As our workplace culture leans on positivity movements and ‘good vibes only’ to feel better, we are forgetting a fundamental component of our basic human biology – homeostasis – our state of inner balance.
Workplaces who avoid or are unaware of the complex scope of mental health within their teams are ultimately robbing themselves of vibrant, engaged and committed team members.
It is easier for us all to simply close our eyes and hope for positive people, to stay stuck in the loop of limiting beliefs, to turn a blind eye to toxic office politics or accept chronic stress that leaves us lifeless.
We are all far too busy with life and the business hustle to stop and care that ‘David’s’ sweet talking sales skills cover for his deeply manipulative, domineering and violent behaviour or that ‘Susan’ belittles new team members but has feigned helplessness and an inflated sense of positive contribution when someone speaks out against her.
‘Michael’ is so quiet and hardworking no one would suspect his multiple suicide attempts and no ones even thought to question why ‘Sarah’ wears long sleeves even throughout summer, sleeves which cover the burns and bruises from her abusive relationship.
Workplaces represent family dynamics for people whether we are aware of it or not. Work is a stage in which dysfunction is played on repeat as we each seek to reinforce mental health patterns until they are broken and healed.
Toxic positivity is the perfect cover which perpetuates the cycle of negative mental health stigma, the positivity movement tells us to ‘think good thoughts, feel good things and smile’, it is nothing but a flimsy bandaid for the brokenhearted.
There is likely a huge gap in the understanding of workplace mental health, a misconception that being positive equals a good mindset.
However, having positive mental health means successfully adapting to all of life, not exclusively expressing positive emotions at the cost of repressing negative ones. Nor it is relying on old and often unhealthy coping skills to survive the work day and get your paycheque.
So how do we outgrow this sickly positive mess? By understanding that we are made more resilient by our challenges, more connected by our shared suffering and more capable to realise our potential when we are motivated, empathetic and attuned.
We must accept that workplaces are environments where people bring their life experiences with them everyday and they are a petri dish in which psychosocial maturity is grown or hindered.
As we become more trauma aware it is important to note workplaces may have 6 in every 10 male identifying employees and 5 in every 10 female identifying employees who have experienced trauma. Traumatised people need supportive environments to overcome the complexities of their pain, being punished for not being positive is counterintuitive to true healing.
Bottom lines get impacted as the workplace is robbed of a rich mixture of emotions, perspectives and opportunities of growth by having access only to the ‘positive’ half of your employees.
Toxic positivity pulls the brakes on thought leadership and disintegrates employee engagement. It creates costly sick days and births tribes of numb, unmotivated and aggressive employees.
‘Negative’ emotions allow us to grieve, teaches us about our mistakes and develops ways in which to cope with life’s demands.
Facing our suffering as a collective means we learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships and make choices about our direction in life from learned experiences of success and failure.
We have to be willing to develop empathy and express concern, to welcome help and challenge concepts which are outdated, such as silence.
We have to step up and lead and we must be willing to parent our people.
Show patience in educating the immature and self focused, committed to guiding the greedy and grandiose, supportive of the stressed and compassion fatigued.
We need to remain mindful of our state of balance to be successful people and build successful businesses.