What makes a job ‘toxic’? In the minds of some people, it may just be the fact they don’t like the job itself, or their co-workers. It’s typically easy to point out the toxic individuals in your workplace, but those individuals don’t make the position itself ‘toxic’. It goes deeper than that.
There is no real, fleshed-out definition of a ‘toxic’ job. But you know one if you’ve had it. It’s a diabolical blend of stress, exhaustion, low pay, and distrust among your peers. There’s little job security, and it seems like you’re constantly in the midst of an inter-workplace Cold War scenario – fighting for hours, fighting for days off, or fighting to earn (or avoid, in some cases), a promotion.
But the toxicity really comes from the amalgamation of these and other elements. Just because a job doesn’t pay much may not necessarily mean it’s a bad job – you could still be benefiting in other ways.
For example, being a firefighter may be stressful, but it’s not a job you would generally refer to as ‘toxic’. There’s a well-known sense of camaraderie between firefighters and a level of respect with the community. It may be a high-octane, white-knuckle gig – but ‘toxic’? Not really.
So, it takes a certain level of cohesion between negative elements. What George Costanza might call, “worlds colliding”. Breeding a toxic work environment isn’t easy, and it isn’t necessarily hard. It takes a number of ingredients, all stewing at the right temperature, for the right amount of time. All you, as a prospective employee can do, is try to avoid these jobs at all costs.
Here’s a rundown of seven of the most notorious toxic jobs, according to a rundown of data that includes job-related depression, stress, and demands. They are, by no means, representative of everyone’s experiences. Many people hold these jobs and love their work, so there is a silver lining to be had. Even so, sign on at your own risk.
We’ve all witnessed the meltdowns customers have at the mall over minor inconveniences like being out of a certain size of pants, or being unable to redeem an expired coupon. Shoppers come armed with a hearty misunderstanding of the phrase “the customer is always right,” and think they have the right to treat retail employees like garbage. If you’ve ever worked in retail, you know how soul-sucking the job can be. The hours are sporadic, the job itself stressful and exhausting, and the take-home pay is peanuts.
2. Call center
Imagine being on the other end of those calls to the Comcast customer service line, or any other time you need to lodge a complaint or clear up your bill with a major company. Oftentimes, those calls go to a contracted call center, and the people working there don’t know or understand your situation. They’re also paid miserable wages, withstand a lot of verbal abuse from irate customers, and are dealing with co-workers and managers who are willing to throw them under the bus at every opportunity. Not to mention the hip new/old trend in call centers: outsourcing.
The Internet is littered with call center horror stories, so read through a few and try to maintain your composure the next time you have a line item to dispute on your cable bill.
3. Public transportation
Riding the bus, train, or light rail typically sucks. It can be crowded, smelly, and full of weirdos of every sort – from the aggressive panhandler, to the guy who wants to share his favorite songs with everyone via his phone’s loudspeaker. Imagine being stuck on that thing all day, and having to play babysitter, mediator, and first-responder, all while driving and making sure you stick to a tight schedule. That’s a recipe for burnout if there’s ever been one, and is one of the big reasons being a pubic transportation worker tops the list of America’s most miserable jobs.
4. Food service
There’s a reason that people say ‘everyone should spend a year of their lives waiting tables.’ If you’ve worked in a restaurant or in food service at some level, you know how nightmarish it can be. Organizational politics, mean co-workers, long hours, exhaustion, and little pay are just the beginning. If you’re a server or host, you know the verbal abuse that comes along with the job. If you’re in the back of the house, you know what it’s like to sweat it out for 10 hours, only to see the front of the house staff walk away at the end of the night with pockets full of cash.
It breeds resentment. And then you get to go home and try to pay your rent after working a 60-hour week.
5. Social work
Social workers are important to society. They function in all sorts of roles, and often go unappreciated and underpaid. It’s incredibly difficult to handle on a psychological and emotional level, and as a result, requires a lot of attention to personal well-being in addition to those under their care. For that reason, the job can be draining, stressful, and fairly toxic.
As one social worker was quoted saying, social workers experience “little comfort, little humanity.”
Being a teacher sounds like an easy gig, if you ask certain people. There’s a perception that hanging out with kids all day, throwing on an old episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy, and taking three months off every year – all while sucking off the public teat – makes teaching a cushy job. But the horror stories you can read might change your mind.
Teachers are expected to not only teach, but discipline, babysit, counsel, and hold their own against parents, who won’t believe that their snowflake isn’t getting straight As just by showing up. And then there are the certifications to keep up with, the internal politics of the school itself, and dealing with unions. The average burnout rate for teachers is five years.
7. Health care
Surprising, right? Health care is a field with numerous opportunities, many of which pay fairly well, and are more or less secure. But when you dig into it a bit, people working in the industry are pretty miserable. Paramedics are barely paid above minimum wage. Administrators are blamed for increasing costs (sometimes rightfully), while having to figure out how to keep hospitals in working order. Nurses are battling it out for better shifts and promotions – all of this despite the fact that the pay is pretty good.
Even doctors tend to hate the industry. That says a lot about the work environment right there.