The Impact Of An Unhealthy Workplace

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.

What Are The Characteristics Of 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 (Positive) Feedback-Feedback is a valuable resource in any kind of situation or setting where there is a goal to be met. In business, feedback is often used as a means of guidance for employees from their superiors that is designed to help reach the intended goal. In an unhealthy workplace, there's usually a significant lack of positive-if any-feedback from the higher-ups. For some cases, this may simply be a result of poor communication, which is still a significant characteristic that acts as another red flag.2 It could also mean that management doesn't care about giving feedback (or anything else going on with their workers) or that all the feedback that is given is cynical or largely useless. Negative feedback is okay, so long as it is actually constructive. You can't just tell someone that their work was bad or that it sucked simply because you didn't like it; explain what was legitimately wrong with it and why.
Impersonal and Sanitized-Even though there are certain expectations regarding behavior and attitude, everyone in the workplace is still a human being. Turning into an emotionless robot the second you clock in isn't good for anyone. A lack of empathy or emotional interaction with peers at work makes it hard to successfully interact and collaborate, and often causes people to burnout quickly.3 Workplaces that are highly impersonal and emotionally sanitized often suggest that there is little care for the well-being of those working there from management. This can often happen if there is a very narrow focus in accomplishing tasks, which puts the bottom line above everything else (e.g. workers' well-being, safety, quality, etc.).
Bureaucracy and Red Tape-Bureaucracy can be a good thing in moderation, as it's usually there to keep things in line and prevent significant issues from developing down the line. Safety protocols, for example, are an example of bureaucratic practices in the workplace that are designed to prevent issues like accidents and injuries; they serve a purpose. However, excessive amounts of bureaucracy and red tape in the workplace tend to cause far more problems than they prevent. Having to overcome multiple obstacles in order to accomplish a simple task often discourages people from wanting or attempting to do something, which can impact the quality of a person's work if it's a necessary task for their job.4

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

Sometimes it's not the characteristics of your workplace that make it unhealthy, but the nature of your work. Professions where there is a built-in high safety risk, like those in law enforcement or the military, understandably may experience similar conditions and effects of an unhealthy work environment. An impact on health and well-being can also be brought on by when you work. Studies have shown that irregular shift workers (e.g. those working nights) tend to have more health issues that are tied to their jobs, simply because the time frame that they are working often involve a completely different set of working conditions.8
The Psychological Effects On Employees

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.

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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.

The Physiological Effects On Employees

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.

Certain conditions can develop as workers try to find a way to cope with the effects of an unhealthy workplace. Substance abuse issues, for example, are not uncommon and can quickly escalate with their exposure to their work conditions.12 Alcohol and drugs are vices that temporarily relieve work stress and keep work-problems at bay, but at a dangerous price. Usage of these substances often worsen the problems the person has with work, can impact the quality of their work, and put them at risk for work-related accidents.13 There is also added risk for those who are recovering from substance abuse, as toxic work environments tend to present more relapse-causing triggers and lack the support needed to remain sober.14

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

Collaborators-Anyone who professionally collaborates with those in a particular unhealthy workplace are just as likely to be affected as anyone else. This can include peers from other departments in the business, partnered businesses, contractors, etc. A major part of this, again, is due to how people are treated and professional respect. If those areas are compromised, then any collaboration between the unhealthy workplace and anyone they work with will also be compromised. This can cause further impact, as any work the collaboration produces will be affected and the collaborators may respond poorly to the situation on their own time.

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.