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The Emotionally Hazardous Work Environment: Is it Worth the Price You Pay?

The printer jammed again, your phone keeps disconnecting, that quick briefing turned into a three-hour meeting. We've all had tough days at the office when it seems like nothing is going our way, but when your tough day at the office turns into weeks, months or years, and moves away from the trivial paper jam to more serious offenses like belittling or outright abuse, you may have an emotionally hazardous work environment on your hands.

If your work environment is hazardous, chances are pretty high that you already know it. But for those who may still be in denial ... Mary Jo Fay, RN, MSN, founder of the Narcissism Survivor Network (, defines an emotionally hazardous work environment as:

"A workplace lead by a manager who believes in demonstrating power and control over employees, dominates others through intimidation, conveys no compassion or understanding for the individual needs and issues of employees, and who may frequently take credit for the work of his or her subordinates. In other words--a workplace lead by a narcissistic manager."

This sums it up quite nicely, but to put it into even more workable terms, if you are falling prey to the following behaviors from your manager, supervisor or coworker it may be time to reassess your work situation:

  • Name calling
  • Talking down to
  • The "silent treatment"
  • Sexual harassment
  • Unrealistic rules
  • Lack of autonomy
  • Unrealistic job expectations
  • Threats or ultimatums
  • Prohibiting personal objects (family photos, etc.) in the workplace

Making employees feel like
someone is constantly looking
over their shoulders is a passive
aggressive tactic used in some
emotionally hazardous
work environments.

Anyone can fall victim to a hostile work environment, and as the effects trickle down from one employee to the next, the misgivings of one emotionally hazardous individual, particularly one who is high up on the totem pole, can potentially destroy an entire company.

There are warning signs, though, that you can look out for to avoid getting stuck in this type of work situation, which, as you'll read below, can actually cause you physical harm. Here are some signs that your office is not a healthy one:

Unstable Leadership and Constant Change. The company is constantly "reorganizing" by either downsizing or expanding, and rules and procedures to protect employees are either non-existent or not followed.

No Communication or Destructive Communication. No one ever asks your opinion or, if they do, they talk over it or don't listen. Managers are condescending and/or aggressive and purposely praise/put down employees in front of one another.

Only Numbers Count. The bottom line is the only one that matters in this company. There is no room for employee feedback and any given is frowned upon or belittled.

No Room for Advancement. No matter how hard you work, there is no opportunity for promotions or rewards. The work and/or company is boring, repetitive and stagnant.

Authoritarian Management. Managers subscribe to the saying, "We don't pay you to think," and get explosively angry when challenged or questioned. They frown on employee participation in making important decisions and are happy to make employees feel like they are inferior.

Lack of Firm Policies. There is a double standard in that company policies appear to be different for different people and job positions. There is little support for workers but substantial support for management.

Signs you may be working in
an emotionally hostile
environment include
condescending managers, not
having your opinion respected,
or not being asked to participate
in decision making.

No Route to Solve Grievances. A manager treats you badly and there is no way to voice your grievance. Red tape abounds and dysfunctional individuals are well-protected.

Hazardous Work Conditions. The workplace itself is not well heated or air conditioned, the air quality is poor, there's excessive overtime or a lack of personnel. Equipment may not work properly and employees are then blamed for lack of productivity.

Violent Culture. Leaders in the company struggle with alcohol or drug abuse or have a history of violence.

When Enough is Enough
How do you know when your workplace has crossed over the tolerable line?

"Your body is the best indicator in any situation," says Deborah Rosado Shaw, author of Dream BIG: A Roadmap for Facing Life's Challenges and Creating the Life You Deserve. Stress-related illness like migraines, insomnia, depression, anxiety or frequent infections or other illnesses are all signs that your job worries are taking a toll on your physical health.

Stress-related problems like these are the cause of 75 percent to 90 percent of all primary care physician visits, and guess what one of the primary factors leading to stress in adults is? If you guessed work environment then you're right on track.

What many companies don't realize is that abusing employees will only hurt the company. Employees who work in emotionally hazardous environments are more likely to:

  • Be absent from work
  • Lack focus and concentration
  • Use insurance for medical conditions (many of which are brought on by the stress)
  • Intentionally or unintentionally sabotage the workplace due to their unhappiness

When Your Workplace is a War Zone
Mary Jo Fay went so far as to compare an emotionally hazardous work environment with a war zone. She mentioned the constant strain of "living under high tension" and the intense desire to "stay out of the line of fire."

If you must walk on eggshells to get through your workday and come home feeling tense, irritable, depressed and dreading the next day, it's time to ask yourself whether the job is worth the emotional and physical strain it is inevitably putting on your life.

Most of us know of friends and family
who may feel "Stuck" in dead-end,
emotionally-abusive jobs. With one
life that we are sure we are given, the
question is, "Is it really worth it?" Please
forward this email on to those you
know who may benefit from this
important article:

Dig deep and ask yourself, "Is it really worth it?"

Gail McMeekin, a career coach, said, "For some people, quitting their job is the healthiest thing they can possibly do." But ultimately you will have to be the one to decide when it's worth it and when that final line has been crossed.


Emotionally Hazardous Work Environments: What's the Health Care Cost?

Key Components of a Dangerously Dysfunctional Work Environment

Calling it Quits: When is Enough, Enough?

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