Toxic workplace stress is bad for your health


Toxic workplace stress is bad for your healthChances are that you are reading this because you’re feeling stressed at work – and not the positive, energizing stress that gives you a performance edge. I’m talking about the kind of stress that keeps you awake at night and causes you to be preoccupied with work and prevents you from eating right and exercising and prompts you to work long hours and can make you hate a job you loved and creates anger and irritability, and generally results in not taking good care of yourself and those you love. This is the kind of toxic work stress that can destroy your health, and it needs to be understood and addressed.

What is your work life like?

You probably quite like the work you do – after all, most people really do like to work and do indeed like their jobs.  Often it isn’t the work itself that causes stress but the conditions of your work or a person or the people you work with. Take a few minutes to answer the following questions:

  • What is the culture of the workplace and does it fit with your values?
  • Do you feel unhappy with your supervisor or manager?
  • Do you feel disrespected and even worse, harassed or bullied?
  • Has there been a lot of change at work? Has it left you feeling disconnected, unheard, worried?
  • Is the volume of work unmanageable for you and the priorities unclear?
  • Have your skills not kept pace with the new demands of your workplace?

The high-stress workplace

There has been considerable research into stress at work. The model that I like was presented by Dr. Martin Shain in a report to Health Canada a number of years ago. He defined a high-stress workplace as having these specific characteristics:

  • high demand with little personal control
  • high effort with few rewards
  • absence of support
  • a lack of a sense of purpose
  • lack of trust and respect

The research showed that environments with these characteristics produced a greater incidence of heart and other inflammatory diseases, as well as increased rates of anxiety and depression. Each of us responds to stress differently and some of us are better able to cope than others, but it’s important to respect who you are and to pay attention to how workplace stress is affecting you.

Don’t ignore the stress

Take care of yourself. Everyone can have the odd, brief stressful time at work, but if your workplace is causing you to exist in a state of perpetual stress, your health may be in jeopardy, particularly if you have pre-existing health concerns or health risks based on your history and genetics.

No doubt, you probably are like the rest of us and need to work to make a living, but you may have more choices than you realize.

Practical solutions to prevent work from harming your health

  • An active lifestyle – exercise can be a powerful mechanism for improving your body’s resiliency to stress, and a healthy diet will provide your body with the nourishment it needs to remain strong.
  • Adopt a positive attitude – practice positive thinking and meditation, and refuse to contribute to a toxic work environment with your own negativity.
  • Create an action plan – set boundaries and enforce them, both with your colleagues and with yourself.
  • Explore new possibilities – perhaps you could transfer to a different department, a new location, or maybe it’s time to polish up your resume and start afresh.

Get help for your stress

Visit for more information on stress and strategies for coping and ways employees and managers can contribute to a positive workplace environment.

Talking with a trusted advisor through your Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) can help you gain perspective. Your EFAP can help with career counselling, resiliency coaching, personal counselling, and stress management to stay safe and healthy.

Don’t stress it alone. Call 1 866 833-7690. We’re here to help.

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