Some jobs suck because they’re just not what you want to be doing; others suck because the workplace culture itself is a mess. It can be hard to tell if your workplace is toxic or if you just really hate it for your own reasons, but there are ways to parse it out.
What every workplace should have
Per the U.S. Surgeon General, for optimal worker mental health and well-being, a workplace must have these five essentials:
- Protection from harm, both physical and mental: This means workplaces provide support that focuses on mental health, give you enough time to rest, prioritise your safety on the job, and make the environment safe and welcoming for everyone.
- Connection and community: A workplace should create inclusive cultures that enable workers to form trusting relationships and collaborate with one another.
- Work-life harmony: Workplaces with work-life harmony give employees some autonomy over how work is completed, offer flexible and predictable schedules, and respect the boundary between on- and off-hours. They also provide paid leave.
- A feeling of mattering at work: Employees should feel like they matter at their job, not like they’re just disposable laborers. To do this, companies should offer a living wage, involve workers in decisions, and recognise good work.
- Opportunities for growth: Finally, employees will have better well-being if they’re given opportunities to grow in their careers, whether through training and education or mentoring. There should be clear, equitable pathways for advancement laid out and feedback given on work.
The Surgeon General came up with this framework after some grim statistics came from the pandemic: 76% of U.S. workers reported at least one mental health condition symptom in 2021, which was up 17% from two years prior, and 84% said they had encountered at least one factor in their workplace that had a negative impact on their mental health.
How your job stacks up
The five essentials are a great framework from which you can inspect your own company. If it provides safety, connection, work-life harmony, a feeling that you matter, and opportunities for growth, it’s meeting the benchmarks of not being toxic — but if you still dislike it or feel it draining you, it might be time to switch jobs.
You don’t have to wait around for the right gig to fall in your lap. Research companies in your chosen field that meet those five requirements (Glassdoor and other employee review sites are great for this) and then send them a letter of interest. During any interviews, keep the five requirements top of mind and ask direct questions about how any potential new employer meets them.
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