When addressing the creation of a positive and healthy workplace, it is important to address what causes a workplace to be the opposite. This may seem counterproductive-after all, why care about the bad when you're trying to create something good?- but it can be instrumental in helping with the production of a truly respectful international workplace. An understanding of what aspects are present in an unhealthy workplace allows you to maintain the intended environment. Furthermore, understanding what the effects those aspects can have can allow you to repair the damage they cause as you create a positive workplace.
In this article, the effects of an unhealthy workplace environment will be discussed. Topics will include certain characteristics that can contribute towards and be used to identify such an environment, the psychological and physiological effects they can have on the staff, and the further extent of the impact caused by an unhealthy workplace.
Some people think of their workplace as toxic or unhealthy based on their own personal feelings about their job, co-workers, supervisor, etc. However, hating your job-even for very valid reasons-doesn't necessarily mean that your workplace is unhealthy or toxic per se.1 Unhealthy workplaces often carry characteristics that impinge upon or cause harm on people's mental, physical, and/or emotional wellbeing whenever there are in that particular environment. They are not always obvious and may not have an effect on a person until they spend a long length of time there. Some of the more common characteristics of an unhealthy workplace can include:
Lack of Work-Life Balance-Does your work interfere with your normal life? In other words, are you able to keep your personal life and your work life separate without difficulty? If not, then it's quite possible that your workplace may be causing you to have a poor work-life balance. This simply means that your work likely follows you home from the office, regardless of if it is by your choice. A lack of a work-life balance tends to blur the boundaries between work and home, and it often worsens work-induced stress by preventing people from relaxing. It has become such an issue in recent years that some countries, like France, have passed laws that give workers the right to have a work-life balance and disconnect from the office in their time off without punishment.5
Bullying and Harassment-Probably the most obvious characteristic in this articleof an unhealthy workplace is the presence of bullying and/or harassment. The entirety of a working environment can become toxic when someone-or several someone's-is openly hostile towards others. This is sometimes a result of narcissists gaining power over their peers, regardless of how much power they gain, and letting it go to their heads.6 Workplace harassment and bullying is rather common, with around 60 million workers reportedly being affected in the U.S. in a 2017 survey.7
A significant portion of the effects an unhealthy workplace can have on a person are going to be psychological in nature. This is largely due to the toll that work stress has on the mind, which can be affected long before the body is. Negative emotions-frustration, anger, anxiety, etc.-that are brought about by interactions at work will also often have psychological results sooner than physical ones, and may often be considered a psychological effect on their own.
Typically, the most common psychological effects from unhealthy workplaces involve stress or are stress-induced. These can include depression, social withdrawal, anxiety, and paranoia.9 General mental exhaustion is also a common effect, as are changes in a person's emotional state like irritability and mood swings. It is not uncommon for a person to experience multiple effects, or to have these effects kick in while at work or when thinking of work. A sense of dread when thinking about work or anything associated with it is a common example, although it is a sensation that many people experience in regards to their job(s) at one point in their life.
One psychological effect that may be associated with unhealthy workplaces is a result of the state of your work-life balance. As mentioned, a poor work-life balance often causes the boundaries between your professional and personal lives to blur. This may prompt a person's thought process to change, i.e. their mental focus is locked on their work life. Behaviors and habits that are usually reserved for their work environment may begin to occur at home or while on vacation. Even things like voice and tone can still be stuck in "work mode" even when a person is at home as a result of a blurred work-life balance, simply because it becomes harder to psychologically recognize the distinction between their personal and professional life.
Physically, the effects of an unhealthy workplace on employees are going to be tied to the psychological ones. This is because the body and its functions are controlled by the brain-ergo alterations in the brain's health are going to impact that control. Stress tends to impact the performance and strength of the immune system, so it is not uncommon for workers in a toxic workplace to be frequently ill.10 This is usually compounded if there are unhygienic practices in the workplace (e.g. poor cleanliness in communal spaces). It's also often harder to take time off for illness in a toxic workplace, and there are often issues (e.g. abuse) tied to sick-days even in the most respectful of workplaces.11
Additional physiological effects of unhealthy workplaces can also include changes in a person's sleep cycle, fluctuating weight, and side effects of poor nutrition. The latter is often a result of restrictions in place that may impact a person's meal options while at work and impact their dietary habits. For example, workplaces that do not give their employees a lot of breaks or who keep their breaks very short may cause their employees to avoid beverages so they don't have to go to the bathroom as much or having an energy bar for lunch because it can be eaten quickly. Repeatedly doing either over a long period of time is sure to have consequences on a person's physical health.
Who or What Else Can Be Affected?
It's unlikely that only the workers in an unhealthy workplace will be affected by the toxic atmosphere of their environment. Quite possibly, anyone who spends enough time in that environment will be affected in some way. Even then that does not isolate the effects of an unhealthy workplace to a group, or even just to the human elements in the situation. Some of the other areas that may be affected in some way include:
Customers and Clientele-As stated in the previous lesson, creating a respectful international workplace often means taking care with how everyone is treated. That does include the treatment of the business' client base. In an unhealthy workplace, that treatment may be compromised or subpar, and employees who are affected by it may inadvertently take it out on their customers.15 This can then impact the customer's experience and their desire to return to/continue using the business' services.
Management-Management can be affected by an unhealthy workplace and contribute towards it. In some cases, both can happen at once and feed into each other, exacerbating existing issues further. Those in management may be affected in regards to their management and leadership practices, as well as their decision making. They get sloppy, take out their frustrations on their subordinates, and fail to properly realize the extent of the problem present under their command.16
Production Quality-When things are wrong with the producers, there is going to be something wrong with their product. Whatever an unhealthy workplace produces can be just as compromised as the aforementioned collaborations. Usually, this is in terms of its quality and the costs put into its creation-time, money, and energy. It's easy to see how those things can be compromised or wasted when workers are forced to deal with the above mentioned characteristics and byproducts of an unhealthy workplace.17 It's basically a bunch of things that you have to address on top of a bunch of other things that you're already addressing. Oh, and it all needs to be done at the same time.