Are You in a Toxic Work Relationship?

Are you in a toxic work relationship?

Job interviewing is a lot like going on first dates. There are highs and lows. In between interviews you imagine how wonderful this company may be and how it could meet your professional needs. Or you may be worried about some red flags that could lead to an unhealthy work environment. Knowing when to take a new job, or to leave a current job that isn’t a good fit, can be hard (just like a relationship) because normally it isn’t all bad.  

Work is where you spend the majority of your week and a positive or negative environment can really impact your overall health and life. Here are some warning signs that may make you want to rethink your workplace situation:

  • Does your boss/company keep making promises they do not fulfill to keep you ‘happy’?  Examples are: No-to-little raise this year but we really value your work and will be giving raises next year (repeat cycle).

  • Company is under resourced (not enough employees, funds, etc.) and ask you to work more because the work is so important and the need is so great (without adequate compensation for you).  

  • You feel blamed, belittled, or unsupported by your manager.

  • Do you lack influence on what you do or the work environment you are in?

  • Are you not credited for the work you do?

If these things are present, spend some time thinking about your work environment. Are there concrete ways you can imagine improving your work environment? Do you feel able to approach your supervisor or HR manager about your professional needs and ask what they could do to support you?  It can also be helpful to set check-ins with yourself to gauge how you’re feeling and honestly assess how your work environment is impacting you in all areas of your life. Is it so energy-consuming that you’re not tending to other needs - physical health, mental wellness, being a present romantic partner or family member?  

Making the decision to leave can be a hard and complex one. For example, it can be scary to bring up concerns if you fear that you may experience a negative consequence at work. It can be terrifying (and perhaps not feasible) to leave a job if you do not have another one lined up. Or if the work situation has become toxic, you may not have the energy to even look for another job. You may also be concerned about the impact on your friends and colleagues if you left.

Getting support during these times to help you understand what is going and why, can bring clarity on what you want to do.  A few steps to help make a decision are:

  1. Spend time examining your values and goals.  

  2. Reflect if your work environment is aligning with your values and goals.

  3. Examine your boundaries around your values.  Are there boundaries that are too flexible or strict?

    1. Sometimes it’s helpful to think of what you would want for a loved one or your child. Would you think it’s ok for them to put up with (fill in the blank) environment or behavior?  If it’s ok for you, but not for them, that’s a sign that you may need a better boundary for yourself.

  4. Examine any ways you may be able to influence your work environment to be a healthier fit.

  5. Weigh the pros and cons of staying in the job or leaving, and the impacts this would have in all areas of your life - financial, professional, personal.

  6. Intentionally make a decision knowing the potential consequences and accept that whatever happens, you made the best decision with the information you had at the time.  

If you find yourself struggling with a particular boundary, therapy may be helpful.  Many times, intense feelings at work can be a sign of unresolved pain from the past. Seeking therapy can help heal from past events that may be influencing your current work situation, like helping you realize how work situations are actually triggers for painful, unresolved feelings unconnected to your job.  An example of this are children who helped their families by over functioning (the parent was sick or unavailable, or a sibling needed a lot of attention). These children may grow into adults who tend to dismiss their own needs and prioritize the needs of others or the company to the detriment of their own health.  

If you’re someone who compartmentalizes your emotions, it’s difficult to predict how a workplace environment will impact other carefully guarded areas of your life. This doesn’t make it any less urgent. Sometimes realizing that the workplace has become toxic is the first step in figuring out the solution - not only to your professional happiness, but also within your other intimate relationships. And just like a relationship,  the earlier you work on areas of concern the easier it can be to make a positive change.