotic.
In such a situation, you can try making a list of your top three values that you prioritize in a workplace. It can help you resolve any conflicting thoughts you might be experiencing with regard to your current workplace.
If your current work culture does not satisfy at least two of these three values, it might be time to make a well-deserved change.
The toxicity of a workplace is determined not just by its culture, but also your personality. It might be time to accept that not all mountains are yours to scale and that your mental and physical well-being always comes first.