When work gets toxic: Stress management (Proceedings)

When work gets toxic: Stress management (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2008

Recognizing and Managing Toxic Work

  • The Toxic Workplace
  • Just How Toxic is Your Work?
  • Dancing with Dinosaurs and Dragons

The Toxic Workplace

The syndrome of toxic work overtakes you when what's happening at work causes protracted bouts of distress, culminating in emotional suffering or physical symptoms and heightened by the perceived inability to stop the pain and move on to find or create a reward situation.

Choices in the Toxic Workplace

"There is the risk you can afford to take and there is the risk you cannot afford to take."
- Peter Drucker
o Balance or Overload
o Autonomy or Self Doubt
o Engagement or Alienation

Balance vs. Overload

  • Are you having a no- life crisis?
  • Personal issues must take as central of a role as business objectives; they cannot be relegated to the margins without negative repercussions for both the employee or employers.
  • Karoshi - A Japanese word for sudden death by overwork.
  • Americans are even more "productive" than Japanese.
  • Americans hold the value that Type A, relationship-deprived personalities are winners.

Autonomy vs. Self Doubt
Do You Really Have Control?
"The most stressful workplaces are those where demanding pace is coupled with virtually no individual discretion." - Juliet Schor
o Work becomes toxic when we feel out of control.
o The worst thing that can happen is to have high demands with little control over how to meet those demands.

Do You Really Have Control?

  • Employability: Employers can no longer promise job security, but instead can offer opportunities to develop skills that will keep you employable.
  • If employees feel hemmed in, they get frustrated and angry.
  • If they stay too long in situations where they're denied respect and have limited opportunity to grow, they lose confidence.

Engagement vs. Alienation

  • "When you feel connected to something, that connection gives you a purpose for living."

- Jon Kabat-Zinn

o It is healthier to be active rather than passive in difficult times
o When betrayal occurs, reengaging is the way back

  • Three qualities allow employees to stay healthy during a difficult time

o Challenge
o Control
o Commitment

Is There Hope?
"If a human being is not allowed to grow in his cultural environment then he will have no choice but to grow against it."
- George Lockland

Permanent Realities

  • More pressure and more demands and fewer people to do it
  • Cost cutting will be the official sport of almost any organization; budgets in veterinary medicine run close to the wire
  • Uncertainty will prevail. The only thing you can count on is to land on your feet when you are knocked down
  • Increasingly, work will be done in teams. Prepare for collaboration
  • Constant learning (particularly in technology) will be required. Get over it.
  • YOU need to take responsibility for choreographing your career

The Test

  • Allows you to see areas that you need help, not feel like there is just one big mess
  • Each of the six factors have been proven to correlate with major health problems

How Toxic is Your Work?

1 = Almost Never
2 = Sometimes
3 = Often
4 = Almost always


  • I am afraid I won't have enough money
  • I am worried I won't find another job if I lose this one
  • I am worried about having to learn so many new things
  • I want things to stay the way they have always been
  • I have trouble sleeping; I wake up thinking about what is happening at work


  • I find myself irritable and angry at work
  • I am irritable and angry away from work
  • I am angry about increased demands at work
  • I get impatient with other people's mistakes
  • I blame particular people for what is happening at work and think about getting even with them
  • I find myself speeding impatiently from one task to another

Lack of Control

  • I feel I don't have enough say in how I get my work done
  • It does not seem that my opinion is valued at work
  • I know I am ready for more challenge and responsibility - it's not there
  • I have so much work that it is impossible to do it all well
  • It is unnerving that the people in charge do not know what is happening

Lack of Confidence

  • I wonder whether I am really doing a good job
  • I wonder what others think of me
  • I'm afraid that other people will discover my shortcomings
  • I am worried that I won't be able to keep up with what is expected of me as the demands increase
  • I am afraid that my reputation at work will keep me from getting the assignments I want
  • I am afraid I am not really capable of doing a great job

Shut-Down Feelings

  • I have trouble knowing what I am really feeling
  • It does not seem safe to express what I am feeling at work
  • It seems that nobody at work wants to know what I am feeling
  • I hold my feelings in until they erupt in some way
  • Nobody really understands how I feel about things
  • I don't really trust feelings