We all experience a certain level of stress in our daily work lives. Some stress actually is good for us -- the kind of stress that releases hormones to help us sense danger and prepare us to react against an immediate threat.

But chronic stress is an entirely different story. When excessive, it can be psychologically and physically debilitating and lead to serious illnesses

According to Dr. Melissa Hughes, a brain expert and author of Happy Hour With Einstein, stress can literally "kill your brain cells and impede your ability to learn, solve problems, think critically, remember things, and make decisions."

Stress is especially prevalent and problematic in toxic workplaces where people constantly look over their shoulders and at the clock on the wall for 5:00 p.m. to arrive.

5 ways you'll know you work in a toxic workplace

In these soul-crushing, joy-stripping pressure cookers devoid of trust, there are some clear, telltale signs that you should be updating your resume to save your livelihood. Here are five I've researched and witnessed to be prevalent in toxic work cultures over the years:

1. Gossip.

Gossip in the workplace is common, but relentless gossip meant to damage a reputation and put a negative spin on things has damaging effects for both the individuals involved and the organization as a whole. Watch for groups of disgruntled employees actively acting out their unhappiness and crucifying fellow peers, management, and company direction.

2. Micromanagement.

In Dying for a PaycheckStanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer reviewed 228 studies to explore ten common sources of workplace stress destroying the health of U.S. workers. One of the top reasons is "low job control," which is typical in micromanagement environments. Low job control was found to be in the top ten stressors that led to high mortality rates, doctor-reported illnesses, including mental illnesses.

3. Appearance-based discrimination.

In the workplace, the way you look can be more important than the merit of your work to some supervisors and coworkers. A new study conducted by social selling skincare company, Univia, discovered key insights about appearance-based discrimination, including an indication that women and younger generations were more likely to become a victim of appearance-based discrimination. Nearly one-third of women surveyed admitted to experiencing questionable treatment at work related to how they look.

4. 'Social pollution.'

In his book, Pfeffer references work by professor Nuria Chinchilla, who coined the term "social pollution" to describe companies that devalue the wellbeing of their workers, including the family unit as an important source of social support. The thick fog of social pollution is the cause of divorces and disruptions to family life--evidenced by long work hours, little or no vacation time, and 24/7 availability for work communication.

5. Hypermasculine personality traits.

In a recent episode of Love in Action podcast, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, explained in-depth that most of us have a tendency to equate leadership with personality traits statistically more likely to be found in men. The problem? When we hire and promote leaders with typically male traits like confidence and charisma, they can later backfire as overconfidence, narcissism, and even psychopathy, resulting in potentially dangerous, toxic work cultures. 

Published on: Nov 7, 2019
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