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How your work environment affects your well-being

Ana Goehner

Mar 21, 2023


Do you feel frustrated as soon as you get a work email notification? You open your inbox and see 30+ unread messages. It feels like everyone is asking for everything at the same time. Every email has an ask and a deadline. You spend 10+ hours working on multiple priorities and wake up the next day, to do it all over again. You feel like all you do is read and reply to messages and perform endless tasks.

Maybe you assume that no one likes their job, or you watched family members living on rinse and repeat for many years. You assume it’s normal to live this way. You haven’t thought about why you dislike your job so much. You wish you could start over or choose another profession, but you believe now it’s too late.

Perhaps you’ve never thought about how your work environment affects your health.

According to Psychology Today, a simple definition of well-being is the experience of health, happiness, and prosperity.

The wrong environment can compromise your health, hinder your happiness, and affect your prosperity. You might be under ongoing stress and lack the motivation to improve your situation.

How your work environment affects you

Over time, your stressful work routine catches up to you. It starts with emotional outbursts or physical pain. You snap at people about small things. You have lower back pain and can’t sleep. You watch your health fall apart. Every demand at work puts you in a constant cycle of fight or flight mode. You feel drained from activities that used to bring you joy. Everything becomes a burden as you care for everyone but yourself.

You get home and complain about everything. Your friends are tired of listening to your negative comments. Your family is concerned about your angry behavior. You feel like withdrawing from people because no one understands you: “Why can’t they listen to me? Why can’t they help me? Why can’t they see my suffering?”

If this sounds like you, then you may have become your work environment.

When your work environment doesn’t suit you, you do things to fit in. You work more hours because everyone else does. You take on extra tasks because you want to be a team player. You want your manager and teammates to see your hard work, hoping to get a promotion. Sometimes, your manager asks you to perform additional tasks, and you don’t want to disappoint your team. Other times, you are unconsciously mimicking the behaviors around you so you can feel like a part of the team.

Are you in the wrong environment?

You will spend 40+ years working for many companies, with different managers, a part of many teams, and numerous work environments.

If you are in a competitive work environment, no matter how hard you work, you’ll still feel undervalued because you are not as assertive as your colleagues. If you are a caregiver or a parent with a full-time job, you can’t work nights and weekends to keep up with a fast-paced environment. If you experienced burnout before, working 60+ hours a week for months to meet work demands can affect your mental and physical health.

It doesn’t matter what your life outside of work looks like, nor if you are an onsite, remote, or hybrid employee, the lifestyle of living for work is NOT doing you any favors. YES, you can still be a high-achiever who wants to climb the career ladder, but you don’t need to bet your life and well-being to succeed. Don’t wait until you are about to have a mental and physical breakdown to do something about your work situation.

If you dread Mondays, live for the weekend, don’t have a good relationship with your manager, or feel like you are on the wrong team, it’s time to do something about it! It’s time to advocate for your career development and well-being.

The truth about your work environment

I’m not here to fool you! Before we proceed, you need to know that the perfect work environment doesn’t exist. Don’t let anyone say you’ll find your why and love your job forever. Even when you love what you do, you need the right environment to help you flourish.

Your goal is to find a workplace that allows you to use 60-70% or more of the skills you enjoy and that provides career development opportunities without breaking your soul in the journey.

Can you imagine spending the next 30 years performing tasks you dislike in the wrong environment? I bet it’s difficult for you to envision this reality. But most people don’t realize they are in this situation, and if they do, they don’t know what to do about it. They wait for retirement. Then, once retired, they can barely do anything due to the mental and physical health issues they acquired during their work life.

The wrong work environment can destroy your courage to seek change. You might lack the confidence to believe in yourself or you may see a job description that could be great for your skills, but your negative inner voice prevents you from applying. Or maybe your mind says you lack the qualifications, and everyone has more to offer to an employer than yourself. That's self-rejection.

It’s hard to see yourself in a different light when you don’t believe you have any power to improve your situation. But you can! If you feel your work environment is not right for your well-being, it’s time to think about your exit strategy.

What can YOU do

Instead of wasting time waiting for the wrong work environment to change, while you’re still employed you can create an exit strategy.

As a job seeker, cultivating a positive mindset is crucial to begin your journey. You will likely face rejection and apply to multiple jobs without a response or an interview. Find mindfulness techniques or seek the help of a medical professional or therapist to help you improve your mindset and reframe your negative thoughts. You’ll need to find ways to cope with your current environment until you can find a new one.

As you search for your next job, research the company, reach out to people, and review interview questions. I call it the 3 Rs strategy to help you find a company with a good culture.

Document your tasks and achievements and build a resume and LinkedIn profile for the job you want, not the one you have.

While you go through this process, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Create a weekday self-care routine.

You may need to take a break from work to rediscover yourself away from your current work environment. Take a few weeks off for a vacation. Or if your doctor suggests, try a medical leave of absence. Seek the help of a professional to cope with burnout and other symptoms.

Burnout doesn’t go away, but a medical or mental health professional can help you recover and enjoy life again. The more you ignore burnout and push through, the bigger it grows. You can’t flourish in the right environment when you feel exhausted for so long.

If you are in a hostile environment, get a bridge job before you find a long-term solution. A bridge job helps you pay your bills while you take time to process and heal from burnout. Bridge jobs give you the space to regain your energy, continue to bring in income, and think about your next career move. Approach a bridge job as a part of your journey, not the end of it.

When people say you should stay in a job for two years, I recommend reflecting on your circumstances before you make any decision. Only you know your financial situation. If you are in a toxic environment, enduring two years can be unbearable. If you are not seen and heard at work, staying for two years can impact your mental health.

Remember, your health is your biggest asset. Don’t allow your work environment to destroy your well-being. Continue to advocate for your career and take your skills, knowledge, and experience to a work environment that helps you thrive!

You are your Chief Career Officer! Don’t wait for someone else to see your value!

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