Work-Life Balance

How to recognize an unhealthy work environment

Written by Eric Titner

When it comes to our professional lives, most of us have a clear hierarchy of needs, including a viable salary, acceptable benefits, and responsibilities that align well with our abilities. After all, we spend so much of our lives at work (nearly 90,000 hours over our lifetimes, according to a recent Business Insider article) that it stands to reason that our core needs and wishes should be met in order to make it all seem worthwhile.

But all too often, having a healthy and productive environment doesn’t make the list of priorities when we think about what’s really important for us to be satisfied at work—and that’s a real miss when thinking about your overall career happiness. Need some convincing? Forbes recently reported that “a toxic workplace environment will overtake the culture of any organization, interfering with employee performance, destroying relationships and demotivating top performers. It is important to understand your organization’s exposure to such an environment so that strategies are implemented to either eradicate or mitigate its effects.”

The question that likely remains for many of you is this: Am I stuck in an unhealthy work environment? Good question—and don’t be ashamed if you don’t have a clear answer. The truth is, it can be hard to tell what’s unhealthy and what’s normal and acceptable in a high-pressure, high demand modern workplace, in which “doing more with less” is the new normal. But don’t worry, we’re here to help you figure out what side you’re currently on. Use the following indicators to determine if you’re currently in an unhealthy workplace.

Monitor the avoidance factor

Do you find yourself regularly going out of your way to avoid both people and situations at work? If so, then chances are you’re working in an environment with some real unhealthy elements. These can include everything from toxic coworkers to an unsavory and insincere corporate culture that’s misaligned with reality.

The effects are similar: you dread going to work in the morning and can’t wait to leave at the end of the day. Many folks tend to take a “bare minimum” approach to their jobs when in this sort of unhealthy environment—they do just enough to squeak by and stay under the radar. The result? They often deny themselves the ability to evolve in their positions. Staying in a job like this is not a formula for career satisfaction and positive growth.

Do a regular office “mood check”

Most of us make it a point to check the weather each day before we head out to work, but not nearly enough of us stay on top of our “mood temperature.” An unhealthy work environment often has an unfortunate trickle-down effect on people’s moods, which makes it a great diagnostic tool for determining if your workplace has problems.

Everyone from top management to their direct reports on down through the organizational chart can feel the impact of an unhealthy environment. If the overall mood of your colleagues (or a few key personnel who have a significant impact on others) is more “doom and gloom” than “happiness and sunshine,” you better believe that this has a significant impact on the company’s productivity, employee turnover, and long-term success.

Beware of negative spillover into your personal life

The unfortunate reality is this: what happens at work doesn’t always stay at work. On top of encroaching on your personal time (if you choose to spend more hours working than you’re required to), the effects of an unhealthy workplace can spill all over the rest of your life.

According to a recent Psychology Today article, “If you are so miserable at work that you find yourself miserable at home, in your relationships and with your hobbies than your toxic professional life is seeping into every other aspect of your life. You may find yourself constantly talking about work and complaining about your boss when you should be enjoying your time off. Eventually, your loved ones will become tired of your negative talk and complaining, and your personal life will take a major hit.”

If this sounds all-too-familiar to you, then you’re likely in an unhealthy work situation and may warrant taking a closer look.

If you’re curious about whether or not you’re currently in an unhealthy work environment, do a serious self-assessment using the information provided here to help diagnose your workplace. If you find more negative than positive, consider taking active steps towards either improving your satisfaction and happiness at work, or finding a new job that will meet your needs.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.