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New data highlights toxic workplaces

04 April 2024

NEW RESEARCH from Mental Health First Aid England, released to mark My Whole Self Day on 12 March 2024, reveals almost 1 in 3 employees (31%) have experienced at least one form of microaggression or discriminatory behaviour from their manager in the past six months.

My Whole Self is the campaign for workplace culture change, led by MHFA England. The social enterprise is calling on employers to create cultures where people feel safe to bring their whole self to work to drive improvements in mental health and performance. This research shows there’s a long way to go.

The findings, among 2,000 employees, show the most common negative comments or assumptions managers have made, in the past six months, relate to people’s age, working patterns, personal life, and physical or mental health. Misspelling or mispronouncing people’s names also make the top five.

More broadly, the most cited exclusionary behaviours employees experience from management includes ‘not getting credit for work done, ‘favouritism of other employees’, and ‘sarcasm’. Overall, almost half of employees (48%) have experienced one or more forms of discriminatory or exclusionary acts from their manager in the past six months. 

There are noticeable differences among people’s experiences. Across working ages, while two thirds (66%) of those aged 18-34 state they’ve experienced these behaviours from managers, only 38% of those aged 45-64 say that’s the case. Alongside this, whilst half (47%) of White British employees saw this type of action from managers, this rises to 57% of Asian or Asian British workers, and 72% of Black or Black British employees.

The impact on employees is stark. Almost 1 in 5 people said these experiences had a negative outcome on their mental health and 1 in 7 employees has considered quitting their job as a result.

Over 1 in 7 employees also said these microaggressions left them feeling that they couldn’t be their whole self at work. MHFA England is calling for employers to act by creating environments where everyone is able to bring their whole self to work. That includes background, sexuality, religion, gender, health and mental health. My Whole Self aims to create workplace cultures where people have the safety and freedom to choose which parts of their identity they share at work, without fear of judgement. 

The campaign is vital as 33% of employees said their company does not promote equality and inclusion, they were unsure of any such initiative at their workplace, or their organisation had no way of doing so. 

For My Whole Self Day organisations are encouraged to access MHFA England’s free resources including the new,My Whole Self: Guide to creating inclusive workplace cultures. To create workplaces where wellbeing, equity and productivity go hand in hand, MHFA England has a range of bespoke consultancy services

Simon Blake, chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England said, “Everyone deserves to feel seen and valued at work. Equity, inclusion, and a sense of belonging are key to positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. 

“As employers, if we create cultures where people can bring their whole self to work, without fear of judgement, all the evidence shows we will see strong performance and excellent productivity. This isn’t simply a nice to have, it is a business imperative. Diverse teams mean innovation and excellence and according to Forbes deliver 60% better results.

“MHFA England’s consultancy services use evidence-based approaches to support the development of high performing, inclusive and thriving workplaces. When people belong and their contribution is valued, they deliver.”

Dr Melissa Carr, director of the World of Work Institute (Equity, Diversity & Inclusion), Henley Business School said, “A sense of belonging is critical for supporting equity, diversity and inclusion within the workplace – and a big part of feeling you belong is feeling known, respected and valued. Microaggressions and discrimination can considerably undermine people’s sense of psychological safety and wellbeing at work, and it’s concerning to see how common these instances are in the UK. 

“This research is a timely reminder of the vital role managers and colleagues play in building supportive work environments that allow people to bring their whole self to work. Employers have progress to make to translate equity, diversity and inclusion policy into meaningful practice throughout the workplace, creating environments where microaggressions and discrimination is recognised and called out.”

Robyn Drysdale is an associate director at research agency Ninth Seat, she said, “We began our involvement with My Whole Self by encouraging the team to share their My Whole Selfie. With our teams working across different offices, many working entirely remotely, some conducting fieldwork abroad, this simple task allowed us all to reconnect on a profoundly personal level. The light-hearted, creative but meaningful nature of this meant that every person got involved with enthusiasm. This exercise unveiled new dimensions of our colleagues, and it became apparent that this shouldn't be a one-time event but rather a continuous practice, woven into our fabric.” 

Fostering an environment where people feel seen and heard is key to ensuring they feel valued. Therefore, the concept of bringing your ‘whole self’ to work is something we have been and continue to embed within the company. This includes ensuring that our workplace policies, for example, those around menopause, race and diversity and inclusion, are reviewed, updated and shared widely.”