Insight: toxic workplace culture must be stamped out if we are to address mental health and wellness issues

by | Oct 10, 2022

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Today, as part of our celebration of World Mental Health Day, IFA Magazine is sharing the views and opinions of a number of experts on this crucial subject which is so relevant to all of us – especially to those of us working in the stressful world of financial services. 

Sinead Scott-Lennon(pictured) is Founder of Progress not Perfection Coaching who has highly valuable experience on mental health to share.  Through her work as co-founder of ‘A Better Workplace’, which  supports organisations in carrying out a deep dive into their culture, Sinead is  particularly well placed to share practical ways that your business can approach wellbeing in the workplace.

In this blog for IFA Magazine, she explains how – and why – the right workplace culture is so important if firms are to get wellbeing right and reduce mental health issues for those people involved within the business. 

The concept of wellbeing at work has been thrown about for several years but when the global pandemic hit, it flipped the way we all work on its head and the idea of wellbeing in the workplace became front and centre.

We’re not just talking about offers of yoga classes or subsidised gym memberships – they are great but alone aren’t getting anywhere near the overall wellbeing of many employees.

In my experience, and in conversations with clients, wellbeing, or lack thereof, is often led by company culture. And, all too frequently, cultural issues are rampant in the workplace.


In a world where organisations are assessed and rated on their ESG credentials, the ‘S’ is still woefully under-represented, particularly in the workplace itself.

More and more companies are starting to realise how culture affects mental health and wellbeing and have started to assess and address cultural issues. They should be applauded – they have been brave enough to put their hands up, be assessed and change practices for the better, where necessary. Some have attained accreditations from organisations like ourselves that they should, and do wear proudly. But not enough are doing so…

Leadership teams have a duty to challenge and examine culture.  Neglecting this can have a huge impact on stress and wellbeing in the workplace.


What’s the answer? Well, quite frankly, examination must start at the top. That is the only way to make meaningful change for good. Willingness to change for the better must trickle down through teams and get into the fabric of the organisation to truly make the workplace a better place for everyone.

There are five pillars that should be looked at when assessing workplace culture:

Organisational Culture


This looks at company values and how those values translate into behaviours. It examines Diversity & Inclusion and how unconscious bias can creep into recruitment practices.

Have you ever asked what your teams feel about the atmosphere that they work in? How supported do people feel at work? I mean truly supported when unwanted change happens such as the death of a family member, miscarriage, mental health, infertility, illness, relationship breakdown…the list is endless and it makes us human. Not one of us is immune to these things yet we are expected to perform professionally whilst navigating these major life events.

Leadership Style


People need to see that their leaders are agile in times of change. This makes for a more stable environment to work in. Empathetic leadership is key to really seeing workforces as human beings as well as professionals. A real leadership skill is having the ability to get everyone ‘on the bus’ for the vision and the direction of the company.

Wellbeing/Mental Health/Stress

This won’t be fixed by an exercise class or meditation alone. The key is to normalise conversations about mental health and stress at work. If individuals feel that they can open up to their managers there is a clear first step towards managing mental health and stress. Openness and an open door policy is the first step towards breaking down the taboo.


People strategy

It’s vital to make sure that work is interesting and challenging to create a stimulating environment for people. Here is where learning and development comes into its own also. If we aren’t learning new skills and being challenged it can have a detrimental impact on satisfaction in a work environment.

Employee Relations


One of the biggest killers of workplace relationships is the inability of people to have perceived ‘difficult conversations’ in a timely manner. In other words, nipping issues in the bud early before they implode and reach toxic levels. What if we were able to reframe the way we approach difficult conversations and simply see them as conversations?

Each of these pillars must be examined from the top and the views of the entire workforce taken into account. Change doesn’t happen overnight and is a big leadership challenge but one worth taking on. If you think about it, changing culture in any area of life takes time, work, dedication, willingness to change and measures put in place to maintain all of the above. Culture may take time to change for the better but it can be ruined in a matter of days if not seen as a priority. It is a vital investment in risk management.

For organisations, investing in meaningful culture change is a no-brainer. Firstly (and most importantly) it is the right thing to do by your people. Secondly, it ticks all of these boxes:

  • Increased staff retention
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Increased positive presenteeism
  • Increased employee engagement, happiness & wellbeing
  • Improved employer brand & company culture

In the words of Tony hsieh, ‘If you get culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself.’

Sinead Scott- Lennon is Founder of Progress not Perfection Coaching and co-founder of A Better Workplace.

For more information on making your workplace better, email Sinead on



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