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Toxic Workplaces — Employee Health and Well-Being

When the Wall Street Journal reported on the harmful effects of toxic workplaces on employee mental and physical health in October, they turned to NFP for survey data published in the 2022 US Benefit Trend Report. Centred around U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s finding that toxic workplaces are harmful to workers, the article referenced organizations’ well-being spend as collected by our annual employer benefits survey. Consistent with NFP’s expertise, the article highlighted the role of work–life balance and acknowledged employees’ evolving perception of their relationship with the workplace.

NFP Senior Vice-President Deb Smolensky, global practice leader for Well-Being and Engagement and recently named 2022 BenefitsPro Luminary, was interviewed for the article. Deb has helped hundreds of organizations evaluate where their well-being dollars are spent, making sure that their investment is targeted to have the most significant employee impact. For Deb, this means looking beyond the traditional notion of work–life balance, focusing instead on a holistic, employee-centric tenet of life–work integration.

“A lot of employees are under constant stress just from things going on in their day-to-day lives,” says Deb. “When you compound that stress with an untenable workload, a lack of flexibility or limited growth opportunities, you put people at risk of burning out. If your organizational culture leaves people feeling burned out all the time and unsupported, they will eventually leave. That kind of environment is toxic.”

This manner of turnover is akin to throwing gasoline on an already toxic fire. Losing key employees can exacerbate and perpetuate workplace toxicity as pressure mounts on remaining employees to fill the void their co-workers have left. For HR teams struggling in the war for talent, quickly finding suitable replacements makes their job much more difficult.

Aligning well-being initiatives with employee needs is a preventive measure against burnout and workplace toxicity.

According to Deb, the opportunity to disrupt this cycle of burnout and turnover begins with listening to workers’ needs and crafting a well-being strategy based on what employees value. “The key is to listen and learn and provide resources accordingly. Remember that flexibility is essential to success and do whatever is reasonable to meet employees where they are.” Moving forward, the strategy should be about creating motivating, supportive workspaces, not just workplaces.

With the convergence of the surgeon general identifying workplace mental health and well-being as a national priority and employers’ unprecedented interest in supporting these initiatives, the era of the mentally healthy workplace has arrived. Employers who set out to expand their benefits strategies with an emphasis on mental well-being and workplace culture and connection will not only support life–work integration, but be at the forefront of a paradigm shift where the workplace complements overall health rather than harming it.

The 2022 NFP US Benefits Trend Report, which surveyed 563 employers across the U.S. with at least $1 million in annual revenue and at least 100 employees, highlights the need to support employee well-being and life-work integration. For further data on well-being spend and more, access the full report on

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