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  • Katherine King

Data-Driven Wellbeing

Is the title an oxymoron? Can well-being and data co-exist in a healthy way? Plenty of recent MBA grads would argue that anything can be made better by data, but what about the culture that surrounds worshiping it?


The modern-day workplace is run by the numbers-gods: the clock, the bottom line, the calendar, the deadline. Despite the fact that most workers can quickly sense that the spoken values aren’t always the enacted values, we stay in unhealthy workplace environments.


Why is that? Why would intelligent people stay in workplaces that undermine their well-being? It is a question I am asked in my trainings, “Why do people in the US live to work, versus work to live?” Ironically in the US, health insurance is a major reason people stay in unhealthy workplaces. This is a fact that causes our foreign neighbors to feel pity for US workers. They are often shocked that the nation they learned was so strong, doesn’t provide its citizens with more choices.


The reality is that people usually stay in bad workplaces because they either don’t know, or they don’t have a choice.


This past week, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing “mental health struggles”. The contract obliged her to do press conferences, but she was mentally (and financially, one would imagine) strong enough to make a healthy choice. A woman who puts her mental well-being first teaches other women how to put their mental well-being first.


I remember one Japanese business leader, of a major automobile corporation, scratched his head when I told him that in the US the contract is binding no matter what. According to what he had learned, that made no sense. His belief system taught him that if the price of raw material changes, then how could he expect his suppliers to stay afloat at the previous price?


The US business person argues that without contracts we can have law and order.


So whose culture is right?


The 20th-century leadership gurus might have seen Ms. Osaka’s “mental illness” as a weakness, but if organizations are going to be inclusive, then they have to see it as “MENTAL AWARENESS”. How did mental sensitivity become an “illness”? How did the female-born population end up having natural behaviors and responses turned into an illness?


If we are going to rely on the data, then even the term “mental illness” is troublesome when it comes to the way our cultures currently interpret those words. Let’s go back to the notion of Nature, Nurture, and Culture. We have data that tells us that based on a person’s nature and nurture (0-8 years), we can predict how someone will act if they feel threatened.


According to Dr. Taibi Kahler, when people are under stress, there are six predictable responses that have been researched, discovered, and validated. The majority of people who hold positions of power are naturally born to use what he calls the “Attacker Mask” when the heat gets turned up.


At the same time, 75% of the people whose workplace responses under stress are to adapt and absorb that stress, are female-born. 75% of the people who will instinctually aggress in the workplace are male-born. There is a correlation between data-driven people and their propensity to feel justified in asserting “their way,” but what if people who worship data were able to use it to adapt their own behavior to the Feeling Majority?


Ironically, the majority of people in the world aren’t the majority of people who hold positions of power. The ones who hold more power historically have had physical strength AND comfort with fighting back. There are individuals whose naturally-given personalities will experience mental illness as a result of the communication choices of the data-driven minority.


How can people who are only relying on data to make decisions be inclusive if the way the data is being used isn't inclusive?


This past year I heard countless arguments on all sides regarding workplace discontent. One of the most common ones I heard was that “people are too sensitive and need to get over it.”


What some people call “too-sensitive,” I prefer to think of as “highly receptive”, which means we have choices on how we interpret one another, especially after this year.

Data can be used in the name of improving Mental Well-Being and Awareness, but whether or not the culture that surrounds it is ready to do the hard work that is necessary to create more inclusive workplace environments, is yet to be determined.


Which way do you see people?




The data is available. Now, what are we going to do about it?


Naomi Osaka Withdraws From French Open, Citing Mental Health Struggles



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