World Mental Health day today then. It’s trending on Twitter under three different hashtags, several more on Instagram, Linked In has articles on it, people are posting memes on Facebook. I’ve also had emails on it, telling me what organisations are doing to raise awareness of mental health issues.
This is all very well, and I’m not saying it won’t help for people to be more aware and more sensitive to the issues surrounding mental illness.
But what really winds me up is organisations talking about what they’re doing to ‘raise awareness’, and what they’re not talking about is stress at work. How much is the workplace the cause of the mental health issues their people are experiencing? Are they working in poor conditions? Too much work leading to long hours? A culture that frowns upon anyone who leaves on time or doesn’t get in extra early? Having to take work home? A micromanager? A bully for a manager? Or management by absence?
I listened to the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce podcast today, with interviewees from two large organisations in Birmingham talking about what they’re doing about mental health. Apart from a mention that work addiction is an addiction too, there was nothing about the role the workplace plays in causing mental health issues. There was a lot of talk about raising awareness.
Now these two businesses might be great places to work, but equally, they may be creating stress for their employees. If they’re not talking about it, chances are, nothing is being done about it. If their people have any of the issues I mentioned causing them stress at work, what are these organisations doing to address that problem? Are there genuine solutions available to them, and are they encouraged to take them up?
Birmingham Chamber also says that poor mental health and wellbeing is costing the West Midlands region more than £12 billion a year. The CIPD’s annual survey into health and wellbeing at work shows that stress is one of the top three causes of long term absences across all sectors, and the top cause of long term absence in the public and non-profit sectors. So it really doesn’t pay to ignore this issue.
One exception I did find on Twitter is Prof Sir Cary Cooper, speaking at the Mad World conference. He says that employers need to identify what could be damaging workers’ wellbeing, instead of looking for quick fixes like mindfulness at lunch. Prof Cooper is a professor of organisational psychology and health at MBS Manchester University, so has some authority to make these observations. Although it’s so obvious that if people are overworked for long periods of time, they’ll get stressed, and that will eventually result in sickness absence, I don’t understand why more employers don’t see this.
If you’re overworked and it’s having an effect on your mental health, I recommend you read How to do a great job and go home on time by Fergus O’Connell. It has some great strategies to deal with this problem. This book review tells you a little more about it.
O’Connell, Fergus 2005 How to do a great job and go home on time Pearson Education Limited, Harlow
Who’s in control? Whose dream are you living?
Work hard, get a good job and you’ll be a success. But now you feel you’ve bought into a lie. You work hard, but aren’t getting the rewards you deserve.
Entrepreneurship is a pretty big thing now, more and more people getting into it. I know a few people who got into freelancing or became sole traders and entrepreneurs who went into it because they wanted more control over their lives, or at least working life.
But what if you do work for someone else? Entrepreneurship is not your thing, for whatever reason. And let’s face it, we can’t all be entrepreneurs – business owners need someone to join the payroll.
I spent two days at an event last week, for entrepreneurs. Headline speaker was Gary Vaynerchuk, and there were several other speakers, most of whom were selling from the stage. But there were some lessons in there that are just as valuable to employees as those running a business. I’ve talked before about how autonomy at work is a key driver of motivation, and these seven lessons can help you take back control.
A few speakers talked about the education system, how kids are not taught how to be entrepreneurial. They’re taught how to get a job. Get good grades and work hard, and you’ll be successful. A few discovered for themselves that’s not how it works.
I’m on board with the sentiment, though it did remind me a little of Hyde in That 70s Show, who was always complaining about ‘the man’.
You may be in a role where you're working hard, but feel you’re not getting any reward for all that effort. You're working hard for someone else's rewards. It’s unfortunately happening a great deal at present.
The solution? Get your own education. Learn on your own terms. Several speakers said you’ve got to learn before you earn. Essentially the same message as the establishment. But what resonates for me is that we should take responsibility for our own education, career, business, life. You may not be taught critical thinking at school, but get out there and learn to do it, it’s an important life skill. And speaking of which….
This is one of my favourites. Take responsibility for your own actions. One woman got the opportunity to ask Gary Vee a question. She admitted she hadn’t taken any action (brave of her!) but then said she was worried about what could go wrong, what should she do then? Gary Vee’s response ‘Don’t worry about the future when you’re doing shit in the present.’ As someone who has difficulty with productivity at times, I can empathise with her question, but he’s absolutely right. The responsibility to take action lies with ourselves.
If you’re in a horrible job, or have a bad manager, take responsibility for changing that. But take a good hard look at your role here. Is it really that bad, or are you causing at least part of the problem by your attitude to work? How engaged are you at work? Only 11% of employees in the UK are fully engaged. If you increase your engagement, you can increase your success. If you increase your happiness, you can increase your success. (Yes, that is the right way round. You increase your happiness first, the success follows.) Let me know if you want to know how to do that, I can help you.
This is one reason we often get caught up in not taking action. Actually, fix your mindset is probably the wrong way to say it, what we want is to have the right mindset; there’s a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset. Growth is the one we want.
We lack the confidence to go out and succeed in the way we’d like to. This is a part of the education you need to get for yourself. If you don’t know how to do it, find out. A great place to start is by reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. Or watch her TED talk if you don’t like reading. (It’s an excellent book though, I’d recommend giving it a try.)
Execute. Stop consuming, start producing. Knowledge isn’t power, knowledge plus action is power. Be knowledgeable about your job, but ultimately, you have to produce the goods.
As a long suffering procrastinator, knowledge plus action makes so much sense. Never forget there has to be action. It’s only action that moves us forward, inaction leads to atrophy. (That might not be literally correct, I’m not a scientist. But Prof Brian Cox said something similar I’m sure.)
If, like me, you’ve been afflicted with procrastination, take responsibility. There are solutions that can help – I’ve been using them myself and am recovering.
Kind of like the last one, take action, sometimes you have to seize the day. I’m so thankful I booked onto this event. It was two days away from my business, travel expenses as well as the ticket expense, and two 4 am starts. But it was totally worth it.
Apart from the awesomeness of having seen Gary Vaynerchuk speak live on stage, I got so much more from this experience that I wasn’t expecting. Sometimes, it’s worth just going with your gut and doing something, even if it doesn’t seem logical.
So if you just know you need to do something, just do it.
What, you haven’t got one already? Just, get a coach. Or a mentor. Or both.
Many thanks to Daniel Priestley, who was one of the speakers, for helping me to think more about the experience overall, and for the hidden lessons. I learned some things about myself I wasn’t expecting to, and his comments made me learn some more.
I don’t want to come over all inspirational quote here, but those memes on Facebook that tell you people come into your life for a reason? And sometimes there’re there to bring you a lesson? That’s how I feel about going to this event. I know we can’t go through life analysing every little thing that happens, but it can be worthwhile to reflect on experiences from time to time. The lessons may not be the ones you expected.
So if you’re having a tough time at work, if you’d like to
then take the first step and get my free download 'Seven things you can do today to change how you feel about work'.