How to recognise a toxic work environment


Office work culture can have a clear impact on health, especially when you notice yourself dreading the return to psychological pressure and emotional stress on Monday morning. — dpa

Poor working conditions at your place of employment can create a toxic atmosphere deleterious to both physical and mental health.

But how can you recognise what’s truly toxic?

After all, stress, heavy workloads and conflicts are part and parcel of many occupations.

So, how much is too much?

Annina Hering, a social scientist and labour market expert at Indeed, a US-headquartered, Japanese-owned global employment website, points to some red flags:

> Constant overwork

When excessive workloads are the norm – perhaps because your employer systematically uses too few workers – exhaustion and illness can result.

> Emotional pressure

Workers made to feel guilty when they call in sick, and even threatened or penalised when they do, is a clear sign of a toxic work culture, Hering says.

Such practices are often due to strict hierarchies and managers with control mania.

> Lack of appreciation

It’s not surprising that there’s a shortage of praise in companies with a work culture as described above.

And if competition among employees is high too, or compensation and benefits aren’t transparent, envy and a toxic atmosphere are inevitable.

> General uncertainty

If, for example, shift schedules are sent out at the last minute, employment contracts are all fixed-term, and your pay regularly comes late, you should be hearing alarm bells signalling a toxic workplace.

What should you do if working conditions like these sound all too familiar to you?

Can you protect yourself from the effects of a toxic work environment?

And when should you take action?

”It’s definitely a red flag if you regularly take your job discontent home with you.

“Then it’s time to do something,” remarks Hering.

It’s important, she says, to identify the “source of the toxicity” and determine whether it’s a structural problem or the behaviour of an individual.

“Look for allies,” she advises, because you’ll have a greater chance of setting changes in motion if you find like-minded people.

A works council or staff association can also be places to turn first for help.

“At the same time, you’ve got to be realistic,” she says.

It’s easier to have an impact on an individual’s problematic behaviour than to change existing toxic structures.

And not everyone has “the perseverance to push through structural changes”.

Alternatively, all you can do is change jobs.

There are plenty of companies that consciously cultivate an appreciative work environment, says Hering.

But before you take the leap, it would be worth your while to check out your prospective new employer; for instance, by looking at online review sites.

This will give you an initial idea of a particular company’s work environment.

If the new job happens to come by way of personal contacts at the company, you can expect honest assessments from them.

The job interview offers insights as well: What’s does the general mood of the employees seem to be? How does management behave towards them?

“Go with your gut,” Hering says. – By Amelie Breitenhuber/dpa

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Mental health , work


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