4 ways to create more civilized workplaces

Every time that I read about mental health at the workplace and the article focuses only in  depression or stress related to the job, I cringe. As a Mexican that has spent 2/3 of her career in the third world, I find that there is an excess of concern regarding depression and stress, and not enough in other malfunctions of teams and people. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada “in any given year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness….Mental health problems related to the workplace include anxiety, depression and burnout.”


I find that we (HR and general population) need to differentiate mental problems. Feeling sad or demotivated is not being depressed, perhaps it may be dysthymia, but not depression. I have seen examples of these mental states and I’m puzzled to see that both are easily labeled as depression. Anxiety is common in this world of incertitude and we can (and should) learn to manage it if we are to survive as society.  I cannot talk about the burnout as it doesn’t seem to exist in Latin America and I have never seen it or experienced it.

For sure some jobs are very stressful, but being really busy, having tight deadlines or having conflicts at work not necessarily makes a job stressful.  Perhaps an employee is not skilled to deal with difficulties, but that doesn’t mean that the person (and the team) cannot learn how to do it.

Some companies have changed their paternalistic views to adapt to modern times, but they continue dis-empowering people by acting as if people are not able to deal with complexity, conflicts or even worse, not able to learn how to do it. But what I find more concerning is that, in general, organizations are just focused on the  effects and not on the causes.

I’ve seen so many power struggles, battles of egos, unhealthy competition among teams and people, and meaningless activities in the workplace, that I wonder when we’ll start addressing these issues that cause on the mental health problems.


Different studies mention that stress ( job insecurity, abusive supervision, excessive demands, etc), social isolation, lack of social support, the encroachment of work on family life, and domestic relationship problems contribute to mental health issues

We need to avoid the stigma of mental health issues, but we cannot pretend they don’t exist. We need to give people the tools needed to cope with stress, if we want to have a successful team/organization.  HR has the responsibility of helping people develop new skills, and one of them is how to work in harmony with the rest of the team.  Some of the ways to create more civilized and harmonic workplaces are:

1. Promote collaboration: Creating a culture of collaboration reduces stress and social isolation. People learn to accept collaboration in their work and lives and become more involved in the organization, family and community.  A person who is involved in any of these groups know that s/he is not alone.

2. Promote organizational values: When people (and especially executives) behave in congruence with the organization’s values, the morale of the team increases. The system regulates people’s behaviors reducing stress. There is a sense of unity to achieve goals, instead of internal competition.

3. Respect personal boundaries: Although people in general (at least in Quebec) respect work-life balance, we can forget easily that we need time to restore our energy. Being all the time available for phone calls, expecting people to change personal plans due to lack of organizational planning, and treating people in a disrespectful way,  increases stress.

4. Have fun: Teams that have fun together deal with stress in a better way.  We (HR) can promote team fun by relaxing the atmosphere in the company a little bit. A fun environment doesn’t have to be unproductive or unprofessional. Accept that happiness and performance are key for the organization’s success.

Some other interventions to improve the morale and engagement of the team are:

Lunch&learns and all-hands meetings are a great time to promote a relaxed atmosphere.

-An appreciative inquire conversation will help to change the way we view things.

Rewards and recognition programs, systems, events.

Meaningful activities in each role.

-Follow the No-Asshole rule.

Do you have more ideas? please, add them in the comments.


Building a great team

People are always looking for a great company to work for. Of course, finding a great company is not so difficult: all you need is to connect with their values, mission and vision (which, of course, might be a little bit more difficult), but you can usually anticipate if the company is good for you, considering they way they treat you as a customer, and what employees and former employees say about it.

Having a great team, one that inspires you to give the best, to devote your competencies, knowledge and skills,  in a way that is reflected in your performance, is way more complicated. You have to build it or to be more specific, you have to co-create it, as a great team is everyone’s responsibility.

The team culture is the sum of the individuals behaviors, beliefs and expectations. Great companies have teams that not so great, and of course,  mediocre companies have great teams. The greatness of the company depends on how many and how relevant their great teams are, and also on the company processes, to allow this greatness expand to other areas.


A great team, one that not only achieves its goals in an effective way, but that also fosters learning and promotes engagement  among their members, starts with their processes.

Clear goals and structures. I’d rather insert woodpicks under my fingernails than working in a team that doesn’t have a clear goal or structure.  I don’t mind ambiguity, but knowing that my performance (and everyone else’s in my team) will be appraised based in vague goals, or that I should deliver results, but I have to convince other team members of doing their work, is just frustrating.

Commitment and Empowerment.  Commitment can help even when structures are not so clear. People who really take their job seriously will do whatever it takes to deliver, but regardless of what your external consultant may say, leaders need to empower employees. Commitment is internal and empowerment is external.  Empowerment is a two-way street. Managers have to involve employees, allow them to define their own processes, and solve their own issues. Employees are the ones dealing with the customer/system/product, they probably know more than the manager who is not involved 24/7. Participatory leadership is the key, as everyone feels responsible for the team’s results.

Communication and respect. Teams need to communicate effectively: say what they mean, mean what they say. They also need to share the floor, be respectful and ask questions whenever something is not clear.  The team should agree on the way they’ll analyze and diagnose their processes and solve their problems, as this is the secret to a healthy team.

Fun. That might be my personal preference, but I see more productivity, efficiency and creativity when the team is having fun together. People need to be socially connected and have a sense of belonging in order to feel satisfaction. No one likes to get to work, say hello and hear the crickets as the only answer. Having fun while working is highly engaging and it’s contagious. People that have fun together, will easily give the extra mile or demand it when someone’s work quality is not the expected.

I still hang out with a lot of my former colleagues. They have become my friends and this is something that a paycheck will never cover.