Between high performance and mental peacefulness

The workplace can be a fun, fulfilling, and stimulating environment. However, it can also prove to be a source of stress or anxiety, escalating, in the worst cases, to actual episodes of exhaustion or burnout in people, rather than creating what we can call a toxic organizational culture.

The exhaustion and distress experienced in the workplace are undoubtedly a symptom of contemporary organizations and companies that experience frenetic rhythms and exaggerated stress on human beings. Accomplices in creating a toxic work climate are all the mobile technology that has made the boundaries between private and work increasingly tenuous, a poorly functioning leadership style, and dysfunctional interpersonal communication.

But how does toxicity arise within organizations?

Let us try to answer this question in the words of Business Coach and author, Anja Puntari: “It is an extreme damage that an organism can suffer from coming into contact with something.” The author continues, “Toxicity frequently arises from not acting in time, leading to deterioration and decay of individual parts of an organism (…) This deterioration is often a slow phenomenon that happens gradually, without anyone noticing.”- Anja Puntari, Conoscere la giusta distanza 2021, ed. goWare & Guerini Next.

Toxicity within companies has such a slow movement that it is almost imperceptible and can be represented with the Boiled Frog Principle devised by Noam Chomsky.

“Imagine a pot filled with cold water in which a frog swims calmly. A fire is lit under the pot, the water slowly heats up. Soon it becomes lukewarm. The frog finds it quite pleasant and continues to swim. The temperature rises. Now the water is warm. A little more than the frog appreciates. It gets a little tiring, however, it does not get scary. The water is too warm now. The frog finds it very unpleasant, but it has weakened, it does not have the strength to react. So it endures and does nothing. Meanwhile, the temperature rises again, until the frog ends up – simply – boiled to death. If the same frog had been plunged directly into the 50-degree water it would have given a loud thump of its paw, and would have leaped immediately out of the pot.”-Media and Power by Noam Chomsky.

In short, people inside large contemporary organizations are so used to and addicted to a toxic climate that they are unable to realize how detrimental it is to their well-being.

At the same time, from the outside, a dysfunctional company, where people suffer, is immediately noticeable: “it is obvious to anyone who comes in from the outside and observes people’s abnormal behavior, even when they are unaware of it” (Anja Puntari, Conoscere la giusta distanza).

Underlying a corporate culture that aims for well-being is good mental health. In a peaceful climate in which mental and physical well-being is the key element, it is easier to deal with daily challenges and tasks, while also managing to establish strong relationships in the workplace.

Wellbeing in the company

From the individual perspective, we can consider well-being in the workplace through various elements, each of which is interconnected to the other. These elements are:

  • Love and passion for one’s job and being motivated to achieve goals with a purposeful attitude;
  • Enjoying good physical and mental health so that one can have the energy to complete one’s daily work;
  • Have support from those around the person and have strong relationships within the organizational context;
  • Have economic security that allows them to manage job stress;
  • Have a job growth perspective (vertical and horizontal) that motivates and engages;
  • Have the ability to manage work and private life flexibly, adjusting hours and time to respond appropriately to people’s needs.

For there to be a healthy operating culture, the company, first and foremost, has the task of encouraging resources to put their well-being first.

One action to do this, for example, is to bring attention to these issues in discussion or for feedback. In addition, continuous monitoring of one’s employees’ behaviors can be useful to understand that an unhealthy climate is not being generated. 

A climate of well-being leads to a proactive attitude in confronting work, which, in turn, leads to better performance and better results. 

In contrast, a corporate culture that causes discontent and stress will have side effects:

  • Greater likelihood that resources will request days off;
  • Greater likelihood that resources will argue with their manager about how to address set goals, focusing on problems without having a proactive mindset;
  • Higher turnover;
  • Resources will have less confidence in their performance.
  • Less creativity and innovation, are accompanied by a lower learning mindset concerning work.

Certainly, as is to be expected, unhealthy work-life has obvious after-effects outside the office as well, negatively affecting other aspects of people’s daily lives, often leading them into a vicious circle dimension where work harms private life and privacy and vice versa.

The role of leadership

The responsibility for preserving a healthy climate of well-being is a responsibility to be attributed to leadership and arises in the daily behaviors of the one who acts. It involves conveying a vision and idea of a healthy organizational culture focused on people’s well-being. It will then be all stakeholders in the organization who become promoters of an ecosystem composed of cultural, relational, operational, and physical measures that can foster a purposeful environment. Today, many leaders find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to manage the pressures of increased productivity and performance on the one hand and the welfare of their resources on the other. Moreover, on the assumption that a company is composed of people, toxicity is to be considered an organizational fact that concerns the dimension of the behavioral culture as a whole and not of a single individual: it is a collective act. Managers have a responsibility to create positive experiences for their resources and to manage all those stressors that could affect the well-being of the company. Doing so requires setting clear expectations and facilitating collaboration within the team by ensuring solid support. Managers and leaders greatly influence people’s perceptions of their workplace. After all, one of the main tasks of leadership is to take responsibility for the well-being of its resources and investigate the reasons that lie behind the discontent. In short, Leadership can be considered an element that can investigate the health of an organization and its effects on people. “If unhealthy competition is stimulated among people, if people do not feel valued if meritocracy and an inclusive culture are lacking, it can more easily create friction and difficulties in relationships, and it can decrease motivation at work” (Anja Puntari, Conoscere la giusta distanza).

For example, leaders need to ensure that expectations and other standards are met, but, when resources step up, putting themselves forward for tasks that are not up to their standards, then managers need to know how to intervene for the good of their team.

On the other hand, problems, such as burnout, occur mainly when there is a gap between challenge and perceived competence.

Burnout is defined as a conceptualized syndrome resulting from chronic stress in the workplace that is not successfully managed.

Organizzazione Mondiale della Sanità (WHO)

How can managers prevent discontent with their resources?

  • Listen to work-related problems;
  • Encourage teamwork;
  • Highlight everyone’s opinion;
  • Make work worthwhile;
  • Focus on feedback and feedback-forward.

Establishing a peaceful and toxic-free work environment is also an important challenge, as we have seen, to achieve better business results. On this front, prevention plays an important role.

Anticipating is better than finding solutions when the frog is about to be boiled.

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