A toxic work environment can drastically impact your mental health, driving you to quit your job in order to protect wellbeing.
A Harvard Business School study found that 80 percent of employees have lost work time worrying about a toxic coworker, 78 percent say their commitment to their job has declined because of toxic behavior, and 66 percent say their performance has declined.
Plus, a 2021 survey found almost two-thirds of employees working from home feel isolated or lonely, while 17 percent said they feel that way all the time. In terms of work-life balance and boundaries, 22 percent of respondents reported always struggling to stop working at the end of the day.
“Without your mental health, it can become difficult or impossible to maintain motivation and productivity. If you do not take care of your mental health and allow the workplace to become an off-limits zone for your wellbeing, it can be an unsustainable practice,” says Dr. Jessica January Behr, a clinical psychologist. “Seeing as how most of us will work for the majority of our lives and will spend more time at our workplaces than anywhere else, the workplace is one of the primary settings to consider and invest in your mental health.”
Learn how to assess whether you need to quit your job to protect your mental health, how much you should share with your manager and coworkers, and how you can cope before you take the final step.
Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Leaving a Toxic Workplace
How can you assess whether you need to quit your job for mental health reasons?
Assessing whether to quit your job due to mental health concerns is difficult, says Behr. “Similar to deciding whether to leave a relationship, there can be many significant consequences and considerations to make before acting.”
She suggests considering these questions:
Do you enjoy the work that you do?
Do you feel respected and valued by your colleagues and boss?
Are these feelings fleeting or temporary, or do they seem to last over time?
Is there room for growth, change, or communication regarding the culture of your workplace or the roles you inhabit?
Have you expressed your concerns and your needs in a direct manner?
If you haven’t yet talked through your concerns with a higher up, you should talk to your manager. Dedicate a 1:1 discussion to your working environment, what fuels or hinders your success, what you need in order to work at your best level, and if you need any accommodations to help improve your mental health (more mental health days, financial and mental health support, etc).
If you have a medical diagnosis, you only have to share information you feel comfortable with, but it can be helpful to provide concrete examples of how your condition typically presents in your daily working life.
“For example, if you experience tremendous anxiety when asked to respond to a question in a public or team setting, say so. And perhaps suggest that if audience participation is expected, you’d do a better job at contributing if you can get the question beforehand and prepare,” says Amy Robertson, a CEO who provides HR consulting services.
Here are some of the warning signs that your job is affecting your mental health:
You consistently bring negative energy home with you
You dread going to work every day so much so that you start calling in sick
You’re starting to act impulsively or make careless mistakes
The work environment is toxic or there’s a culture of unfair treatment
You consistently feel physically or mentally drained
Your memory is affected and you experience fatigue and a lack of focus
You’re neglecting your basic needs like food, sleep, showering, and exercise
You feel like you’re on the verge of burnout or a breakdown
“Individuals may [also] choose to leave a job due to dismissive managers, effort-reward imbalance, workplace politics, workplace gossip, workplace bullying, high job demands, low decision latitude, and limited social support in the workplace,” says psychiatrist Dr. Leela R. Magavi.
If you’ve talked to your employer about your mental health and they can’t (or refuse to) make any accommodations for your needs, then quitting might be necessary to protect your mental health. It can be even more anxiety-inducing to consider quitting without a job lined up, but the decision could restore your mental health in the long run.
However, do consider the potential negative consequences of leaving your job before making the decision to do so, says Behr. “Do you have the financial flexibility to be without income for a while? How you leave your job can also affect your future, so rather than making reactive decisions, try making your decisions as proactive as possible.”
Read more: How to Quit a Job You Just Started
How to talk to your manager about quitting your job because of mental health reasons
Once you decide you need to quit to protect your inner peace, it’s time to share the news with your manager.
Although things are getting better, there’s unfortunately still a stigma attached to talking about mental health. Many employees fear opening up about their mental health, asking for accommodations, or admitting they need to exit the workplace. An American Psychological Association survey found that four in 10 employees fear retaliation for taking time off from work for mental health or seeking related care.
It can be difficult to decide how much information is necessary to share with your manager or coworkers, but it’s your choice how much you want to disclose.
“This is a personal decision that really depends on the relationships you have in the workplace. If you have trusted colleagues, consider discussing your experience with them and the possibility of troubleshooting your challenges,” says Behr. “Often, our colleagues are our friends, and in this case, sharing about your mental health concerns can be helpful and healing. However, it's important to maintain a level of professionalism even in these contexts as you are still bound by the policies of your workplace.”
She says to be wary of the manner of the conversation—you don’t need to include them in your decision-making process. “Sometimes too many opinions are actually less helpful. Stick to sharing your emotional experience in work-appropriate ways rather than asking for advice.”
In terms of your manager, you can either have the conversation in person or send a letter of resignation. If you’re having the conversation in person, only focus on the necessary information, avoid lying, and keep your tone polite and professional.
Here’s an example of what your resignation letter could include:
Dear (manager name),
I am writing to inform you of my resignation from [company name] effective Thursday, April 1. As we discussed recently, I have been struggling to meet the demands of my role while balancing my personal life, and this has resulted in a great deal of stress that I need to resolve. Therefore, I am resigning to focus on my mental health.
I appreciate all of the opportunities you have given me during my time with the company, and I thank you for understanding my situation. If there is anything I can do to help make this transition easier, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Read more: Examples of a Resignation Letter for Personal Reasons
When should you skip leaving a two-weeks notice?
Giving the standard two-weeks notice is a professional way to quit your job while staying on good terms with your boss and coworkers. However, most employees in the U.S. are considered “at-will” workers, meaning your job can end at any time, for any reason—which includes your right to quit without notice. So while leaving without notice isn’t common courtesy, it doesn’t have to burn bridges or ruin your career if you’re honest about why you need to leave.
Behr shares some examples of when leaving without notice may be appropriate:
You feel physically or emotionally unsafe in your workplace
You are experiencing severe mental health symptoms such as suicidal ideation, psychosis, or catatonic depression
You are unable to perform the tasks required of you in any capacity due to your mental health concerns
You don’t care about receiving a letter of recommendation or positive review from an employer
In other words, a toxic work environment that’s impacting your mental health is a very valid reason for wanting to leave quickly. You need to do what’s best for you, on a timeline that works for you.
It might be a good idea to explain your decision in your exit interview, if you have one. Especially if you asked for accommodations and your needs weren’t met—employers can reflect on how they handled the situation and can hopefully learn from the mistake.
Coping mechanisms to use to protect your mental health
Quitting without anything lined up isn’t always possible. If you have to stick around until you find another job, use these coping mechanisms to protect your mental health as best as you can.
Practice gratitude and list positive affirmations about yourself
Take breaks and walks throughout the day
Reach out to your friends or family to process difficult situations
List three things you’re proud of from the day before going to bed
Strengthen your boundaries—turn off your email notifications or leave at a specific time each evening
Do something to unwind after work—cook yourself dinner or read a book
Think about ways you can find greater meaning in your work
Never view your decision to quit for your mental health as a failure—if anything, it makes you stronger since you’re brave enough to stand up for yourself and your health. Your mental health should always take higher priority over conforming to others’ expectations.
Read more: Your Guide to Setting Boundaries in the Workplace