The Unpleasant Truth About The Pleasanteeism Crisis

Published 1 month ago
By Forbes Africa | Gary Martin– The writer and professor is CEO of the Australian Institute of Management Western Australia and a workplace and social affairs expert
A young boy dressed as a businessman wears a paper bag with a happy face on it.
(Source: Getty Images)

Many workplaces are experiencing a rise in “pleasanteeism” as the cost-of-living crisis takes its toll on the mental health of employees.

Pleasanteeism refers to the pressure an individual feels to put on a brave face in front of colleagues, regardless of their emotional state.

Not only does pleasanteeism compromise the overall mental wellbeing of employees but it can impact badly on workplace productivity.

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All businesses are trying to be more open about emotional wellbeing and establish better support structures for employees, break stigmas and encourage conversations.

While the stiff upper lip mentality is slowly being broken down, many people still feel the pressure to put on a brave face when they feel less than optimal.

Pleasanteeism is on display when employees put up a front – and act as if everything is going well for them – even when they are stressed, anxious, under pressure or in need of support.

Those who have succumbed to this affliction wear a mask of pleasantries to hide their true feelings.

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Their aim in concealing emotional turmoil and stress is to avoid coming across as disruptive and problematic to colleagues, especially those in charge.

While many bosses appreciate employees who are regarded as low maintenance, hiding one’s poor mental health represents a false economy.

When employees suffer in silence and are not working at their optimal level, it will impact on an organization in both the short and long term – quite apart from the damage this charade is doing to the individual.

It is not hard to understand why pleasanteeism – sometimes called faked cheerfulness – has taken hold of some workplaces.

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Cost-of-living concerns following on so closely from the pandemic, combined with overwork and growing job insecurity, have combined to create not just a perfect storm of worry and anxiety but a category four cyclone.

So strong are the gusts of economic headwinds that they have the potential to rattle – and upend – those individuals with deeply rooted positive dispositions to life and work.

At the same time, there have been even stronger calls for people to become more resilient and ride out tough times.

This has meant many have felt themselves torn between sharing their worries and concerns with others or just putting on a brave face.

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Many are choosing the pleasanteeism pathway because we still tend to value positivity over negativity.

From a young age, we are taught to banish so-called bad feelings and pick ourselves up when we fail or fall. We are told to stop whingeing, soldier on, stop being negative and look on the bright side.

As we age, we become part of fix-it-fast cultures that embrace FONO, or the fear of a negative outlook.

FONO makes us drown out negative vibes with buckets of contrived positivity and false reassurances when we tell our colleagues that we are “perfectly okay”.

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And when we encounter employees who are brave enough to tell us they are experiencing challenging situations, instead of empathizing with them we are increasingly opting for a toxic quick fix that dismisses the slightest sniff of negativity.

We have become accustomed to pouring overly positive vibes on emotions such as fear, sadness, loneliness or anger to push those who are struggling towards a state of false cheerfulness.

We tell them “everything happens for a reason”, “others have it worse” or “just think positive thoughts” instead of reassuring them that it is actually okay to not be okay.

When a workplace embraces and supports pleasanteeism rather than the expression of raw feelings, employees are denied the chance to feel and express what is going on inside them.

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Suppression of those feelings further amplifies the internal feeling of negativity.

Many of the worries and concerns of our colleagues are triggered by factors outside the workplace – and often linked to financial concerns. But just because they are created externally does not mean they will not come flooding into our workplaces.

We should open the door to what is on our colleagues’ minds. Simply being there to listen can make a world of difference.

Although mental wellbeing is more front of mind in workplaces than ever before, many colleagues remain unprepared to talk openly about their problems. The truth is we still have a long way to go to remove the fear of being judged or even punished for being honest about expressing that our health is not as rosy as our pretence suggests.