Does your workplace have a ‘pleasanteeism’ problem?
If you’ve ever rocked up to the office feeling absolutely miserable, but felt like you needed to be the happiest, bubbliest version of yourself, it just might.
Pleasanteeism is a new term coined by healthcare service Lime.
It’s a play on presenteeism – the idea that ‘showing up’ is the most important part of being a good worker, whether that’s never taking sick days, staying late in the office, or not asking to work from home – but refers to the idea that people feel they have to hide their true selves or conceal their anxieties at work.
In a year when most of us will have had our mental health rocked, the pressure to turn up on Zoom or IRL and come across as totally fine and thriving can become pretty overwhelming.
A report from Lime suggests that many UK workers are experiencing a serious deterioration in their mental wellbeing, and the trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic has left us less resilient than before.
And lots of us feel like we have to hide away those feelings and pretend everything is going swimmingly.
The research found that over half (51%) of UK workers agree that they feel under pressure to put on a brave face in front of their colleagues, despite over a quarter (26%) feeling like they’re not coping at work and 34% saying they’re struggling to stay afloat in their non-work life, too.
A quarter of those asked said they’re worried about having to be the best version of themselves when they’re asked to return to the workplace, and one in five are concerned about their stress being visible to others.
Pleasanteeism can affect all of us, but young women, in particular, feel the pressure – 56% of women versus 45% of men feel like they have to put on a brave face at work, rising to 61% for women aged 16 to 24.
So, are you experiencing pleasanteeism? See how many of these points you’re nodding your head to…
- Have you ever gone into work despite knowing you’re not in the right mental state to get stuff done?
- Do you feel like crying at work is shameful?
- Do you always answer ‘how are you?’ with ‘great!’, even when you’re feeling awful?
- Have you ever avoided raising an issue because you don’t want to seem ‘difficult’?
- Do you agree to take on extra work when you’re already overwhelmed?
- Does it feel impossible to say ‘no’ or to ask for help?
- Do you feel pressured to pretend you’re not struggling mentally?
- Do you feel like you have to hide your true self or put on an act?
If you’re relating hard, you might be falling into the pleasanteeism trap – but don’t blame yourself.
It can be incredibly difficult to break out of cultural conventions that have become the ‘norm’, whether that’s the idea that experiencing emotions is ‘unprofessional’ or the portrayal of taking sick days as a ‘weakness’.
And if your workplace upholds pleasanteeism, it’s tricky to go against the grain – especially if you fear being seen unprofessional, overly emotional, difficult to work with, or as the stereotype of the ‘angry Black woman’.
Yes, you can start to gently chip away at the trend by speaking more openly about mental ill health, taking time off when needed, and asking for support, but much of the change needs to come from the top.
Currently, only 16% of respondents feel their mental health is very well supported at work, despite 81% wanting their employers to support their mental wellbeing.
Findings from the report suggested that workers would be keen for their workplaces to pick up simple initiatives to make a difference, such as being more mindful about workloads and work/life balance, offering greater flexibility in working hours, offering time out to deal with personal commitments, and allowing for mental health days off work.
Sheena McDermott, the acting head of leadership and management programmes at Be the Business, said: ‘Every company wants to talk about how supportive they are but that doesn’t mean the stigma around mental health has disappeared, or that individuals will be less concerned about exposing their own vulnerabilities.
‘It takes a lot more than a LinkedIn post about company culture to break down entrenched barriers. It takes real change.
‘If there’s one positive that came out of Covid-19, it’s that people are more in tune with themselves.
‘As we come out of the pandemic, businesses need to remember that we are a changed workforce, we are not the people that first went into our spare rooms to work from home 18 months ago. We are different and we have new expectations.’
Dr Ben Littlewood-Hillsdon, medical director at HealthHero, agrees, adding: ‘Organisations need to enforce a cultural shift from the top.
‘If you have a board member or CEO who is very open about mental health and resilience, it helps the rest of the company see that their commitment is authentic.
‘It offers them the opportunity to live and breathe those principles and helps people to open up.’
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