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Here's how toxic positivity complicates our lives at work

Smiling in the face of problems could worsen our mental health

Here's how toxic positivity complicates our lives at work Smiling in the face of problems could worsen our mental health

When I entered the workforce fresh out of university, I knew nothing. I was unaware that my relationship with work would shape a significant part of my early adult life from various perspectives. I didn't know that the pursuit and maintenance of it, the satisfaction I derived (or tragically didn't), and the choices for future career and economic survival would occupy my mind day and night, depending on the circumstances. I wholeheartedly believed in my early bosses and their promises, obsessing over what to prioritize: whether to pursue what I truly loved or a job without responsibilities, something to think about only during designated hours and then never again, financial tranquility, or interpersonal relationships with colleagues. I was unaware that life's circumstances would pull me in different directions, leading me to make decisions I had never considered before. Above all, I didn't know I had to be extremely mindful of toxic positivity.

The Challenges of Work Today

When it comes to workplace issues, the spectrum can be broad, as acknowledged by Tsumura Kikuko, the Japanese author of the novel A Perfect Job, which narrates the neurotic yet relatable and ironic story of an adult woman constantly changing jobs, always finding something amiss. There are those that take a toll on your soul and body, draining you. There are physically demanding ones, those that pay poorly. The historical-economic situation doesn't help: the pandemic, instead of prompting a reconsideration for a better work-life balance, has, in fact, worsened it. Burnout statistics report increasingly high numbers, and inflation and economic crisis are diminishing the purchasing power of our salaries, making us poorer. Even when it comes to bosses and colleagues, people, the scenarios are vast. What happens if your desk mates treat you poorly, if the manager manipulates you? Conversely, what if everyone gets along, and there's someone proclaiming "we're like a family in this office" or "don't worry, everything will be fine" at every corner? Apparently nothing, but there's digging to be done. And it's not surprising that toxic positivity is hard to identify, buried as it is beneath more obvious problems.

@emilybruth Wishing for illness or injury is a burnout If you're willing to risk the permanent/potentially deadly effects of Covid for a couple days off, something needs to change #burnout #worklifebalance #quit original sound - Hayu

What Is Toxic Positivity and Its Negative Effects

Toxic positivity refers to the steadfast belief that one must maintain a joyful and positive outlook even (and especially) when things are not going well, and that everything can be resolved with a proactive and smiling attitude. This attitude is typically promoted by mental coaches and wellness influencers, who believe it can do good in any situation, even the most negative, and that it should be a reaction always adopted, regardless. Working in a place where phrases like "Look on the bright side!" or "Let's not talk about problems, let's talk about solutions" or even "Everything is going wrong? So what, smile" are frequently uttered, while sounding good on paper, could cause serious damage to mental health. According to Angela Amias, therapist and founder of the Healthy Relationship Academy, toxic positivity "is the pressure to express only a small part of the spectrum of human emotions, pushing to suppress and avoid anything that is not cheerful or lively." According to her, it is a negative attitude "because it creates an environment where people cannot be authentic. When it comes to a workplace, this translates to putting on a smile and pretending to be happy when, in reality, there are difficulties," which is mentally and emotionally taxing and could potentially ruin the relationship with work and colleagues forever.

How to Avoid Toxic Positivity at Work

The first step in dismantling a toxic positivity mechanism in the workplace is one and only one: you must learn to recognize it. Sometimes, it is ingrained in the company culture from the start. Other times, it depends on a specific manager who refuses to admit responsibility for their work and team and avoids discussing issues related to salaries, hours, and even discrimination. Do colleagues express their concerns freely and calmly? If the answer is no, the news is not good. The risk is feeling invalidated, thinking you are the only one with problems or noticing things that need to be changed. The effect is isolating. The second step is precisely this: try to claim some space, reiterate your point of view and vision of the matter in a rational, neither positive nor catastrophic manner. By maintaining an open channel of communication with colleagues and superiors, the risk of falling into toxic positivity is reduced.

@themarissamoyer Replying to @user2857278866725 toxic positivity is a real problem in some organizations! Sometimes in individual interactions, it can mean that person just didn’t know what else to say, or how to hold space for someone’s authentic emotions. But on a widespread scale, this is what it can look like in company culture. #toxicworkplace #toxicworkenvironment #ambitiousprofessionals original sound - Career | Influence Coach

What If It's Too Late?

If you realize that you are feeling unwell and the situation is not resolvable, it might be a good idea to work on a healthy detachment from your job. The responsibility of curing a sick corporate culture cannot weigh solely on your shoulders, and your daily tasks are not who you are; they don't necessarily have to be part of your identity. Furthermore, even if it's not always possible for practical and material reasons, consider changing jobs, this time with an eye trained to recognize immediately the symptoms of encroaching toxicity. On to the next adventure.