5 Ways You Know You Have a Toxic Boss

February 19th 2016

Sometimes the not-so-obvious reason you’re missing a lot of work lately is because, well, you’re downright depressed. When a lousy work environment turns toxic, your physical and emotional health can suffer, and the toxicity can seep into nearly every corner of your life, from your relationship with your partner, to your immune system and even your social drinking habits.

While cult classic movies like "Office Space" and "Horrible Bosses" have given us some much needed levity to deal with the expected headaches that come along with the daily grind, it’s critical to know the difference between a bad day and an unhealthy situation.

Here are 5 unexpected signs you might be working in a toxic work environment:

1. You’re not productive

Researchers have found that there’s a direct link between happiness and productivity at work. Not only does productivity increase by 12 percent in happier employees, they’re also more likely to make better decisions and be more creative and collaborative.

If you’re making mistakes or feel like you’re not keeping up, first ask questions and listen to feedback, explained Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, a counselor and expert on toxic relationships. Your boss or supervisor — most often — genuinely wants you to succeed, she explained to ATTN:.

“But sometimes people withhold information, setting you up for failure," she continued. "There might just be one secret step that you’re missing. If it happens once, do something about it. Or start job hunting."

2. You’re suddenly feeling down all the time, but don’t know why

A general malaise or even depression can start to set in when you’re dealing with a toxic boss or work “bully,” though you might not be able to point to the cause at first. Workplace bullying is defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute as “repeated abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or work abuse.”

Symptoms include difficulty sleeping, overeating, panic, or anxiety on Sundays — associated with the start of the work week — or just a general lack of interest in the things you used to love outside of work.

"A pattern I noticed in the places where I worked and in other social service agencies where I had colleagues, was that the best people were the ones who were sent to walk the plank," explained Julie Schwietert Collazo, a writer and former social worker, as she recalls what it felt like to be the target of a toxic boss as a newly-appointed director of a social work agency at just 24 years-old. "I'd wake up every morning, crying, telling my then-boyfriend (now husband) 'I don't want to go to work!' and look for any reason not to go. That's a horrible way to live."

3. Your once-a-week happy hour becomes a nightly thing

Being social with coworkers is usually a good thing, but when happy hour starts once a week, then becomes three times a week, or four times a week, or alcohol intake increases, it’s a sign something is wrong, warns Sherry Blair, an expert on bullying and workplace relationships and a lecturer at University of Southern California's School of Social Work. And sometimes it's actually what’s going on at home that can make you more susceptible to a lousy professional situation.

"If you’re bullied at home you’re more likely to be bullied at work," Blair told ATTN:. "Our relationships in our personal lives are often reflected or mirrored in the workplace.”

“Don't be complacent or complicit," Collazo also explained to ATTN:. "And document everything. You may not use it, but to have the evidence of the toxic environment may benefit not just you, but your colleagues and other stakeholders affected by your job."

4. You feel like you don’t fit in

Whenever you start a new job, realize that you’re walking into an existing hierarchy and social structure, and it will take some time to learn how to navigate it gracefully. If you learn nothing else, know this: office gossip is not your friend.

“If you feel like you have to choose a team, that’s a toxic environment," Degges-White told ATTN:. “Your job shouldn’t feel like a reality show.”

Power shouldn’t be wielded in a way that makes you feel unwelcome or unable to contribute. “If you feel like your boss enjoys power too much, that’s a toxic environment,” Degges-White said. She suggests looking at every job as a stepping stone and asking yourself, “does this job reflect on who I want to be as a person?"

If you feel grimy and icky coming home each day, that’s a sign that this is not a healthy job for you. Above anything else, she said, trust your instincts. “You may need to make an escape plan, but do it with as much finesse as you can," she added. "You don’t know who knows who.”

5. You’re constantly sick and feel like you can’t get better

If you’ve suddenly lost interest in activities and also don’t feel well physically often, these can be signs of depression, Blair said. Workplace bullying and the chronic stress associated with it is the cause of a 60 percent increase in hypertension (high blood pressure), a higher likelihood of developing diabetes, cancer, and workplace related accidents.

Psychologically, it’s even worse. Studies point to an 80 percent increase in debilitating anxiety and an increase in PTSD and suicide risk. Remember: there’s always a way out. When your health starts to suffer from a job, it’s time to reassess. You can’t get a new job if you’re not healthy. Seek positive support from your network of friends, family, or even a counseling professional.

"My partner knew that I had to come to my own decision and in my own time," Collazo said. "But he really affirmed for me that life is too short to work in a toxic environment and with toxic people, and he was willing for us to deal with any consequences — especially financial instability — if it meant that I'd be happier."

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