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 2017⁄18: 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.
- Look out for changes in behaviour. If someone’s not their usual self, it’s usually worth asking why.
- Be open. Allowing someone to talk about what’s worrying them, however briefly, can make a huge difference.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- Encourage openness by being open. It’s far easier to open up to someone who is being frank and honest with you.
- 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.