Who doesn’t love a bit of junk food, huh? Whilst I eat a plant based diet, so give a wide berth to Big Mac’s, I’m a sucker for a crisps, chocolate, chips and a Big Coke. That combination of salt and sugar slips down a treat. My taste buds tingle. My tummy feels full (for a good 10 minutes). And all kinds of pleasure centres in my brain are triggered, start dancing around my body and I feel goooooooooood. 🕺🏻 About 60 minutes later, I plummet from this great height to a sobbing, moody mess. 😭 So, the salty sugary goo slips down a treat, gives a momentary sense of joy and then quickly moves on. The emotional need for continuing to stuff my face with shite food, remains…..
Of course it is often so much easier to turn to the quick fixes in life that can help to alleviate the pain and the burdens that we, often unconsciously, carry around with us. We want something that will soothe, calm and offer that momentary feeling of utopia. Not only do we want to gift this to ourselves, we tend to want it for others too. Makes sense, I guess.
But how is this also being translated into organisational culture? Are executives and boards guilty of dishing out the latest fads to help soothe the pain; popping Band-Aids over the legacy wounds and the deep cultural rupture? Are they hiding behind the lunchtime Yoga classes? Is starting the day with a dose of McMindfulness truly enough to heal the system and the people in it?!
Professor Purser coined the term corporate McMindfulness. Drained of its Buddhist origins, McMindfulness aims to calm down employees, enhance their critical thinking and impose faux positivity rather than addressing the root causes of poor mental health in the system. Mindfulness is, after all, not a panacea for all mental health issues.
For those of you who have read any of my past musings will know that I talk, ad nauseam, about the mental health pandemic that we are deeply submerged in. Poor mental health has long been a problem that many people struggle with, often alone and hidden away behind their masks. The latest Swiss Job-Stress-Index report suggests that the situation is getting worse. Three out of ten employees are experiencing stress they cannot cope with, and one-third of the working population is emotionally exhausted.
Probably the most widespread stress-related issues for the working population is the occupational phenomenon of burnout. In the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, they classify burnout as “A syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.” It is NOT classified as a medical condition.
With the effects of Covid, long Covid, lockdowns 1, 2 & 3, economic uncertainty, job related fears along with personal & professional overload, is all only helping to fuel the number of people presenting with burnout, stress, anxiety and depression.
So, what are organisations to do?
Here’s what we know, workplace mental health issues cannot be countered by work-sponsored social activities and wellness initiatives that became fashionable during the last decade. We are in a Mindfulness and Wellness boom! The global wellness economy is currently valued at $4.5 trillion (2018 data). Organisations are chucking a fortune at so called ‘wellness experts’, who often have no training in mental health conditions.
Another seemingly widespread practice is that of engaging mental health ambassadors, first aiders or coaches without any depth of training in psychology, counselling and psychotherapy. This is way off the mark. Instead, what stops organisations bringing in qualified, trusted mental health professionals to support their employees’ to improve their mental health? Offering employees help through qualified and confidential mental health support would significantly enhance their employees’ wellbeing, their experience and their engagement with the company. A solid example of reducing Social Pollution. It could certainly help prevent or decrease absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace. I’m not knocking the mass of people in organisations who care deeply enough and want to provide something that helps the soothing. I’m not knocking the intention. I’m not even saying don’t do things that soothe. I’m saying, do what’s right; address the fundamental issues that lie within the system that cause the difficulties whilst also helping people to be emotionally, psychologically and physically well. Just avoid being hoodwinked into believing that you can do the latter and ignore the former.
If you noticed that the flowers on your houseplant kept dying, you wouldn’t attempt to fix each flower. You’d look at the conditions of the plant to understand what is going wrong. You would perhaps repot it, change the soil, feed the soil, look at the environment in which the plant lives – too much light, too cool, too warm? Why would leaders not do the same in their system, rather than just attempt to fix their little flowers, bud by bud…? Burnout, anxiety and stress can seldom be solved just on the individual level. It is crucial to address the system in which they take seed.
We have known for a long time that the quality of the leadership directly affects organisational culture, and the way employees’ mental wellbeing is dealt with. Do your leaders openly speak about their mental health and show empathy and understanding towards others? Or do they frequently work long hours, send emails late at night and work on weekends, promoting ‘I’m busier than others’ behaviour? Do they micromanage, thereby stamping on creativity and idea generation? Do they struggle to tolerate mistakes, leaning more towards to yelling and bullying? Are your leaders obsessed with short-term profit, shareholder value and would stop at nothing to achieve it?
Leaving things unchanged will encourage similar behaviour across the organisation, endanger its future, impact financial results, and further deteriorate employees’ mental wellbeing. Let’s face it, no amount of McMindfulness sessions or Yoga classes, will fix it.
If I stay quiet on this, corporates will keep on celebrating world mental health day and mental health awareness week and continue to be seen as doing the right thing! People will continue keeping a stiff upper lip, hiding behind their positivity masks and pushing themselves harder just to cope.
If you do nothing else, start having this vital conversation. Jung said, ‘that which we need most, is found where we least want to look’ – open your senses and see what is there. It’s the first step.
If you are interested to understand more about what it would be like to have BTFI stand shoulder to shoulder with you, please do connect. We can grab a call. You can get in touch here: https://btfileadership.com/get-in-touch/