Escaping Toxicity: How an Unhealthy Environment Affects Our Mental Health

When spending most of our day at work in an unhealthy environment could lead to high levels of depression. Being aware that you are in fact in an unhealthy working environment is the first step. We chatted with Dr. Farida El Ghandour to understand how we can firstly recognize that we are in an unhealthy environment and secondly what to do about such a situation. Dr. El Ghandour is a clinical psychologist who has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and an MSc in mental health and clinical psychology from London South Bank University.

While talking to Dr. El Ghandour, she pointed out that she believes that any work environment can be an unhealthy environment. Some workplaces are unhealthy most of the time, but others can have seasonal pressure or a specific time where the workload is exponentially increased.

Other than the timing, Dr. El Ghandour emphasized the fact that unhealthy workplaces are usually the product of managers who choose to implement negative approaches and create negative relationships with their teams. She went on to add that the manager is a key factor and the way they explain things and give feedback is crucial as it defines the type of leaders they are. Keep in mind that non-constructive feedback is not a practical type of feedback that can help someone reach their full potential, therefore it is one of the most telling symptoms of an unhealthy workplace.

Why isn’t it practical? Well, sometimes the way that they give feedback shows that they are not understanding. They don’t give their employees the space to express their own opinions and visions. Also, Dr. El Ghandour asked an important question of whether or not they give praise? And do they leave room for making mistakes, or is it an environment where each employee must work too hard to secure his or her job? She said that this creates a level of uncertainty, which makes employees extremely anxious and always trying to prove themselves in front of their managers to keep their jobs.


Additionally, Dr. El Ghandour added that we have to navigate our interactions and relationships at the workplace with others because sometimes, it can create an unhealthy environment. How so? This happens when the line becomes so blurred between being friends and work colleagues. This triggers emotions and forces us to make decisions we’d prefer not make simply because they’re our “friends.” This can take the shape of additional work or accepting responsibility for mistakes you did not make.

Dr. El Ghandour emphasized that a workplace that fosters competition is one that can easily create unhealthy relationships between employees. This is something for the firms to handle as it is concerned with the firm’s culture that it wants to spread amongst employees. Competition is crucial to improve oneself and aim for better opportunities, but it has to be within a balanced fashion that does not involve unhealthy relationships and tension between employees.

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So, how does this impact our mental health? It all starts with stress, which then turns into burnout, which can lead to sadness and anxiety in some circumstances. It can also lead to social isolation and the development of a zero-tolerance attitude toward anything that happens around you, as well as a lack of focus.

Can we fix this and aim for a better workplace environment? Absolutely yes. Dr. El Ghandour mentioned how creating balance in one’s life is crucial. She even used the “pizza example,” where one’s life shouldn’t be all work and should have other ingredients that can help them embrace their passions. From physical activity to engaging in hobbies, having the time for yourself outside of work is crucial and vital for your mental health.

What should you stop doing to limit unhealthy encounters at the office? You can always say “no” to high volumes of work and you don’t have to be accessible 24/7. Work hours are designated for conducting everything related to work and having to work when you get home is definitely something unhealthy that you should not accept at any cost.

Dr. El Ghandour’s message to business owners and managers is to try to become a support system for their employees by giving constructive feedback and compensating them with words of encouragement and not just financially. The more the employees see a positive response to their excellent work, the more motivated they will become and work to their maximum effort.

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