Seity Collective Wellbeing made simple

21st march 2023

Unlock the Secrets to a Thriving Workforce: Top Expert Reveals Shocking Truths About Toxic Workplaces and How to Transform Them



Stressful workplace conditions can be as detrimental to your well-being as second-hand smoke, according to Jeffrey Pfeffer, Ph.D., a renowned organizational behavior expert at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. With decades of experience and a critical, data-driven approach to addressing workplace issues, Pfeffer has become a giant in his field. In this engaging and informative blog, we dive into a conversation with him about the importance of human sustainability in the workplace and explore potential changes leaders and companies can implement to ensure a healthier, more engaged, and satisfied workforce.

The Unbalanced Emphasis on Environmental vs. Human Sustainability

Pfeffer notes that while many large organizations publish sustainability reports detailing their environmental impacts, very few—if any—assess the health and well-being of their employees. The emphasis on environmental sustainability is likely due to social pressure, as the world is running out of natural resources. However, Pfeffer argues that there is no evidence we're running out of people.

Health and wellness programs, which are increasingly offered by companies to reduce health insurance costs, often focus on individual behavior rather than the work environment that contributes to that behavior. This approach misses the bigger picture, Pfeffer suggests.

The Toxic Workplace Epidemic

Toxic workplaces are alarmingly widespread, with surveys indicating low levels of employee engagement, high job dissatisfaction, and frequent turnover. Pfeffer identifies several factors that contribute to toxic work environments:

Workplace bullying and abuse, which can be psychologically damaging, especially when they attack an employee's sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
A lack of social support in the workplace, which can exacerbate stress and feelings of isolation.
Economic insecurity, as companies often dismiss employees they deem economically unnecessary, leading to fluctuating work hours and uncertainty about job continuity.
The Impact of Toxic Workplaces on Well-being

Pfeffer's research, conducted with Joel Goh and Stefanos A. Zenios, shows that toxic workplace conditions create harmful stress, which directly impacts physical and mental health, and indirectly affects well-being through unhealthy coping behaviors. They found that these conditions are, on average, as toxic as second-hand smoke, affecting self-reported physical health, mental health, physician-diagnosed illness, and mortality.

The Leadership Industry's Shortcomings

Despite the vast leadership industry, Pfeffer argues that too many leaders today are failing, resulting in disengaged and dissatisfied employees. The leadership industry often fails to adequately evaluate its programs, focuses more on entertainment than education or change, and perpetuates unrealistic, uplifting stories that don't prepare individuals for the realities of organizational life.

Creating a Better Workplace Culture

To create a more engaged and satisfied workforce, Pfeffer recommends that companies:

Carefully select employees based on their fit with the organization's culture.
Invest in training and development.
Engage the norm of reciprocity by allowing employees to make decisions and treating them like adults.
Share financial rewards and give employees a stake in their good work.
Foster social interaction and support within the workplace.
Initiatives that Make a Difference

While Pfeffer acknowledges that mentoring programs can be useful, they don't address the more significant issues of toxic workplaces. However, he emphasizes the importance of paid time off and reducing work-family conflict, as both can alleviate stress and improve overall well-being.

Companies Doing it Right

Pfeffer highlights SAS Institute and Google as examples of companies with positive cultures that prioritize employee well-being. He suggests that companies should become more evidence-based in their decision-making, with HR departments adopting a more data-driven approach.

Recommended Books for Leaders

To create better workplaces, Pfeffer recommends the following books for leaders:

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Bob Sutton. This book offers valuable insights into building a more civil workplace and reducing the prevalence of toxic behaviors.
First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Gallup. Based on extensive research, this book provides practical advice on what truly engages employees and leads to better workplace satisfaction.

In a rapidly changing world where environmental sustainability has become a primary concern, it's time for companies to shift their focus to human sustainability as well. By acknowledging the toxic elements present in many workplaces, leaders can take a proactive approach to creating healthier, more engaging, and satisfying work environments for their employees.

By investing in employee well-being and adopting evidence-based practices, companies can foster a more positive culture and improve overall job satisfaction. As Jeffrey Pfeffer suggests, it's crucial for organizations to prioritize the well-being of their most valuable resource—their people. In doing so, they can create a more sustainable and successful future for their employees and their businesses alike.