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'Work-jerks' and the weather - what impacts mental health most in the workplace?

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March 4, 2024 | 4 min read

It doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to accept that happier teams deliver better work

Nor does it require a great leap to believe that happier teams by turn are comprised of happier people.

In recognition of World Mental Health day October 10th, here we delve into data to reflect on what leaders can do to help make teams happier.

We can’t control the weather, but we can control the workplace

In a recent study conducted by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) academics tackled the subject, Does Employee Happiness have an Impact on Productivity?

Researchers used data on 1,793 telesales workers at British Telecom (BT), to observe objective, granular information about the behaviors and performance of these workers.

One the most surprising findings from the research was that “visual exposure to weather while at work has a significant impact on workers’ week- to-week happiness”. Simply put, large office widows and bad weather can dampen moods.

The study also concluded a strong relationship between employee happiness and performance.

We can’t control the weather and moving to an underground office may not be practical or advisable, but leaders can strive to make their people - and the teams they comprise, happier.

The changing role of the company

We recently discussed how the Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 revealed that after friends and family, the workplace is the most important source of community.

Furthermore, six in 10 of young employees expect employers to also inform civil discourse outside the workplace. All this points to a new employer mandate to help bridge societal divides.

Apart from the usual divisive 'civil rights issues' such as race, gender and sexuality, political affinity now seems to have become 'the biggest source of workplace toxicity' according to Johnny C Taylor Jr, President and CEO of the Society for Human Resources Management in the US.

Managing and adjudicating these issues is a tall order for companies and their leaders.

Creating a happy environment is largely within our management control. Some companies have gone headlong down the ‘forced fun’ route complete with games, slides, creative spaces and team building events. The pandemic forced a reset.

According to a BBC article titled “The death of mandatory fun in the office” it seems that more than ever people are craving a good time and each other’s company yet the inane office ‘fun’ of yesteryear has wholly passed.

Employees have a responsibility too

Within families, teams and companies there are always going to be ‘black sheep’ – those who don’t quite fit in.

A recent report from the McKinsey Health Institute (MHI) on employee burnout found that one in four employees around the globe experience toxic behavior in the workplace. Some suffer in silence. Some lash out. Some just leave.

Ideally, management will spot the ‘work-jerks’ and either correct their behaviour or ask them to leave. But in many cases, jerkism flies under the radar. So it’s better to be equipped with strategies for effectively coping with it.

This McKinsey article titled ‘Toxic workplace behavior and employee burnout’ has some good suggestions which we’ve summarised here;

1. When work pressures rise, tolerance goes down

The more pressure we’re under and the less less rested and recovered, the harder it is to regulate emotions.

2. Finding room for compassion and change

To become more aware, read the situation better, and respond in a more controlled way. Understand that not everybody is a bad person, but there is bad behavior, and we can change that behavior.

3. We can’t control what people do, but we can control how we respond

When we are on the receiving end of toxic behavior, we are not responsible for the bad behavior of the leader or colleague, but we can empower ourselves to choose how we deal with it.

4. Invest in broadening your social network, and be prepared to take ‘big, courageous steps’

Learn how to build connections with people outside your immediate network.

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