Kombucha on Tap?
Updated: Sep 15
A Short List of Things that Don’t Count as Evidence of a Healthy Workplace
Ah yes, the Healthy Company. A stock-photo photographer’s dream. A diverse workforce. Smiling faces. A corkboard littered solely with good ideas. How does Healthy Company do it? And what’s so funny?!
When they say that a picture says a thousand words, what they don’t tell you is that those words are all carefully chosen by a team of brand experts at Healthy Company (who, by the way, gave itself that nickname). A snazzy snapshot only captures that one moment . . . nothing more.
Most companies are legitimately seeking a healthy culture, one that doesn’t just look like but also feels like the camaraderie and inclusivity in that stock photo. An environment where folks can bring their whole selves to work. A team that values feedback from every member. A brand that people associate with positive change and social responsibility.
But, amidst attempts at attaining the healthy-workplace holy grail (which is, in fact, manufactured by Yeti and customized with your company logo stamped on it in gold), it’s easy to fall into the trap of appearing healthy rather than actually being healthy.
What are the pitfalls that companies can stumble into as they quest for a top-tier work environment? And how can we flip the script?
The Pitfall: Letting your company logo do the social justice work for you
Whether it’s supporting Black Lives Matter or celebrating Pride Month, social movements have sadly become intrinsically linked to capitalism. But just touting a rainbow logo during the month of June is a form of performative activism—support that increases a company’s social capital—not real allyship.
What would be better: Support those with rising identities (identities that have been systemically marginalized) all year round, not just when it’s “trendy,” or “lucrative.”
There are tons of books, podcasts, and resources on how you can do this. But, one sure-fire way to ensure you’re being a supportive ally is to listen. Are your team members asking for a more socially-aware logo? Maybe. But more likely, they’re asking for the company to use inclusive language, provide no-strings-attached mental health days, and invest real resources into DE&I initiatives.
The Pitfall: Premium video-calling for remote members, but no system for ensuring everyone gets heard
More than ever, teams are relying on top-tier communication services, calendar syncing, and messaging tools in order to stay connected. But no amount of color-coding is going to make up for the fact that online meetings can exacerbate power discrepancies. According to Professor of Linguistics Deborah Tannen, the differences between how men and women speak are only amplified by online communication. Her research reveals that inequities in online meetings can largely be attributed to the gender differences in conversational conventions, including length of pauses, amount of time spoken, and frequency of questions.
What would be better: Ask yourself in meetings, "Who is being heard? Has this changed since we went virtual?"
If so, recognizing team members by name or establishing a "hand-raising" system can help all ideas—not just those backed by the loudest voices or the fastest Internet connections—rise to the top.
The Pitfall: A swimming pool, in-house coffee shop, and company bowling alley . . . and an expectation of 24/7 productivity.
Okay, maybe this list isn’t so much “corporate perks,” as a list of amenities we saw on an episode of MTV Cribs. But, what we mean to point out is that no amount of logo-embroidered swag or company-funded ski trips can make up for an unhealthy environment. After all, being asked to work non-stop in exchange for several gift certificates to your local coffee shop isn’t a workplace benefit so much as a bribe, don’t you think?
What would be better: How do we create a workplace where folks actually want to be?
I’m sure this was a question a young Willy Wonka asked himself before coming up with his genius, albeit hazardous, plan to “install a chocolate river!” But, for the rest of us who can’t liquify sugar in our hallways (and not just because that’d be pointless while our teams are working from home), what are some ways to keep folks happy and healthy at work?
A few, off the top of our heads . . . Mental health days that don’t require a doctor’s note and a ship captain’s sign-off. Employee Resource Groups that are run by folks who want to run them and not hoisted upon those who are unfairly deemed “qualified” based on their identity. Book clubs for continuing education and building interpersonal relationships. Feedback that takes after salmon (swims upstream). And, of course, we’d be remiss not to mention compliance training that treats your team members like adults, that acknowledges the nuances of today’s workplace, and that values the delight, engagement, and experiences of its learners. But hey, we’re biased.
At the end of the day, do we really want to be the folks in that stock photo? (to be honest, we’re still getting weird vibes from that handshake). At Ethena, we don’t want to be “Healthy Company” with their stock-photo sheen. We don’t want to be the kind of workplace where folks have to be fake or feel used for their identities. We’d rather be the moments before and after this photo — the genuine and complicated interactions that come with being a group of individuals coming together to solve problems creatively.
All of that said, if the plant in that photo is real, we’ll take that. Rule #67 of healthy workplaces: Never turn down free foliage.