5 Damaging Effects Of A Toxic Work Environment On Your Body & Mind

What happens when your workplace is hostile?

5 Damaging Effects Of A Toxic Work Environment shutterstock / image flow

According to Monster.com, a toxic work environment is “one wherein dysfunction and drama reign.”

Does this sound familiar? If it does, you might be stuck in a toxic work environment.

There are many signs indicating whether a workplace is toxic. For example, chronic stress, being overworked, and workplace gossip are all signs that your workplace could be harmful. And if your workplace is toxic, it can take a toll on your health.


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Here are the five most significant health effects of a toxic work environment:

1. Depression

According to Mental Health America, depression is among the top three workplace problems employees experience. Often, employees aren't aware of what they are experiencing. If they do recognize the symptoms, a toxic workplace may prevent an employee from seeking treatment.


Employees may experience sadness, loss of interest, irritability, headaches, difficulty concentrating, guilty feelings, and other emotions that severely impact their health. Many times, employees are too scared to seek treatment because their workplace has fostered fear within them.

2. Anxiety

Continually fearing work leads to anxiety, which can be hard to manage. As Very Well Mind explains, anxiety can prevent an employee from doing their job through physical side effects such as excessive worrying, jumpiness, jittery feelings, shaking, racing heartbeat, etc.

Anxiety in a toxic workplace can lead to skipping work, negative thoughts, overreactions, and inability to complete tasks, exacerbated by the paranoia that often accompanies anxiety.

3. Stress

Stress carries with it more than just mental trauma. As Workplace Mental Health states, it can lead to damage within brain structures, PTSD, reduced immune functioning, and increased likelihood of depression. Stress decreases performance, which then places the affected employee in a position where they cannot seek help.


4. Fatigue

Feel tired all the time? That's common in a toxic workplace. The mental toll of working under such pressure leads to a lack of sleep and even insomnia.

Someone suffering from excessive fatigue may lose their sex drive, withdraw socially, have stomach issues, and it can cause migraines, among other things. Feeling tired all the time can lead to burnout and job loss. 

5. Sickness

When working in a hostile work environment, many people report feeling sick more often. With the combination of stress and fatigue, the body's immune system lowers, making you more susceptible to illness. Your muscles ache, you feel like you've got a cold, or you develop ulcers from increased stomach acid. With an employee's body feeling run down, they will miss work, causing more distress.

Professor and Author Jeffrey Pfeffer says, "Many of the workplace exposures are as harmful to people as second-hand smoke in terms of their effects on self-reported physical health" as well as effects on mental health. Stress decreases immunity, leading to sickness. Poor interpersonal relationships can lead to feelings of guilt and worthlessness. Toxic work environments can lead to depression. 


The effects aren't just physical. Working in a toxic work environment leads to a lack of job security, unhealthy work/life balances, and a lack of autonomy. They also lead to behaviors which impact your health, such as overeating, drinking, and smoking.

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What a Toxic Work Environment Looks Like

Five months ago, I was two years into a career that I hated at a company that fostered a toxic work environment. I was chronically stressed, I was overworked, and I was bullied. I knew something was very wrong with my situation, but I had no clue how bad it was.

One Thursday in March, something felt suspiciously off. Our CEO was scheduled to be in the office, which she rarely was. The managers were quiet and generally didn't bother me, which was also off. Typically, I was used to speaking with two managers every morning.


I remember I shook off the weird vibe I was getting and tried to focus on my work. At 10 a.m., the inevitable happened. I was called into the office. By now, both CEO's were present; I knew this was the end. I remember I began to cry, humiliated. They said I just "wasn't a good fit" and that they were "sorry to do this at a time like this" (the beginning of a global pandemic).

Crushed, I tried not to cry as I gathered my things. I tried to stop crying while I was driving home, frantically calling my partner.

What happened next changed everything. I began thinking of the firing constantly. I would have nightmares about the office. I couldn't talk to anyone whom I'd previously worked with. I felt like a failure. I felt hopeless, and I had trouble concentrating. I was irritable and anxious.

It took me a week, but I made an appointment with a therapist. I explained to her all of my symptoms, and she said "you have PTSD" right away.


PTSD? From work?

Yes. I had PTSD from work, and it was because of the aggressive treatment I received.

How to Deal with a Toxic Work Environment

What should you do if you find yourself in this situation?

Start participating in activities that can reduce your stress, such as exercise.


Document everything — everything. Every bad thing that happens, the good things you do at work, document it all. If you need legal support, this will go a long way in proving that your workplace is toxic.

Next, find a therapist and a doctor. A therapist can help you with mental struggles and a primary care doctor and figure out if you are experiencing physical effects.

Finally, start planning your exit. Times are troubling, and finding a new job can prove challenging, but you owe it to yourself to start figuring out your next step.

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Rachel Reed is a writer and editorial Intern with interests in news, culture, self, and relationships.