Why a Bad Work Environment Can Make You Sick

Posted April 10, 2012

Stress. Anxiety. Unhappiness. Frequent urges to bang your head against your desk. Feeling like your head is on a platter.

Too many professionals suppress these feelings for far too long, especially when it’s a byproduct of poor company culture. Well, it’s a paycheck, right? Putting up with a poor working environment is kind of like ignoring that pain in the side of your stomach while you’re running a marathon — ignoring it just to keep on going.

But Stephen R. Balzac, consultant, speaker and president of 7 Steps Ahead, says we’re not meant to stay that way for long.

“We are built to interpret being in that sort of environment as dangerous, a negative work environment activates our flight or fight response,” Balzac says. “In other words, we're in overdrive.”

But your job isn’t a marathon! A negative, incompatible company culture not only hinders your professional growth but also your long-term mental and physical health.

Don’t get us wrong — some stress is actually good. It can be an indication that you’re challenged and your work isn’t totally mundane. But balance is key. If you’re consistently feeling worn down, take a look at some of the ways negative work environments can affect your health and how you can tackle it: 

1. Low Self-Esteem

If your relationship with management slightly resembles Meryl Streep’s in the Devil Wears Prada (poor communication, low trust and arguments about planning or following through), Katherine Walker of Lifetime Behavioral Health says your self-confidence will gradually become weaker.

“Over time employees begin to feel dehumanized and just another cog in the machine,” Walker says.

The longer you’re feeling belittled, the more likely these feelings can result in worse mental conditions: depression, anxiety, heightened levels of stress, apathy, and anger management issues.

TACKLE IT: Get Out From Under Your Boss’ Thumb

2. Changes in Sleep Pattern

Ever had a sleepless night, worrying or working into the night only to fall asleep at the meeting the next afternoon? Well, it’s not normal. In fact, it can be unsafe.  Stress-related distraction or sleepiness accounts for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of accidents on the job, according to the American Institute of Stress. What a wakeup call! An irregular sleep pattern can also trigger migraines.

TACKLE IT: Insomnia Lifestyle and Home Remedy

3. Unhealthy Eating Habits

You’ve had a hard day so it only seems fair to treat yourself to a delicious cupcake at lunch.

“Since sweet foods are a quick way to recharge willpower, we respond by eating sweeter junk food, with all the negative side-effects that entails,” Balzac says.

Regain control by eating whole, quality food, says Halona Y. Black, Organic Chef and Women’s Health Coach.

She emphasizes swapping sweets with fresh fruit: “These natural sources of sugar keep your blood sugar at a lower level than other types of processed cakes and pastries full of white sugar and flour.”

Other suggestions from Black: natural, organic meat; salads with a large variety of vegetables and fruits with homemade salad dressing (store-bought are full of fat, sugar and salt); and whole grains including brown rice, millet, or faro for fiber.

TACKLE IT: 7 Tips for Eating While You Work

4. Fatigue

A poor work environment drains your body’s energy! An American Psychological Association (APA) survey found that about half of workers reported fatigue (extreme physical exhaustion and muscle weakness) due to work stress.  This could also be a result of No. 2 and No 3.

TACKLE IT: Find Inner Peace at Work

5. Deteriorating Willpower

In addition to physical fatigue, all of the above takes a toll on your emotional energy too. Each day, “we can only exert so much energy; we can spend it working or we can spend it coping," Balzac says.

When we spend it coping, Balzac makes the excellent point that everything else suffers. “Work quality declines, errors are more frequent, conflict is common and, more to the point and conflicts remain unresolved,” he says.  One way to confront your issues head-on is by releasing them through cathartic writing.

TACKLE IT: 5 Reasons You Should Keep a Job Journal

6. Weaker Immune System

Under extreme stress, your body works in overdrive—making it much more difficult to fight off germs. This makes you more susceptible to more illness and diseases. Lots of research out there shows that when we’re stressed, the stress hormone can lower the number of white blood cells.

TACKLE IT: How to Boost Your Immune System

Looking for a positive, healthy work environment? CareerBliss has millions of jobs.

photo of The CareerBliss Team

The CareerBliss Team

CareerBliss cares about your career happiness. That's why we offer a variety of great tools and resources to help you make better-informed career decisions. We believe that if you're happier at work, you'll be happier in life! Check out company reviews, salary information, career advice and, of course, millions of jobs on CareerBliss and choose happy today!

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