Research suggests we lose 70 million days a year to mental health-associated well-being issues. That costs the economy something like £100 billion. So what are we doing about it? Mental health is almost a taboo subject for many organisations. The silence associated with dealing with it, is palpable – so what’s the cause? Often it’s because we don’t know how to deal with it unless we have personal experience or been trained. What we don’t know we are scared of. Let alone the stigma or implications. Leave well alone is the phrase that might go through a manager’s mind, and toxic practices emerge. So, to bring some lightness to the subject I ask. “What are the toxic practices that dramatically affect mental well-being?  What practices should we absolutely avoid at work”?

1. More control, more conflict – more pressure

Employ more managers and leaders with traits like Attila the Hun. People need tight and heavy direction and constant scrutiny – how else is a great performance to be achieved? They need constant pressure and stretching targets and must be watched and monitored 24/7. They need to be prodded on a daily basis and driven by fear, it’s the only thing that keeps them from slacking off (and definitely none of that working-from-home, flexible working hours nonsense), who do they think they are?  Attempts to control the behaviour of employees will unwittingly affect mental well-being.

2. Decrease accessibility

Communication is important of course, one way. We are wasting time simply listening to the whims and whines of our workforce, having discussion forums for this, that and the other. It’s just all too ‘collaborative’ for me. Information should be on a need-to-know basis, too many cooks spoil the broth goes the saying and people can never agree on anything, so best they just take strong direction.

Personal problems? Oh please, suck it up and don’t bring it to the office. That’s not what we are here for! Get some GRIT!

3. Speed up and multiply the number of change initiatives

There is nothing like change to keep people on their toes, especially when multiple things happen at once. It’s a great test of their character no? If they can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen! So let’s keep those workloads up there. Surprise them with last-minute changes, even small, on a regular basis – at least once a day if you can, it toughens them up and gets them used to fast-paced environments. That’s where it’s at today.

4. Increase complex procedures and decision-making processes

If people want something they have to work for it. No matter if it’s holidays or expenses, that will put them off and save some money at the same time too. We need quality here, so let’s detail this up much more, especially if they have to do it in their own time. We need more meetings and details to assess each decision accurately, that’s not collaborative, that’s an opportunity to check people’s knowledge and understanding by asking difficult questions in public, and scrutinising their every move.

Ah, toxic work practices—those not-so-charming little gremlins that turn the 9-to-5 into an episode of “Survivor: Office Edition.” Bullying, harassment, overworking, and the ever-popular “Your work? What work?” attitude. These pesky practices have a funny way of turning office spaces into psychological obstacle courses, where creativity and productivity go to die a slow, painful death. But hey, who needs job satisfaction when you can have sky-high stress levels and a turnover rate faster than a revolving door, right?

As if the daily grind isn’t enough, these practices also have a knack for worming their way into employees’ personal lives, turning ‘Work-Life Balance’ into a myth, much like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But here’s the kicker: these toxic practices are bad for business too. Who’d have thought? They erode growth, tank reputation, and generally make companies about as appealing as a root canal. So, it’s high time we bid adieu to these unwelcome guests. Because a respectful, inclusive, and healthy work environment is not just a nice-to-have—it’s the secret sauce for a thriving, successful organization. And let’s face it, it’s a lot more fun too.

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With 25 years of experience in HR and HRD with a successful track record of making a difference, I now lead the Thinking HR Business and we deliver specialised HR and HRD Professional Learning Solutions, including coaching HR qualifications, diagnostics and expert-led masterclass live events.