Woman working at her desk pretending everything is okay when really her toxic workplace is making her unhealthy.

Is Your Job Making You Unhealthy?

No one talks enough about how much your job can be making you unhealthy. It’s frequently not the work itself, but the managers and colleagues you are exposed to 8+ hours of your day. We often think it needs to be some extreme, cutthroat environment before we’re allowed to call out our jobs as the culprit of our unhappiness and stress. But it doesn’t need to be that extreme. Sometimes it’s just a self-serving manager or a super negative colleague who can be the reason your job is making you unhealthy.

What is Environmental Health

Your environmental health is determined by what you are consuming visually and audibly. It is everything around you—in your home, in your work (and yes, toxic workplaces still exist on Zoom), in your extended family and group of friends, as well as the music you listen to, the TV and movies you watch, your social media feed, etc. We process, normalize, and copy what we’re exposed to in our environment.

Why Your Job Impacts Your Health So Much

If you have a manager who is constantly undermining your judgement, saying you need to “improve your performance” without being able to cite any examples or provide an explanation of what exactly needs to be “improved,” who uses you as a scapegoat to protect their own job and/or who is gaslighting you, you will start to question yourself. You’ll wonder if your ideas really aren’t worth sharing, if you actually don’t deserve a seat at the table, you’ll lose confidence in yourself, and you’ll lose all motivation. This is when a toxic environment weaves damage into your mental, emotional and social health. Putting your entire wellness into a spiral!

Being told you need to improve—without further explanation or support—can actually be the thing that causes your work performance to suffer.

Similarly, if one of your colleagues is constantly complaining, finding the negative in every project and meeting, or conspiring on why management made certain decisions, your environmental health will also take a hit. While it’s not an undermining of your confidence like the first scenario, it can dramatically shift your perception and cause you to see the negative in your position, company and career path.

So, is Your Job Making You Unhealthy?

I’ve personally experienced both those scenarios—at different companies—and let me tell ya, it can really do a number on you! It can result in anxiety, tension, mood swings, lack of motivation, loss of confidence (including other areas of your life outside of work), anger, sleeplessness, “Sunday Scaries” when you feel sick at the thought of the upcoming work week, fatigue, weight gain/weight loss, and so much more.

So what can you do if your job is making you unhealthy?

First, determine if your work environment is unhealthy by answering yes/no to the following questions:

  • Is there someone who causes you to tense up when you see their name pop up on email, meeting invites or gChat/Basecamp/Teams/etc.?
  • Is there someone who you try and avoid conversations with?
  • Do you feel uncomfortable speaking up in meetings and voicing your opinion when that’s not typical of your personality?
  • Is a colleague acting like one person to the client and upper management, but a completely different person to you and the internal team?
  • Do you feel you have to keep meticulous notes and have back-up “proof” of conversations? (And do you see others in the company with a CYA approach?)
  • Are you suddenly being left out of important conversations and decisions that involve projects you’re leading?
  • Are you made to feel like you can’t do anything right and getting solely blamed for things that are supposed to be a team effort?
  • Does your manager participate more (or even take over a meeting that you normally run) only when their manager is present?
  • Is your manager telling you that you need to improve your work performance but when you ask why and how, they cannot cite any examples nor specify how you can improve?

How You Can Improve Your Environmental Health When Your Job is Making You Unhealthy

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, your environmental health may likely be impacted by your job. A lot of unhealthy work environments are a playground for gaslighting because it’s intentionally set-up as a hierarchy and blame gets passed down the chain. Please know that you are NOT crazy and your feelings (and your suspicions) are always valid. If you are truly doing your best, it’s not your fault.

Here are some tips for how to deal with a toxic workplace:

  1. Get a therapist. Talking with an unbiased third party is the best way to get a bird’s-eye view of any situation. This will help you work through your emotions, create healthy boundaries, learn coping mechanisms, see the situation from a different perspective, and rationally determine if the best solution is to change jobs. Go to psychologytoday.com to find one local to you.
    • People typically think a therapist is a “last ditch effort” but I’m intentionally making this tip #1. It’s your best solution whenever you’re experiencing heightened emotions!
  2. Consider what has changed in your job that is making you feel tense. Try and uncouple the work itself from the people you work with. Both can have equal negative impact, but the purpose of this exercise is to uncover why you’re unhappy. Is it just a season of stressful projects or is it a larger issue within the company?
  3. Try and get to know the offender on a more personal level. Especially in a work-from-home situation, it can be harder to build more meaningful relationships with our team and managers. Taking the time to connect and chat about life outside of work can help humanize each other. This might also help them see you as a valuable teammate instead of a subordinate.
  4. If the person can truly be avoided, avoid them. Or keep conversation strictly to tasks you need to complete together or on safe topics outside of work.
  5. Take PTO. Get some distance between you and your job so that you can think about the situation with calm and clarity. If your manager denies you PTO, jump down to tip #7.
  6. Make a Pros/Cons list about your job. Every job has some level of suckiness that we need to put up with but that’s not to say we should feel dejected, unhappy, or unappreciated. This is another reason why I think therapy is so important—speaking with a mental health professional will help you understand what is normal and what is truly an unhealthy situation for you to be in.
  7. Quit your job. Life is too short to be that miserable! We were not put on earth to work and pay bills. You are a very valuable and important person who was given unique gifts and talents. You have an important purpose and you should live in alignment. If your manager and colleagues can’t see that, screw ’em. You were made to thrive somewhere else. Don’t burn bridges, but confidently leave them behind. There are better companies/managers out there who will respect your talents and appreciate what you bring to the table (I’ve experienced this too!) Or, take out the middle man and fulfill your life’s purpose by becoming your own boss.

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Meridith Oram
Meridith Oram is an ACE-Certified Health Coach at Love Yourself Towards Healthy where she helps chronic dieters heal their relationship with food, fitness and body image. She is also the creator of Gain Wellness, a 5-week behavioral change program to unlearn diet culture, stop negative self-talk and set wellness goals---not appearance goals. Follow Meridith at @loveyourself2healthy on all social channels.

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