Unhappy work environments are a scourge on society and there is absolutely no valid reason for their existence. Unhappy work environments produce unhappy people who move through society spreading their unhappiness like a disease. If a leader contributes to, or turns a blind eye to an unhappy or toxic work environment, they are contributing to the degradation of society, community, and humanity. This is unacceptable and must stop.
Unhappy workplaces are those staffed with unhappy people. Unhappy people are pessimistic, they focus on unhappy memories, show hostility, drink too much, struggle to cope and complain a lot. Not surprisingly, these characteristics cause unhappiness to those who come into contact with them.
People who work in unhappy or toxic work environments are walking the streets of our towns and cities. Most have spouses, children, extended family or friends who also walk the streets of our towns and cities. Through contagion, employees infected with workplace toxicity or unhappiness infect their friends and family. They and there, now infected, family and friends, infect the society in which they live. Depending on the severity of the infection, the contagion effect has the potential to ripple and multiple through society. This pandemic of toxic workplace disease leads to dissatisfaction on a local, state, national scale. In a connected world, this pandemic of toxic workplace disease leads to dissatisfaction on a global scale.
Some readers may think that labelling bad leadership as an offence against humanity as an over-reach, but I do not think so. Consider how much time a full-time worker spends at work. Eight hours a day, multiplied by five working days, multiplied by 48 working weeks (deducing 4 weeks for annual leave) equates to a full-time worker spending 1,920 hours at work a year. If a person sleeps 8 hours per day, they will have 4,160 waking hours every 52-week year. Therefore, even accounting for holidays, the average worker spends 46% of their waking year at work.
So, if a worker is unhappy for half their waking life, what will be the consequences for the other half of their waking life? We know that low levels of serotonin affects mood and can produce anger, hostility and social isolation. (Simon N. Young. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs, Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394–399.)
Angry or hostile employees carry their mood with them when they leave work. That toxic mood now has the potential to spread to anyone the angry or hostile worker interacts with on the way home, including fellow passengers on public transport, petrol or supermarket attendants other any number of other service providers or bystanders who have the misfortune of intercepting with an angry and hostile person. The angry and hostile employee then imposes their toxicity with their spouse, children, flatmates or friends when they arrive home and what we experience is contagion. In a connected world, that toxicity can spread via social media to all corners of the world.
Not every unhappy worker is angry or hostile, but many become depressed. Depression leads to social isolation and a lack of motivation. Depression while not as contagious as angry hostility, still has a major social impact on society. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability in the world (World Health Organization, 2001). Depression has been shown to exacerbate existing cardiovascular disease, dramatically increase mortality following myocardial infarction and unstable angina (Katie A. McLaughlin, PhD The Public Health Impact of Major Depression: A Call for Interdisciplinary Prevention Efforts, Prev Sci 12, 361–37, 6 July 2011) Depression is also associated with elevated risk for stroke and hypertension. Perhaps the most significant consequence of depression is elevated mortality related to suicide. (ibid).
Notwithstanding the untold cost of the medical care associated with the indirect medical conditions, caused by or exacerbated by depression, the social and economic and consequences of unhappy, angry, hostile and depressed workers are significant to national economies as well as to the global economy. Individuals with depression lose 5.6 hours of productive time at work per week compared to 1.6 hours in non-depressed workers (ibid). The World Health Organisation report that depression and anxiety have an estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity (World Bank). Socially, the effect of anger, hostility, and depression can have consequences such as substance abuse, domestic abuse and homeless. These social issues affect communities impacting the availability of healthcare resources, crime and safety, the workforce, and the use of tax dollars. They also have a cascading effect through generations.
Kinder workplaces may not be the only solution depression pandemic spreading over the developed world but will most certainly improve the mental health outcomes for many millions of people. Kinder workplaces will also, boost overall health and contribute to more prosperous societies.
It is, therefore, the moral obligation of every CEO, manager, and leader to ensure that their workplace is not toxic, and their staff members are not unhappy.
Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.
Decide to be a compassionate leader. It’s actually that simple – develop a kindness mindset. Understanding what it takes to be a compassionate leader and wanting to achieve that goal is the hardest step. If you decide to be a compassionate leader, commit to learning. Commit to a lifelong journey of agility and self-reflection and study.