Why Our Workplaces Are Messing Us Up

We know we spend more time with our work colleagues than with our families. So it stands to reason that our work life exerts a stronger influence on the type of person we develop into than our family life. Whether that’s a scary thought or a good one will depend on where and how you work. We mostly assume or hope we balance out any negative affects of our work life with the emotional highs of our friends and family side, but the reality is that our work is so pervasive that it is moulding us in ways that we are often unaware of. Work teaches us quite a few behaviours, values and beliefs. Problem is work is often a lousy teacher. When 6 out of 10 people in the UK say they are unhappy at work, their unhappiness doesn’t just disappear the moment they walk through the door of their home. As a result many of our relationship, mental health and community problems are rooted in the way we work.

Often workplaces are set up in ways that actively promote unhealthy ways of working. People are frequently treated as functions of the business and rarely as individuals. In many corporate businesses people still feel compelled to leave their individuality at the door and behave as the company tells them they should in order to fit in. This happens in young creative businesses too where people behave to fit a type. Yet this approach is completely antithetical to both wellbeing and creativity. When you look at pioneering creative businesses like Google or Patagonia or Pixar, their success is in part down to the way in which they foster individuality and difference and use that to drive a culture of innovation. These businesses understand that your people are your brand and your creative lifeblood because of who they are and you need to nurture and protect that. They don’t always get it right but it’s high on the agenda. In the world of agency advertising and marketing this issue is even more acute as people and ideas are the only thing these businesses sell. Far too many agencies place their client’s work before their people, failing to understand that without their people there will be neither ideas, clients or a business. The result of this imbalance is that work creates unhealthy relationship models, behaviours and habits that become deeply ingrained and hard to shake off. We bring these home and they play out in our home lives too.

Every business has the capability to address this. It starts by looking at workplace culture. Culture is the beliefs, values and behaviours of any organisation. It creates the meaning and motivation for everyone in a business and it tells them what is acceptable and what is not. Because culture is set by the leaders of the organisation either accidentally or purposefully, these leaders have a big responsibility for the people in their care. They choose to employ them and they can set a healthy culture to support them. But culture needs a strategy that is led by example from the top down, not just a set of wellbeing tactics.

When people are able to express their own individuality and feel empowered in their work then they become far more engaged, fulfilled and happy and this always results in successful business growth. But if they can’t find meaning or support or integrity then the opposite will happen. Unfortunately the stats show that the latter is more likely to be the case. Sending people home unhappy, stressed, unmotivated, unfulfilled, depressed or disillusioned isn’t just unacceptable, it’s uncaring. Leaders are accountable for all their people, every single one. Show them you care, that their lives matter to you and they will thank you for it. And so will their families, friends and communities. What’s more you will have a business that will succeed because of your culture not one that fails because of it.

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