By Shari Phiel
It wasn’t that long ago when Colorado enjoyed very low unemployment rates – they often fell below 2.5 percent. But those days are long gone. Now the news is filled with stories of businesses closing, mergers, layoffs and bankruptcies. While the national unemployment rate is expected to top 10 percent by the end of 2009, Colorado’s rate will also continue to climb, perhaps reaching as high as seven percent – up from six percent in December 2008.
For those struggling with toxic work environments or bosses they would rather strangle than work with for even one more day, the news couldn’t come at a worse time. The days of being able to quickly, and relatively easily, move on to greener pastures are long gone. Employees now find themselves having to stay at their current jobs, no matter how difficult or unpleasant the environment may be.
But all that stress isn’t good for you. Working in a toxic environment can damage not only your career, but also your health. When your body/brain feels stress, it produces the stress-related hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. Depending on the person, these hormones can cause headaches or panic attack, and they may make it harder to control existing health problems.
Aside from causing increased irritability, anxiety, frustration and outbursts of anger, repeated exposure to stress and toxic environments can cause sleep disturbances, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, increased use of alcohol and tobacco and even coronary heart disease.
Stressed-out employees also have higher absenteeism rates, on-the-job accidents and injuries, more frequent visits to the doctor and reduced job performance. All of these things impact both the employer and the employee, financially and otherwise.
But all is not lost. There are some simple steps to take that make working in a toxic environment, if not easy, at least a bit more tolerable.
First, take care of yourself. Make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet free of high-fat and processed foods. Your body needs the right fuel to make it through the day with energy and focus. Sleep is also key to survival. Frequent lack of sleep can make you snappish and short-tempered and also affects memory, focus and clarity. Get plenty of exercise. Instead of grabbing a burger for lunch, take a nice walk or yoga class. Fresh air, sunshine and a little exercise can do wonders to clear your mind.
Improve your communication skills. If your boss is open and available for discussions, try explaining why you’re so stressed without applying fault or blame. Most people don’t realize their behavior is intolerable and are open to the idea of improving their workplace.
Don’t look for criticism when it’s not there. During particularly stressful times, it’s easy to always be on the lookout for the next put down or criticism. It’s also easy to misconstrue someone’s intent as more significant that it really was.
Keep clear of troublemakers. There’s at least one in every workplace. People who form gossipy cliques or who cause trouble should be avoided at all costs. Keep your work life and personal life separate; keep conversations focused on work and not on your personal life. While it may seem like a good idea to go out for a few drinks with the girls from the office after work, giving them any ammunition to use against you is a mistake.
Don’t be a complainer. Although we all need to vent a little frustration now and then, don’t let your carping become a regular habit. Focusing on the negative will only make you feel worse in the long run, not better.
If all else fails, it’s time to reconsider your options. If you have tried to cope and you just can’t take it anymore, then it’s time to look elsewhere. There’s an old saying, “It’s a lot easier to find a job when you already have one then when you don’t.” Discreetly send out resumes, and look for other jobs. It may take some time, but eventually the right opportunity will come along.
Remember, nothing is forever, certainly not your job. With a little patience, the right attitude and some fortitude, you will eventually find the right place at the right time.