We need to work, not just because we need money, but also because it gives us a sense of competence, power, autonomy, and purpose. If the work we do doesn’t fulfill us, we become stressed, dissatisfied, indifferent, and depressed. A good life also involves professional development.

In the first part of today’s article, I will discuss what constitutes a healthy work climate and what criteria you can follow when looking for a job or when you want to create a healthy work environment in your team/company. In the second part, I will discuss what you can do personally to make your work life better.

I. Key dimensions for a healthy work climate

The six dimensions described below determine the quality of the work environment. For each person, what matters most is different, but these are necessary minimums that, if not satisfied, make the work environment unsafe.

  1. Demands: employees can handle the job requirements. This includes competence, workload, work schedule, and work environment. Pressuring me to do something beyond my competence or for which I don’t have adequate resources. Becoming a parent or going through a health issue and needing a flexible schedule.
  2. Control: having a say in how you do your job.
  3. Support: receiving adequate information and support, including encouragement, support, and resources from the organization, direct manager, and colleagues.
  4. Relationships: a positive and cooperative work environment to avoid conflict or any unacceptable behavior.
  5. Role: clarity about your role and responsibilities, avoiding conflicting roles or additional roles without reducing existing responsibilities.
  6. Change: employees are frequently involved in change processes, avoiding situations where tools are changed without proper consultation or decisions affecting working days are made without consulting employees.

Other factors contributing to stress and employees’ mental health include:

  • Overtime and lack of breaks: weeks or months of continuous work, eating at the desk, and not taking breaks even for personal needs.
  • Inability to take leave: no one to cover for you, pressure to be available during leave.
  • Inappropriate physical work environment: lack of fresh air, no sunlight, small monitor screen, constant interruptions, and noise.
  • High-risk roles: surgeons, emergency service workers, social workers dealing with crises, handling large budgets, managing large teams, making decisions affecting communities or countries, where lives and jobs depend on your work.
  • Working alone, isolated: disconnected from the rest of the team, no feedback, no one knows who you are and what you do.
  • Job insecurity.
  • Financial pressures.

A healthy and enjoyable workplace is characterized by relationships between people and how the organization/boss relates to its people. A healthy organizational culture makes all the difference.

II. What can you do to make your work life better?

  1. Set a clear and firm limit for the time you allocate to work, including not investing attention and thoughts in work after the workday ends.
  2. Establish a workday closure routine:
    • Decide at what time you stop working.
    • Plan what you will do at the end of the day before leaving, and in the second half of the day, plan what you will do the next day.
    • Start closing tasks 10 minutes before the closing time.
    • Disconnect from any work communication, set messages if necessary that you will be available again tomorrow.
    • Use the commute from work to home as a buffer space to separate from the work universe. Empty your mind of work concerns and shift your attention to what you will do and enjoy next. If possible, walk part of the way; movement helps with disconnection.
  3. Create healthy habits at work: take regular breaks and use that time to truly recreate. Leave your office, look at the sky, breathe, move, and stretch your body.
  4. Build supportive and positive relationships around you; distance yourself from energy vampires, emotional manipulators, freeloaders, and manipulators.
  5. Navigate busy periods with maturity: accept the situation instead of fighting, regulate your emotions, adjust your expectations, activate problem-solving and time-planning skills, dose your effort, and provide basic resources (sleep, movement, food, vitamins).
  6. Address difficult people, whether colleagues or bosses. Don’t try to appease them, don’t stay silent, don’t tolerate abusive behavior in any way. Speak up, talk to your boss or their boss, report to human resources. If the situation doesn’t change, consider leaving.
  7. Say no when necessary.

In conclusion, sometimes the workplace is a space where someone abuses power. Like in a family or a group of friends, someone at work can become abusive or try to take advantage of others. Some people exhibit toxic behavior: they are critical, irritable, lazy, messy and unstructured, unreliable, aggressive, etc. Sometimes these are people you directly work with, other times they are distant but shape the context in which you work. Regardless of your professional context, the most important thing is what you can do for yourself. If you don’t have support at the organizational culture level, if you feel it’s difficult or impossible to set boundaries, defend yourself, express your opinion, seek support. Seek help: from a psychologist for emotional and self-confidence issues, from human resources and/or friends for workplace issues.