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Pretending we can be ‘happy’ all the time is not good for mental health

08 April 2022

Kate Flowerdew

Story by
Kate Flowerdew, Workplace Coaching & Wellbeing Specialist

Pretending we can be 'happy' all the time is not good for mental health.

The world of work has changed. We know this. We know it because almost every headline we read in any business or human resources publication tells us it’s true.

We also know it because we work. We see it with our own eyes and feel it every time we open Zoom. But what is the most significant shift?

What is the biggest change and why? For me, it is the perception change many employers have made is that a ‘worker’ is now a ‘person’, just like them. If both are cut, both will bleed.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that in a pre-pandemic world every boss was a cut-throat, bean counter sitting in an ivory tower looking down on their worker bees.

But our typical business culture often created an invisible wall that seemed to magically separate the upper echelons of leadership from the (for want of a better word) minions.

That illusion has now been permeated and with it comes a new humanity to deal with – a new way of being at work that will take a lot of adjustment, but which has provided an opportunity that must not be lost.

So, what can business leaders do about it? There are a million new health tech solutions flooding on to the market, a myriad of new training programmes and don’t even look at Harvard Business Review if you don’t want to be signed up to its ‘Leadership and Happiness’ classes.

‘Toxic positivity’

After all, there is a danger that by trying to promote too much happiness we are risking a rise of toxic positivity that is bad for people and bad for business – a papering over the cracks if you will.

I’m lucky to be working with a progressive recruitment business Tandem Talent that sees how these dynamics work and don’t want to paper of the cracks by blinding everyone with data or pretending ‘happiness’ is an achievable permanent state of being.

Working in line with their partnership approach we deploy a model that helps keep things simple and effective, based on four general areas:

  • Individual Wellbeing: In order for individuals to feel and perform at their best at work, there are a number of factors that need to be in place. For a start, employees need ample opportunity to recharge their batteries, and they need relevant support and training. Employees who find a sense of connection and purpose in what they do and the have the opportunity to utilise their strengths regularly are also likely to experience increased happiness in the workplace. This combination of factors rarely happen by chance and many HR teams and business leaders realise the role the organisation can play to help employees be at their best, and why there are mutual benefits. 
  • Team Wellbeing: The future of work is upon us and while few would question the amazing job everyone did adapting to working from home in extraordinary circumstances at the beginning of the pandemic, mastering hybrid working in a way that truly optimises team collaboration and communication is a new challenge moving forward.A challenge that needs a strategy, new processes and systems and buy in from everyone. When teams are aligned and working on common goals, with everyone engaged and accountable for the role they play, and able to support and communicate with each other   no matter where they are, teams perform at their best and get great outcomes – this is team wellbeing. 
  • Leadership Wellbeing: Films tend to have heroes, but in organisations, when you have leaders who take control without consulting a team of experts, and neglect to engage, interact with and empower their people, happy endings are harder to achieve. Equipping all layers of management to be inclusive and inspirational means ensuring they understand their responsibilities as role models.If leaders are overwhelmed and stressed themselves, the ripple effect is huge with potential negative impact on employee and team wellbeing, and results. In contrast, when leaders prioritise their own wellbeing and have the right tools to guide and support others, there is a much more positive ripple effect. Achieving a bottom-up approach to leadership, rather than top down, could be one of the most valuable outcomes an organisation can achieve.
  • Organisational Wellbeing: For your organisation to reach optimum wellbeing it needs to be functioning at its best and this will be reflected in bottom line results. But let’s considered some of the key factors that help achieve commercial results – a great brand (for which you need happy, resilient and engaged employees and high levels of customer satisfaction), and productivity and innovation (which requires optimum attraction and retention and low absenteeism or presenteeism). Therefore, you need a strategy in place to optimise individual, team and leadership wellbeing if you want to achieve organisational wellbeing. One thing is for sure, treating wellbeing as a box ticking activity is not going to get you results – this is a journey of change that takes investment and commitment. It’s those organisations dedicated to going on this journey that will truly achieve organisational wellbeing. 

Ultimately the journey you as a leader go on, as with all things in life, will depend upon you as a human – with all of your flaws and wonders.

And, with a little reflection, insight and planning, you can ensure that the people who are in your care while they work for you have the best possible experience you can provide, which is not just good for them but for the business as a whole.

Kate Flowerdew is a coaching and wellbeing specialist with 21 years’ international experience in the people and talent sector. As a consultant, coach and facilitator, Kate works in true partnership with her clients to achieve optimum performance and long-term, sustainable success. she works with Tandem Talent to create unique, progressive client solutions embracing the organisation as a whole.

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