MRA Staff Welfare Association

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The emotional & psychological effect of negative work environment

Job-related stress that results from unrealistic demands placed on employees and mistreatment from managers/supervisors can have lasting emotional and psychological effects that impact several areas of the employee’s life. The quality of work life can greatly influence an employee's social, emotional, and behavioral functioning, as well as the individual’s physical health and personal and family relationships.

Problems at work typically arise as a result of two possible scenarios:

1) Job duties that are results-based and do not take into account the human aspect; 
and/or 

2) Managers/supervisors who are ineffective leaders and become verbally/emotionally abusive towards workers.

When the standards of the employee’s work-related tasks are set too high, a stressful and unproductive working environment inevitably results because the employee will be continuously discouraged as a result of being unable to meet job goals and objectives. The employee will also likely fear losing his/her job as a result of consistently under-performing, which adds another element of stress, anxiety, worry, among other emotions. The morale of the workplace in such an environment remains low and workers are unmotivated to perform. Employees work and function under threats set by superiors and are rarely commended for their work. The employee develops negative feelings towards the job and the governing body that sets the unrealistic working standards.

When a job has managers/supervisors who are ineffective leaders and verbally/emotionally abusive, employees work under constant criticism and are often publicly humiliated. Such managers oftentimes utilize these strategies in order to direct attention away from their own incompetence at their job and instead blame employees for an unproductive working environment. These supervisors, in a sense, act as bullies on the job and often belittle and demean employees in order to establish and maintain power and control.

Signs That the Job is Creating Adverse Emotional Effects on the Employee

Employees affected by negative working environments can display warning signs and symptoms such as:

Excessive worrying, unable to disconnect or relax after work (e.g., thinking about work even when off duty), insomnia, bodily aches and pains (e.g., back pain, stomach aches, headaches), frequent colds and/or flu, with long periods before complete recovery, anger or irritability, sadness, panic attacks, low energy, changes in appetite, and decreased motivation.

These symptoms can occur at varying degrees, but typically start off mild and can worsen unless either treatment for the employee is provided or adjustments are made in the working environment.

The psychological effects of a negative working environment begin to take their toll on the employee when the employee begins to internalize the issues.


When the working environment and the events that take place are internalized, the employee believes that he/she is at fault or that he/she is either doing something or failing to do something to prevent the negative actions from occurring. This self-blame causes employees to take the abuse or withstand the working conditions rather than speaking up, defending him/herself, uniting with fellow employees, or taking the necessary steps to find another job. Another factor that stops employees from voicing complaints about negative or abusive work environments is fear of losing their job, which is oftentimes a fear that is embedded in the job as a way to prevent employees from rebelling and enforcing employee compliance.

The environment of the workplace and the fair and respectful treatment of employees are critical to the emotional wellbeing of workers. Employees will thrive and demonstrate increased motivation and performance in work environments that provide standards of duties that are challenging while being achievable and with managers and supervisors who demonstrate the qualities of true leaders and who serve to inspire workers.