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Why managers should listen to what goes unsaid

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It’s Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week. And amidst the inspir­ing and heart-break­ing sto­ries of peo­ple strug­gling with severe­ly debil­i­tat­ing con­di­tions and labour­ing under incred­i­ble hard­ships, we thought we’d take a moment to speak as a team about the issues that affect us. Some peo­ple talked about the strug­gles they’d expe­ri­enced, either per­son­al­ly or with fam­i­ly and friends. Some talked about expe­ri­ences at pre­vi­ous jobs. Lit­er­al­ly every­one had some­thing to share. Thanks go out to Natasha Wal­lace, our Head of Per­for­mance and Well­be­ing, for get­ting the ball rolling. 

Some days I’m bril­liant. Every now and then, I’m feel dis­con­nect­ed and numb. Most days, I’m some­where in the middle.” 

We talked about those work­place lies you use to pro­tect your­self. You know the sort of thing we mean: the non-com­mit­tal I’m fine” you use to dis­guise the fact that you’re real­ly not your­self that day (or you need an hour or two to get your thoughts in order); the agree­ment to add anoth­er piece of work to the tee­ter­ing tow­er of a to-do list that you lie awake wor­ry­ing about; even the vague com­pli­ment you give some­one when they deliv­er a bare­ly aver­age piece of work, because it’s eas­i­er to redo it your­self than explain why it wasn’t right. Per­haps even more impor­tant­ly, we tried to put things in per­spec­tive. This isn’t just about not feel­ing awful: it’s about giv­ing your­self the chance to be your best self. Men­tal health can be framed as a big scary thing — which, to many peo­ple, it real­ly is — but as work­ers we should try to move towards a pos­i­tive view of it as well. How can I be the ener­gised, con­fi­dent, pos­i­tive per­son I want to be on a more reg­u­lar basis? 

I spend more of my wak­ing hours at work than any­where else, so by some mea­sures my men­tal health should be more impor­tant to my employ­er than it is to my family.”

Accord­ing to the World Health Organ­i­sa­tion, almost two-thirds of peo­ple world­wide with a diag­nos­able men­tal health prob­lem nev­er seek treat­ment. If that’s too huge a fig­ure, how about this: the UK Health and Safe­ty Exec­u­tive named stress as the sin­gle biggest rea­son for lost work­ing days in 201718: a whisker under 50% of all sick days tak­en were due to stress. 

I’m one of those full of ener­gy” peo­ple. So I can put myself under pres­sure to be that per­son at work, even when I’d rather get my head down that day and be a bit more retiring.” 

So much of well­be­ing is about being inten­tion­al; about tak­ing con­trol when those dark thoughts start to get their hooks into you. And yes, that can be incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult, espe­cial­ly if your hard-wired reac­tion is to retreat into your­self and spend all your ener­gy putting a brave face on things. On top of that, there’s a big unpleas­ant dose of the nat­ur­al anx­i­ety a lot of peo­ple feel at work. We do like to think that Clear Review is a place which puts a lot of empha­sis on psy­cho­log­i­cal safe­ty and mutu­al trust, and it’s some­thing that every­one — from senior lead­er­ship down — is aware of. But as those of you who checked out our webi­nar on this sub­ject know, that sort of anx­i­ety can be hard to spot and deal with. 

I once worked at a place where I took three days hol­i­day all year. I didn’t dare take a sick day once. I couldn’t stop wor­ry­ing about what peo­ple would think, about whether I’d miss some­thing vital — a meet­ing, a dead­line. Look­ing back, I prob­a­bly oper­at­ed at about 30% of my best for the whole year.“

We talk a lot, as a com­pa­ny. There’s a cul­ture of trans­paren­cy here that — in my expe­ri­ence, any­way — not every work­place has or tries to pro­mote. A lot of that comes from liv­ing what we do: if we make some­thing that encour­ages peo­ple to talk and con­nect, we have to try and live up to that phi­los­o­phy our­selves. It’s even more notice­able for new peo­ple, who may have come from very dif­fer­ent back­grounds (I cer­tain­ly did). It’s easy to share when you’re feel­ing good, but if you start from a place where com­mu­ni­ca­tion is encour­aged then per­haps that makes it eas­i­er to open up when it’s… not so good. 

Men­tal health isn’t an on-off switch. It’s a spectrum.” 

So what can you, the con­sci­en­tious man­ag­er, do? Well, we could sum all this up with one short sen­tence — Be more aware” — but for the sake of dig­i­tal con­ven­tion, here are five point­ers to guide your mind­ful managing. 

  1. Look out for changes in behav­iour. If someone’s not their usu­al self, it’s usu­al­ly worth ask­ing why. 
  2. Be open. Allow­ing some­one to talk about what’s wor­ry­ing them, how­ev­er briefly, can make a huge difference. 
  3. Watch the work­load. Some peo­ple just aren’t very good at say­ing no to more work. That doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean they have the capac­i­ty to do it well. 
  4. Watch your­self. Are your own habits hav­ing an effect on your team? If you often send emails late in the evening, for exam­ple, your team may start to feel that they should be emu­lat­ing you. 
  5. Break it up. Every­one needs a break, you includ­ed. Take a lit­tle time each day to pause and relax. The evi­dence on this one is so well-known by now that we don’t real­ly need to repeat it, do we? 
  6. Include your team when you decide which bits of work to bite off”: it helps them feel a part of the deci­sion-mak­ing process. The sense that life is hap­pen­ing to you” can rein­force those feel­ings of depres­sion and anxiety. 
  7. Encour­age open­ness by being open. It’s far eas­i­er to open up to some­one who is being frank and hon­est with you. 
  8. Proac­tive­ly recog­nise achieve­ment. Depres­sion can be exac­er­bat­ed or prompt­ed by a lack of con­text — I’m not good enough”, Did I do that right?” — so per­spec­tive and praise can break that cycle. 
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