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The Wellbeing Rabbit Hole

This is a mass hysteria, no matter where I look at it from. We have been sold that we have wellbeing and mental health issues, but I think, intuitively, we know that we don't. Do we struggle? Hell yes! Is it normal? Totally! My problem with mental health narrative and wellbeing initiatives is endless, and I never really look at it. However, this week, I attended a 2-hour talk that triggered 500 questions in me.

My problems with the wellbeing and happiness narratives:

  • The numbers are ridiculous! I have seen data that showed 90 - 99% of certain populations (GCC) experience the signs of burnout and mental health struggles. This is where I lose them quickly because if 90-99% of the population experiences something, it is either considered normal or a mass hysteria fuelled by something. So, which one do wellbeing and mental health issues fall under? Anyone who studied statistics would laugh at these data. If you tell people enough times that they are stressed, cannot sleep, are anxious, etc., they will start exhibiting these symptoms; therefore, I go as far as to say that the industry is irresponsible and is causing harm just to make money! 

  • Are these questionnaires psychometrically valid? You can create a long enough list of burnout symptoms/signs that will include everyone, but it doesn't mean we all have mental health issues. Where is the validity and reliability report of these studies? Exactly! They are surveys, not studies. Surveys that are just as good as HR's employee engagement survey they designed in-house. It will give you some information but how reliable are they? Well, we never know. 

  • The cult-like speeches! I was told, not once, that "Just because you score low, it doesn't mean you are ok. It means that you don't know the signs." Now, try to brainwash me with anything, and I will fight you! When people tell you that they are fine, why are you questioning it? Why don't you question when they say they are not fine? Hypocrites! 

  • There is no context! Any data without context is just a useless number! Let's say we take the 90% burnout rate and accept that most of us are experiencing signs of burnout. Okay, but where is the context? Did our ancestors 100 years ago have the same result? Did our grandparents experience the same after WWII when rebuilding cities and countries? If so, isn't that just classified as an everyday struggle that comes with life? Why did we label it as "signs of burnout"? They were quite okay! If they didn't have the same result, why not? What is the difference? Is it at work or in other areas of life? 

  • Is it the role of employers to fix this? Struggles in life come from all directions, and work is just a piece of that pie. While these guys are very happy to show the Harvard study about happiness and social connections, they constantly hammer employers with interventions. If our happiness is largely dependent on our social connections, why the hell are you giving us wellbeing applications? Why don't you advocate only for fewer working hours and then educate the individuals about their poor choices that led to no family, friends and other social circles? I hardly ever hear about this. And when I do, their advice is: See a therapist! Let's make more money out of people's misery instead of telling them, "If you don't make an effort to build friendships, the consequences will be misery and therapy."

  • Organisations are doing the bare minimum. Why? Because they have been bullied into this narrative. So, I asked the question, "The wellbeing and happiness industry is speaking the language of the business by bringing in endless data, yet it is still a very hard concept to sell. Why is that?" The answer was "Fear of doing something new and different". I sat there thinking that there is nothing new here as everyone is singing the happiness and wellbeing songs. I think it is a hard to sell concept and probably even hard to get organisations to do it "properly" (whatever that means) is because they are not convinced about the data or that it is their responsibility. Furthermore, they aren't convinced or proven that any of these interventions are actually needed by the majority. Just look at the use of these interventions! Extremely low, and when I raise that question, the answer is: We need to push it! LOL. When people find something that is good for them or useful, you don't have to push it. They will use it, so the fact that these interventions are not used is a sign that maybe we are banging on the wrong door and employees are telling this, but we are busy selling an idea and/or a product. 

Here is the thing: I will always acknowledge that people have problems and need support, and this is what should be available. For this, we must collect data (but don't label it as burnout or mental health issue) so we can provide resources. I also acknowledge that organisations must redesign their systems so that people do not struggle mentally or physically! This comes under Health and Safety, not HR. We got our wires crossed with this! HR, wake up! We should be running mental health risk assessments just like we do for physical health and say, "If your people work 60 hours a week, their mental ability and state will be compromised, and as a result, the likelihood of accidents will rise and productivity drop." Nobody would ever argue with that. 

Also, is stress really as much of a problem as we say it is? How about air traffic controllers? Their job is one of the most stressful ones yet; they are actually proud of it, whilst an executive in an office building who doesn't do anything useful breaks down over a spreadsheet or undelivered KPI. How about emergency services? They have the toughest jobs yet; they are proud and acknowledge that their job comes with stress. It seems that office workers are the most miserable, but could it be because most of their jobs are useless and we have locked them into offices and cubicles to stare at computers for 8-10 hours per day with poor leaders and managers? No wellbeing initiative will fix the problem of "Bullshit Jobs" and the rat race we lured people into. As a good friend of mine said it "Only rats can win the rat race", but who is winning???? Mental health professionals and wellbeing gurus who are raking in the money. Everything we do will take energy and effort, but we imagine a world that is effortless without struggles. It's delusional! 

PS: People are extremely resilient, but if you keep telling them that they are weak, the mind is an amazing organ; it will believe it. Also, if you think people have mental health issues, you have never seen real mental health problems. People don't have mental health issues! They have built shit lives, and when you speak to clinical psychologists 1:1, they will tell you exactly the same. They are laughing at this whole charade behind the scenes! 

If you want to change your HR practices, here are 365 things to consider:

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