Have you been dreaming about a better work environment? If so, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, various surveys consistently find that more than 50% of employees are unhappy at work.
According to Gallup polls, 51% of U.S. workers reported being “unengaged” at work, meaning that they tend to do the minimum amount required. (1) Translation? No connection to their jobs. No passion. No commitment. No happiness.
That’s bad enough, but another 17.5% report being “actively disengaged,” meaning they’re not passively unhappy. Instead, they have an openly hostile attitude about their jobs, often complain to coworkers, and lower company morale. (2)
So, according to these polls, a total of 68.5% of American workers are unhappy with their work environment. (3)
Mental and Physical Health Consequences of Workplace Misery
Let’s face it. Most people spend more time at work than they do at home. It makes sense an unhappy workplace environment can cast a shadow over your entire life. It affects your mood, ambition, productivity, and mental health.
And despite the common belief that stress and pressure push employees to become top performers, there is a growing body of evidence showing that positive work cultures are more productive than negative ones. (3a)
Here are just a few ways a hostile work environment may damage your mental, physical, and emotional health.
Studies show that unhappy workers tend to gain weight. (4) Why? Well, stress and depression are common symptoms in “disengaged” employees. Unfortunately, these emotions trigger food cravings for starchy carbs like candy bars and chips. Eating a steady diet of these food types can lead to significant weight gain over time, which can lead to numerous health issues, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Fatty liver disease
- Sleep apnea
- Kidney disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Some cancers
Increased Risk of Illness
Did you know that being unhappy can make you sick? It’s true. Let’s take depression and stress, two conditions that may be prevalent in dissatisfied workers.
Depression is characterized by a persistent sad or “empty” mood. It is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, “People with depression have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, pain, and Alzheimer’s disease.” (5)
In addition, psychological stress is associated with an increased risk of infectious disease, depression, and heart disease. Why? Research suggests that chronic stress may interfere with the body’s ability to regulate the inflammatory response, thus eventually leading to disease. (6)
So, if you’re continually unhappy at work, there’s a good chance you’re putting your health at risk!
Unhappiness at work can spill over into your home life, affecting your relationships with your domestic partner, children, dog, friends, neighbors, even that stranger who cuts you off in traffic. (The latter can lead to tragic consequences if it turns into road rage.)
It is not uncommon for workplace misery and stress to lead to a complete breakdown of marriages, almost inevitably leading to divorce.
Is it Possible to Improve Your Work Environment?
The good news is that it is possible to improve your work environment. However, you may be limited on what you can do.
Limitations to Improving the Work Environment
Unfortunately, certain aspects of your workplace are beyond your control and require your boss’s or human research manager’s involvement.
Here are a few aspects of your workplace in which you may have little control:
- Company culture, i.e., the values, attitudes, and attributes exhibited by the organization as a whole.
- Toxic work environment, i.e., a culture of abuse that can include mental/physical abuse, regular fights, constant stress, ineffective leadership, low employee morale, bullying, sexual harassment, and more.
- A shoddy, unattractive, or dangerous working environment
- Long work hours
In these situations, you should talk to your boss or a human resource representative to see if they can enact changes leading to a positive work environment. However, if the company culture is predominately toxic and does not seem to care about its employees, your best bet is to look for a job at another company.
10 Tips to Improve Your Workplace Environment
That said, here are a few tips that will help improve your work environment.
Organize Your Office Space
Multiple research studies suggest that a sloppy, disorganized space, whether at home or work, can promote stress and anxiety. It can also cause distraction, preventing you from concentrating on your work. (7)
It turns out that creating an organizational system can go a long way toward a positive environment in your workspace. So here are a few suggestions for organizing your office space.
De-Clutter. Go through every desk drawer, every file cabinet, every area of your office and shred or give away anything you don’t need. Remember, don’t be a packrat. If you haven’t used something for years and have been holding onto it in case you’ll need it somebody — get rid of it!
Put everything in its rightful place. Then, after you’ve disposed of everything you don’t need, take the remaining items and put them in their proper places.
Use a labeler. Put labels on files, drawers, shelves, bins, baskets, and anything else that needs to be labeled. You’ll be surprised how much this simple act of labeling items will help organize your office space. Just think about it for a minute. Having items neatly labeled will keep you from absentmindedly throwing something in the wrong drawer. It will also help others find what they need or know where an item goes to return it.
Improve the Lighting.
Having proper lighting is crucially essential for a better, more positive work environment. In addition, numerous studies show that light affects your mood, cognitive function, and health!
From a study published in Nature Reviews. Neuroscience:
“Light has a profound impact on physiology. It exerts a potent influence on the circadian system, which coordinates and appropriately times physiological functions, including hormone secretion, metabolism, and sleep. Light has also been found to influence sleep, alertness, and cognitive function. Given the strong effects light can have on physiology and behavior, regular light exposure is important for the proper maintenance of physiological processes.” (8)
So, if you have a choice of office or cubicle locations, try to select a space close to a window for natural lighting. If you’re not able to sit near a window, bring in a couple of desk lamps to brighten your work area — and your mood.
Decorate Your Office Setting
You can bring happiness into the gloomiest office environments simply by decorating your workspace.
Hang soothing pictures on your office walls. Pinup motivational posters, display family pictures around your office and change your screensaver to a pic of your children or pets. Bringing a personal touch to your office may be just the thing you need to increase job satisfaction.
Enhance Work-Life Balance
The proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” is true. It can also increase your stress levels, fatigue your mind and body, decrease productivity, and generally makes your life miserable.
Try to complete required tasks during regular work hours. Do not take work home with you, and do not think about work when you get home. Instead, use your time at home to relax and enjoy family. This will help recharge your batteries and keep you productive.
Be a Positive Influence on Your Coworkers
One of the best ways to foster a healthy company culture is to be positive at work. Being positive is contagious, and it will spread among your coworkers.
You can promote a positive atmosphere at work by praising your coworkers when they complete a difficult task. A heartfelt “Thank you. That was GREAT” goes a long way. Also, look for ways to motivate and encourage your coworkers.
Therefore, always speak positively about everything — even the most challenging chore — and do not engage in negative talk or gossip, which can adversely affect employee happiness.
Be the change you want to see in the world, and you’ll start seeing positive changes in your coworkers and the company culture.
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