The Most Detrimental Health Implications Of A Toxic Work Environment

June 20, 2019

Working a full-time job can leave you feeling a few different ways: You love your job; you love your co-workers, but hate your boss; or you want the whole building to burn down to the ground. Or, hey, maybe a combination of all three. Dramatic? Maybe (okay, definitely). But feeling this way might not be entirely your fault. Believe it or not, your company’s work culture might be to blame. And the impact that a toxic work environment can have on your health is very real.

Because toxic work environments have been on the rise, many people have felt the impact, both physically and mentally. In fact, Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, told PRI, “Many of the workplace exposures are as harmful to people as secondhand smoke in terms of their effects on self-reported physical health, mental health, having a physician-diagnosed illness, and mortality.” While this news is alarming, Pfeffer also concluded that incivility at work accounts for around 120,000 excess deaths a year.

Unfortunately, most of us can’t just up and quit our jobs (as much as we may want to); however, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the warning signs and start looking for greener pastures. Below are some of the toxic work environment warning signs to be aware of, and how they can negatively impact your health.

1. Depression

Working in an environment where a boss or co-worker seems to mute your talents and self-worth can amplify existing mental health issues.

According to a 2012 analysis, perceptions of unfairness and inequality were commonly associated with increased depression. Unfortunately, this toxic health issue doesn’t just stay within the confines of your office. Depression can often leak into your personal life, making you second-guess yourself, your relationships, and your potential.

2. Insomnia

Falling asleep and staying asleep might not be very high on your to-do list when you’re expected to work around the clock.

A toxic work environment can lead you to experience anxious thoughts at night, which can prevent you from getting enough quality shut-eye. But be careful of this becoming a lasting pattern, as your sleepless nights can impact your judgment, clarity, and perspective, preventing you from tackling future stressful situations.

3. Upset stomach

A healthy, happy gut can make all the difference to your mental and physical health.

But when you’re feeling overly stressed because of work, you can find yourself with uncomfortable indigestion and bloating. Because chronic stress can impact brain-gut communication, it can alter the bacteria in your stomach, which can — ding, ding, ding — negatively influence your mood (and other things).

4. Heart attack

In addition to a toxic work environment, being laid-off can cause damage to more than just your bank account.

According to a Duke University study, losing a job can up your chances of having a heart attack by 22 percent. But that’s not the end of it. If you’re one of the unlucky few who has lost more than three jobs during your career, your chances of having a heart attack can go up to 52 percent. Yikes.

5. Stress

While it would be a dream to refrain from stressing out at work, unfortunately, it comes with the paycheck.

However, if your job doesn’t give you a sense of purpose, you may want to reconsider your position. Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, told Fortune, “The data we collect while working with large communications, technology, and healthcare companies shows among highly stressed employees, 72% report having a low connection to their work.” This comes as no surprise when you look at the big picture. When there’s a disconnection from the company’s mission, the long hours and toxic bosses can cause you to stress out.

6. Fatigue

Even when we say that we’re going to stop working, we don’t. This can make us feel fatigued and burnout.

And while we could point the finger at ourselves, our company’s toxic culture is also to blame. For instance, if your boss is sending you an email at 11 p.m., they’re showing you that boundaries do not matter at your job. Pfeiffer explained to Slate that with technology, our employers are expecting us to always be “on.” Even though this expectation might be true, it doesn’t mean we should.

7. Anxiety

Not only is a toxic work environment stressful, but it can also cause you to have anxiety.

And when anxiety becomes a part of your daily life, it could mean that your job doesn’t support a healthy work-life balance; rather, it encourages office gossip or has unrealistic expectations for its employees. Monster states that one of the best ways to break this cycle is by scheduling relaxation time throughout the day and to say no to multitasking. However, if your boss is micromanaging you to stay at your desk, you may need to clock out of this toxic job for good.

8. High blood pressure

While any superior might be tough every now and then, a toxic superior could be detrimental to your health.

In a study that was published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, researchers found that employees who had negative reactions to their bosses also experienced elevated blood pressure that lingered well into the night. Why might this be the case? Well, researchers believe that rumination (aka mentally analyzing a single event over and over again) is at play. But if you’re able to separate home and work life, then you may be able to live a healthier life.

9. Feeling sick

When your immune system shuts down from stress, your body can’t protect itself from diseases and illnesses.

Because toxic work environments can drive your stress levels to an all-time high, your job is more inclined to make you sick. According to The Atlantic, when you experience chronic stress, it can lower the function of your immune system, making you more susceptible to diseases and illnesses. While you might have hand sanitizer at your desk to get rid of the germs, there’s not enough hand sanitizer in the world to get rid of a toxic work environment.

10. Change in appetite

Have you ever wanted to dive into a bag of powdery doughnuts while in the middle of a stressful meeting with your boss?

Well, you can blame your toxic work environment for this reaction. According to the Harvard Health Letter, the adrenal glands in our bodies release cortisol, which increases our appetites and makes us want sugary foods. On the contrary, when we experience short-term stress, our bodies protect our energy by shutting down our appetite. Either way, being mindful of these responses will allow you to become more aware of your surroundings at work. Consider why this stress response is being triggered in the first place the next time you want to grab a sugar-filled treat at work. Your answer might help you to see the bigger picture.

11. Lower sex drive

While no one’s sex drive is perfect, we still don’t want our jobs to have a negative impact.

However, it can be incredibly hard to get into the mood while working in a toxic work environment. The American Psychological Association explains that chronic stress can reduce people’s libido, whether it’s the result of lower testosterone production (for men) or when work-life stress becoming overbearing (for women). The kicker is, while cortisol — aka, the stress hormone — is essential for your immune response and metabolism, too much of it can be harmful. Plus, because chronic stress is also known to cause depression and anxiety, these two mental health conditions alone can prevent people from experiencing a high sex drive.

12. Aching muscles

If we don’t nip work stress in the bud, it can eventually lead to aching muscles and painful headaches.

During stressful moments, our muscles tense up as a way to physically protect ourselves from getting “hurt” from the emotions we feel. While tension is released once the stressor is gone, our bodies can still hold on to that pain when stress chronically occurs around us. Over time, this can lead to intense tension headaches; painful pressure points, such as chronic muscle tension in the shoulders or neck; and musculoskeletal pain in the lower back.

13. Paranoia

Toxic work environments breed instability, fear, and uncertainty. But mix that with poor communication and you’ll receive a tall order of paranoia.

Poor work cultures will lead employees to assume they’re inevitably going to lose their jobs because their bosses might make them feel inadequate or office gossip about the company might plague their thoughts. According to Psychology Today, these tactics can create stress, paranoia, and a feeling of adrenaline, making you feel less confident in yourself.

14. Negative outlook

When your office culture goes off the rails, it can be hard not to let it affect your personal life.

You’re more inclined to engage in negative self-talk and complain about your job when you work in a toxic work environment. While this can definitely impact your personal relationships, it can also affect the relationship you have with yourself. When you’re not able to pull yourself out of this negative mindset, you have more of a chance to become addicted to the drama and behavior, which can be harmful to your health in the long run.