Navigating a toxic work environment

September 11, 2017

 

In America, the average full-time employee spends a third of their lives at work. This is a considerable amount of time and can have a measurable effect on many aspects of individuals’ lifestyle, potentially affecting mood, mental health and overall sense wellness experienced by the employee. A 2014, study showed that only 52.3% of Americans report being satisfied with their jobs. This demonstrates there is a significant part of our population that spends a large part of their life in positions which leave them feeling dissatisfied. This begs the question, why are so many people unhappy with their jobs?

 

Employment is not only a means to earn an income, it also provides an opportunity for employees to find a sense of fulfillment through providing a product, good or service that they feel good about. This is most likely to happen when an employee works at an organization which is in line with their values, ethics and is supportive of their long term career goals. On the opposite side, if an employee is working for an organization where they feel undervalued, disrespected or taken advantage of, they are less likely to feel satisfied with their job. A 2015 Gallup survey found that less than one-third of Americans are engaged in their jobs in any given year. This is not a new or surprising statistic; it has remained fairly consistent since their first survey on employee engagement in 2000. An engaged employee is defined as someone who is enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. The research indicates that managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores.

 

Essentially, managers are not creating environments in which employees feel motivated or even comfortable. The Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults revealed that “one in two had left their job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career”. You can download the report in its entirety here. The old cliché still remains true, people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. They become frustrated with a toxic work environment and chose to remove themselves for the good of their mental, physical and emotional well-being.

How do you know if you are in a toxic work environment and what should you do?

 

First, know that you are in good company; the amount of pleasure that will provide is likely fleeting, as no one really wants to remain in position where they feel unsatisfied and disrespected. Whoohoo Inc., an international firm that specializes in providing workshops, management trainings and professional development opportunities for businesses who want to increase employee happiness and engagement; surveyed 700 employees worldwide and found that bad work days are disturbingly common. Below are the 5 main causes of work dissatisfaction which contribute to a toxic work environment.

 

1: Bad bosses

 

  • A lack of help and support from my boss (40%)

  • My boss (35%)

 

As we’ve already discussed, many studies demonstrate that “bad bosses” contribute heavily to employees feeling unhappy, depressed, stressed, fearful and overall less productive. It’s not surprising that a toxic boss is the number one factor which makes employees unhappy at work.

 

2. Bad relationships with coworkers

 

  • Negative coworkers (39%)

  • A bad atmosphere among coworkers (35%)

  • Coworkers who constantly complain (29%)

 

The research clearly indicates that having good relationships with coworkers facilitates an environment where employees thrive at work, conversely negative relationships with coworkers contribute to a hostile and unhappy work environment.

 

3: A lack of direction/clarity

 

  • Uncertainty about the workplace’s vision and strategy (37%)

  • Missing or unclear routines and policies (34%)

 

A lack of communication and direction impacts the levels of happiness and satisfaction employees feel in regard to their jobs. Leaders who give their employees a clear sense of the direction of the organization, and how their work contributes meaningfully to that vision are more likely to feel satisfied with their job. Leaders also must communicate with their employees about the expectations and processes related to their position, while providing efficient structures and processes to help their employees more efficiently complete their work tasks. This communication should be an open process where the leader is willing to hear feedback from employees without becoming defensive, accusatory or dismissive.

 

4: No praise for our work

 

  • Lack of praise or recognition for the work I do (37%)

 

Employees are happier when their work is noticed and praised, unfortunately some managers have a tendency to focus on the slightest mistakes and making them the primary focus of their communication with employees. This type of management style does not contribute to neither happiness at work nor to high performance.

 

5: High workload

 

  • Busyness / high work load 36%

 

A high workload, constant busyness and consistent increases to work demands without an increase in resources or pay contribute to work dissatisfaction. This has negative effects on the

work environment including decreased moral and strained work relationships. If an employee feels taken advantage of, they are not likely to be happy in their position.

 

If you are currently in a toxic work environment or for a ‘bad boss’, it may be time to assess if the toll it is taking to your mental, emotional and physical well-being is worth it. It can be scary to even think about leaving your current position. However, keep in mind that many times these type of leaders lack self-awareness making it unlikely that any lasting change will happen in their behavior. Perhaps your toxic boss has no idea about the distress they inflict on others, and may be under the mistaken impression that their employees admire and respect them. As a result, expecting lasting change or appropriate respect may prove to be an elusive goal. If you feel dissatisfied or unhappy with your current position, career counseling may be an ideal choice to help you assess what steps you should take next. Having a professional work through the process with you can provide a level of support that can help decrease the anxiety surrounding making a big lifestyle change.

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