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Mental wellbeing at work: Navigating the different types of people you meet

Mental wellbeing at work: Navigating the different types of people you meet

What can we do when a trauma survivor meets someone with psychopathic characteristics at work? Arina Sofiah & Priya Sunil find out in sessions at NCPC Asia 2023.

The team at Human Resources Online had the pleasure of being a part of the fifth edition of the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Conference held in Singapore, on 21 and 22 November 2023. 

The two-day event, supported by Singapore Psychological Society, saw close to 200 counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists, mental health experts, and students in the industry come together for a journey of inspiration, growth, and a collective effort for positive change.

Among the many key learnings - how to overcome the impact of a dysfunctional family upbringing, understanding and treating complex trauma, breaking the silence on sexual shame, and more, were a few that HRO believes would be particularly interesting to our readers. 

Check them out below, and feel free to share the insights with your leadership team too!


When trauma survivors meet psychopaths at work

Working in a modern environment, it is no surprise that you’ll meet a wide range of personalities in the office — some less desirable than others.

You may have perhaps noticed that your colleagues all have their own quirks and personalities. This may include their trauma stress response in the face of adversity. As spoken in a session covering a topic that many in the workforce would relate to — trauma survivors meeting psychopaths at work, this can be categorised into the following:

1. FAWN: People pleasing, which may sound good BUT creates more problems down the line.
2. FLIGHT
3. FREEZE
4. FIGHT: Self-preservation — gets the job done but can come across demanding or demeaning.

Interestingly, the session broke down some personalities that may be a challenge to deal with into the dark triad: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Of course, as the speaker understands, "people that are difficult do not realise they are difficult".

This may sound intimidating and harsh, but the session shed some light on how you can turn these psychopathic characteristics amongst the dark triad into an advantage at work:

Turning traits around:

Psychopathic:
1. Superficial charm -> Just means effortless
2. Impulsivity -> Decisiveness
3. Lack of guilt/remorse -> Unemotional
4. Manipulative -> Persuasive
5. Thrill seeking -> Action oriented
6. Emotional poverty -> Neutral

Narcissist:
1. Grandiosity -> Impressive
2. Exhibitionism -> Excellent presentation
3. Dominance -> Commanding
4. Entitlement -> Self-assured
5. Vanity -> Rewards driven
6. Sensitive to criticism -> Responds to feedback

Machiavellian characteristics:
1. Low ethics/morals -> Expands boundaries
2. Absence of principles -> Flexible
3. Amorality -> Unconventional
4. Cynicism -> Critical
5. Calculated -> Strategic
6. Pursuit of target -> Results driven

When managing such situations and dealing with the trio, the session pointed out questions that can help you as a start:
1. What is the prize? What do they want?
2. Remember: power corrupts people!


Leaders' role in creating a healthy and engaging workforce 

Another key topic discussed at the conference was on how leaders can create a healthy and engaging workplace for all, through a focus on wellbeing. Needless to say, in an era where the dynamics of work are constantly evolving, fostering a workplace that is both engaging and supportive of employee wellbeing has become paramount. Here are some highlights derived from the conversation:

Why and how leaders invest in mental wellbeing

  • As one speaker pointed out, we [employees] are not just merely human resources —- numbers simply plucked into different roles. Every individual is important, and it is a moral imperative for leaders to take care of their team members.
  • When leaders take care of their people, this would naturally lead to increased productivity and performance. "Leaders often think: 'Should I focus on productivity, or should I focus on taking care of my people? Research has consistently shown that once you focus on taking care of the people, you get the results and the productivity too', one speaker noted. "It’s like when you take care of a child’s needs, the child will thrive. So, when we take care of our employees, the business will naturally thrive as well." Therefore, she added, it makes good business sense for leaders to establish mental wellbeing programmes and take care of their people.

Good news, as noted by some of the speakers: Managers today are talking about mental health and supporting their teams a lot more than they used to, and EAP programmes are proving to be effective. That said, there is still a long way to go culturally within Asian countries, where talking about mental health does not come naturally to people.

In that vein, it was highlighted, this journey will be an organic one, where people are opening up and removing the stigma around it — that it is not a weakness, but a strength, to talk about it openly. In fact, as observed, many leaders are also openly talking about their own struggles as a way to motivate their teams and say that look, 'I've been through a bout of depression at some point in my career, and I know how sleepless hours can really affect you; I know how isolating some jobs can be, and it’s ok to seek help.' Leaders have been facilitating a sense of belongingness, becoming acutely aware on how to increase this sense of belongingness in people to create a sense of community. If you can’t do it organisation wide, do it within your teams, it was affirmed.

Additionally, there is now greater focus — and need for this greater focus — on mindfulness at work; both as a concept, and as a training and the way in which it has been implemented both individually and organisationally, starting with big brands encouraging it and cascading down to smaller employers bringing it to light.

The push for leaders to proactively resolve mental health issues in employees

What do we do when a colleague is facing mental health issues but their head of department is not taking proactive measures to resolve them? Talking about this, one speaker noted: "It’s important to look at the resources that you have at hand – whether it’s the human resources department, or its your boss, or its somebody, to have a constructive conversation and an open conversation as a team to bring attention to certain matters.

"At some level, we need to coach people on how to talk about these things – both managers and employees; so if the manager or HOD is not taking proactive measures, it’s a way of finding out who else would and how to do it in a non-abrasive manner where you can be heard and helped."

Next, comes a point on company culture, especially if the organisation has been around for a long time and is thus deeply ingrained in the 'modus operandi' of the system. While this is so, employees do have a level of responsibility in speaking up for it and where possible, although in certain work cultures, this is not allowed, even when there are 'speak up' processes in place.

A speaker advised: "If it is possible [to speak up] in your organisation, taking a level of responsibility to speak up to highlight issues at hand is indeed important. And ultimately, if none of the above is actually suited to your particular situation because the culture is very tiny or there is no opportunity or mechanism to speak up without repercussions, please remember that we all have choices.

"We do not have to stay stuck in a toxic relationship whatever the nature of the relationship, and that includes a professional relationship. I appreciate it's easier said than done, and making changes especially when we have life responsibilities, it might not be an easy thing to do in a short period of time, but if it is damaging you to the level that it's impacting your mental wellbeing, please think about it."


Photo: 123RF

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