Is Your Job Making You Sick? Four Ways To Combat A Toxic Work Environment

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There is nothing worse than working in an environment that literally makes you ill. An employee’s livelihood totally shouldn’t be accompanied by stress, sickness and unhappiness–forcing said employee to take more sick days and more vacation days (if they’re lucky enough to even have those options in the first place), leaving the employer frustrated. It’s a damaging cycle.

According to a new study by Cornea, office workers are experiencing high instances of dry-eye syndrome, due to air conditioning and long-hours staring at computer screens. Duh. 

The researchers looked at 12 healthy adults–some were placed in 70 degree environments with 40 percent humidity, while the others were placed in 70 degree environments with five percent humidity environments (you know, like airplanes), and those in the latter group had significantly higher rates of dry and itchy eyes. No good.

While you can buy a humidifier to combat the dryness for both your eyes and lungs, take lunch breaks outdoors and wear glasses instead of contacts, most employees simply accept the environment they’re put into at work.

But what happens when your work space is making you sick in much deeper ways? Toxic work environments can affect more than your eyes–and still, employees tend to do very little about it, especially when job complacency is at a high due to the fact that Americans are lucky to even have a job right now.

According to a recent Forbes article, the key to combating toxic workplaces is to actually recognize that you’re in one–and knowing that you aren’t defined by the toxicity around you.

Amy Rees Anderson wrote, “Often times in a toxic workplace there is an abundance of tearing others down, passive aggressive leadership, destructive gossip, conniving politics, and abundant negativity.” Sound familiar?
I once worked in an office where some of these elements were in place, but that office did something truly revolutionary. Once a week, all 60+ employees sat in a circle in the conference room and aired our ideas, suggestions and feelings. We then broke into groups and brainstormed ways to chip away at those problems. We needed communication. We needed logical work processes. And we needed to be heard by the management. And while, as in many offices, the hire-ups often continued to make poor decisions that worried the staff (excessive firings, promises broken), we continued to meet and air our grievances. I felt healthy and happy, and never dreaded coming into work. 

I believe this sort of work-in-progress-at-work approach is a rare thing, and a great idea. But what happens when you are surrounded by unhappy coworkers, miserable bosses, unfair politics and authoritarian leadership? Anderson wrote, “Another important coping step is to realize that you cannot control what other people say and do, you can only control your own actions and reactions.  The sooner you accept that the better for your own mental well-being.  This realization allows you to let go of owning other people’s negative behavior and it empowers you to focus on improving yourself.  The more you can focus on improving yourself in a negative environment the better, because when you finally get the opportunity to escape the situation you are in, you will get to take all the personal growth you have made along with you. “


Continue searching for a better workplace. Don’t give up. Apply to new jobs everyday. If you’re on an interview and you sense that the environment isn’t right for you, seriously weigh your options.Don’t contribute to the hostility. Anderson suggests that your reputation follows you. Even if everyone around you is behaving badly, you’ll still want to be viewed as a reputable, reliable employee.

Try not to give in to the viscous gossip that inevitably surrounds office misery. This is easier said than done, but once you stop contributing, you’ll feel like you are the bigger person–which will in turn, boost your own self-respect and confidence.

Buy a humidifier. It’s the little things. Whatever you can do to make yourself feel just a bit better–do it.

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