Reintegration is incompatible with toxic corporate culture

Nathalie Arteel

Co-CEO and culture expert Arteel Group

Just as the yoga classes do not solve the psychological problem, you cannot simply get the long-term sick back to work with reintegration projects. People come back when they are sure that the surroundings they find themselves in also indicate that they are welcome.

Employers have invested significant resources in the mental health and well-being of their employees over the past decade. Companies invest heavily in health programs and ‘compensation and benefits’ in the hope of connecting employees with the organization. Fruit at work, yoga classes, table tennis tables, padel, it’s impossible. But such measures are only symptomatic relief. Companies overestimate the impact of these initiatives and must look for the root cause.

Someone once said to me: ‘The fish stinks at the head first.’ Everything starts with moral leadership.

When employees are asked what most undermines their mental health and well-being at work, very different things come to the fore: Often feel that they must always be on guard, are treated unfairly, unreasonable work pressure, little autonomy, too little social support and, above all, feel understood, heard and valued (McKinsey survey of 15,000 employees in 15 countries). In addition, it seems that people do not feel really connected to the organization despite attractive salary and cafeteria plans.

The essence

  • The author
  • Nathalie Arteel is co-CEO and culture expert at Arteel Group.
  • The case
  • A new reintegration process will help more long-term sick people back to work.
  • The proposal
  • It’s not easy. People come back when they are sure that the surroundings they find themselves in also indicate that they are welcome.

There is more to it. Everything has to do with the working environment. Call it corporate culture. And with tolerating toxic behavior. In the old way of thinking, you had a good culture with happy employees if they scored high on so-called engagement surveys. That view is outdated. You need to create environments where people feel valued and feel like they are doing meaningful work. You achieve this with a positive culture. As American psychologist Adam Grant put it: “If people don’t feel cared for, they eventually don’t care anymore.”


Tackling toxic behavior – and therefore a toxic culture – is difficult because the root cause lies much deeper. Someone once said to me: ‘The fish stinks at the head first.’ Everything starts with moral leadership. As an employer, you cannot find your way out of the challenges with yoga alone. Employers who try to improve burnout without addressing toxic behaviors are likely to fail.

After all, we are not only in a burnout or ‘quiet quitting’ crisis, we are also in a crisis of ‘purpose and meaning’. In recent years, study after study has confirmed the age-old wisdom that having a clear purpose and being deeply connected to others contributes to physical and mental well-being.

We are not only in a burnout or stand-up crisis, we are also in a crisis of purpose and meaning.

If we don’t have a purpose, if we don’t feel connected to the organization’s vision, mission and values, we weaken and eventually fall out. In fact, being purposeful, feeling connected to a moral purpose, is an antidote to burnout.

This is especially true for the younger generation. Generation Z wants to contribute to a better world. 46 percent of them therefore choose a company with which they feel culturally connected when choosing a new employer.

Control system

Great managers understand intuitively that the key to good leadership and therefore a positive culture does not lie in ‘compliance’, simply following processes or measuring ‘key performance indicators’ (KPI).

Managers who use culture as a management system focus on designing meaning, on creating the right compass of values. They focus on forming beliefs and thought patterns, articulating principles that lead to clarity, and inspiring and encouraging people to think beyond the task.

Never before have organizations worldwide devoted so much attention and capital to improving the mental health and well-being of employees. It is regrettable that these investments do not always yield good returns with improved results.

Employers who take the time to understand the problem and take a preventative, systemic approach that focuses on causes rather than symptoms should see significant improvements in results and better attract and retain valuable talent.

By building a positive company culture and leading by example, employers and their leaders can make a meaningful difference in the lives of their employees and the communities in which they live.

Leave a Comment