Finding the right work environment, when there are so many wrong ones

In previous blog posts or videos, I’ve talked a bit about a toxic work environment. And while I worked at Impraise, I got to study a lot about what makes a good company culture. Yet it only occurred to me not so long ago that there is more than one type of negative or toxic work environment, which is what I’d like to talk about today.

I used to believe that a toxic work environment was the classic “Devil wears Prada” or “Horrible bosses”: people getting yelled at, intimidated, and whole bunch of fear tactics.

To be honest, most of the stories I had heard from friends sounded much like that, so it was all I had to go off. Very early on, one of my friends was bullied in her career in a terrible way. And soon the stories kept piling up: other people who were being intimidated, shouted at, made to feel less worthy etc.

My own experience was the same: I lived in a permanent fear of making a mistake, and people were constantly finding an opportunity to tell you how you’d let them down and how bad things were… My client was quick to pick up the phone and complain about me to Senior Management. No wonder I was anxious!

So naively, after leaving agency world I thought anything would be better than that – even though I’d been told multiple times that the grass isn’t greener on the other side. No more clients breathing down my neck and intimidating us into ridiculous deadlines, no more politics, just a bunch of down to earth people doing their jobs.

Having identified my values, I thought that would help me find a work environment that was much better suited to my personality. But in reality, it’s more complicated than that.

What is a toxic or negative work environment?

Let’s take a closer look at what makes a toxic work environment, starting with the more “intense” signs:

  • Bullying
  • No psychological safety
  • Living in fear of being reprimanded
  • Intimidation or threats (can also fall under bullying)
  • Not feeling that anyone has your back (also falls under psychological safety)
  • Lack of trust throughout the organization
  • A competitive environment: colleagues are pitted against one another and will stop at nothing to outdo each other

But it can also be less dramatic, all while having a very negative impact on your mental health and your motivation. For example:

  • Lack of professional or career development: not getting promoted or being given a chance to develop even after years of loyal service
  • Working in a demotivating environment: most colleagues are completely demotivated and aren’t giving it their best shot
  • Low levels of productivity and engagement amongst employees which affects your own enthusiasm
  • Gossip and negative talk amongst employees
  • Lack of a meaningful or interesting job, you become “Bored-out” (yes, it’s a thing)
  • Bad, or lack of communication within the company
  • Employees don’t talk to each other – there’s very little relationship building… Literally, tumbleweed…

And the list could go on of course…

What are the implications for our mental health?

In the more dramatic or “intense” type of environement, it’s easy to guess how detrimental it can be for someone’s mental health. From anxiety, depression, lack of self-esteem or burnout… Clearly if you’re in that kind of environment the impact on your professional and personal life will be huge.

But we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of the less visible symptoms either. Imagine working in a place where everyone’s motivation has hit rock bottom, how would that make you feel? Surely it would affect you outside of work, not to mention you probably wouldn’t look forward to going to the office. And as a friend of mine once pointed out: “what brought on what? Was it the mental health that affected my work, or was it in fact the negative work situation that made my mental health issues raise their head?”

The link between the workplace and our mental health is undeniable, which is why it’s so important that we start taking more care of ourselves, by looking for the places that are good for us.

Steps you can take to identify the right workplace

Beyond quitting your job (which might be a bit extreme), there are things you can do to try and find a company that will be the right – or a better – fit for you.

  • Start by realizing what constitutes a toxic work environment – generally speaking
  • Ask yourself under which conditions you would absolutely not want to work
    • What makes an unpleasant work environment for you? (it could for example be: an extremely noisy open plan)
  • Ask yourself what the ideal work environment would look like
  • Identify your values
  • Do some research on companies that have a great reputation and where people enjoy working. What makes them so great? Would that be a match for you?

There are many more things you can do to ensure you’re making the right choices for yourself, and I’d like to point to a guest blog I recently wrote for Paymo. It’s called:

“How to find a job that’s good for you mental health”

It’s a long read (7 mins), but in it I cover:

  • What is a job that’s good for your mental health?
  • Setting and managing your expectations
  • Identifying what’s important to you/your values
  • What to look for when you’re job hunting

And much more. I hope you enjoy the read and you get some valuable insights from it. The work environment is currently changing, with more and more companies waking up to the importance of putting people first.

In the meantime, we have to increase our levels of awareness around negative work environments, and make the right choices for ourselves. The higher our standards, the faster employers will have to catch up if they want to attract talent.

What about you, what good or bad work environements have you experienced? Let me know in the comments.

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Currently working in marketing and comms in Amsterdam. Passionate about all things digital, writing, dancing, travelling and much more. Mental health blogger and advocate.

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