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Archive Monthly Archives: April 2019

Older employee mental health issues

Brushing off mental health issues

An article in this week’s HR Review states that older employees are ‘brushing off’ mental health issues. This is taken from a study by BUPA and some of the findings relating to over 55s are that

  • Two thirds of employees in this age group suffer symptoms of mental ill health, including anxiousness, continuous low mood, feelings of hopelessness and insomnia
  • 21% feel it’s not appropriate to discuss mental health problems at work
  • Only one in ten confide in colleagues or a manager
  • 24% say their symptoms don’t indicate anything serious
  • They are slowest to seek help, delaying for 54 days on average

​BUPA’s point with the article seems to be to encourage older employees to feel more confident in recognising symptoms and seeking help. Which is all very admirable.

Do you need professional help?

For me though, as one of those older people (ok, not an employee any longer, but definitely in that age group) the article raises more questions than it answers. Those symptoms – are they an indication that professional help is needed? Continuous low mood – if you’re not happy at work, then yes, you may have a continuous low mood. Is that an indication of a mental health issue, or is it a question of an individual’s mindset?

There’s a line between what is a mental health issue that needs professional support and someone who is unhappy because they have a fixed mindset and, to quote Carol Dweck[1], think the world needs to change, not them. Or, as Jen Sincero [2] says, people with bad habits and limiting beliefs, head towards the big snooze – a life of mediocrity.  It’s too easy to sleepwalk through life, meeting obligations , family commitments, having to earn a living, and then find that you’re stuck in some boring job that doesn’t inspire you or seem meaningful.    That doesn’t translate necessarily into a mental health issue that needs professional help.  There are things you can do, take action yourself, make a change.  I know, because I’ve done it.

Apparently, many say that mental health simply ‘doesn’t affect me’. Is this because, as a comment on the article suggests, that older employees won’t speak up because they are afraid that if they do, their job is at risk? (Quite possibly.) Or is it because baby boomers are used to just getting on with things, even if they don’t feel like it? I’d say this is a definite characteristic of us baby boomers. Amongst the women, there’s a sense of obligation to our family commitments that mean we struggle on. Many men of this age still feel it is somehow weak to seek help for mental health issues.

And that 54 days before seeking help – so less than two months. You might legitimately feel that things will get better of their own accord without needing help; although, I realise I can’t argue this without proving BUPA’s point! But I’d still say; is less than two months suffering a continuous low mood an inordinately long time to wait before seeking help? Maybe younger people are too quick to say they have a problem that they can’t solve themselves?

​Why do we feel this way?

One statistic in their findings I do find shocking is that two thirds of people in this age group suffer symptoms like anxiousness, (is anxiousness the same as anxiety? I’d have said anxiety, but the study said anxiousness. Maybe there’s some semantic difference I’m not aware of) continuous low mood, feelings of hopelessness and insomnia. Even if BUPA are overstating the extent of the problem, this is a terrible indictment of the quality of life for working baby boomers. I’ve long believed that work should be meaningful, enjoyable and rewarding. Surely us over 50s have earned the right to be doing something we love with our time, something we find useful and that we look forward to doing? Surely we should not be feeling hopeless, anxious or continuously in a low mood?

What is often not said is that it is work that makes us feel this way. Our lifelong feeling of ​not being valued in jobs that don’t feel meaningful leads to low self esteem and has a knock on effect on the rest of our lives. We don’t have interesting personal lives, we’re too tired once we get back from work to take part in social activities or hobbies, our family relationships may be suffering, and our health, fitness and diet aren’t ideal, making the tiredness worse.

I don’t want to suggest that you shouldn’t seek professional help if you need it, and if your company is enlightened and supportive enough to offer this, that’s awesome, use it. Or use the NHS. I'm not medically trained in any way, but my own past experience of support from the NHS for mental health issues hasn't really addressed issues of low self esteem and confidence. This has taken a lot of personal effort in self development and informal support instead.

​So if it’s that you’re just unhappy at work, take action. Take control, and take back your power. There are some simple things you can do to be happier, and you can start today with these seven things.

Support, positive intent

Can we find the postive intent?

What do we mean by positive intent?  I was reminded this week of the importance of belonging, and feeling like people have your back.  I said a few weeks back that the principles of improv include making sure your colleagues look good.  It embraces looking after them, making sure they are ok. It was a perfect chance to see this in action, because we did our first live performance this week, a showcase in front of family and friends.  Not a work situation, but I can see the parallels.

L'esprit de l'escalier

At times, I was a bit like a rabbit in the headlights.  I’m a little slow to catch onto ideas, so often I didn’t know how to react.  That French phrase, l’esprit de l’escalier, oh my goodness, how many of those have I had? When you think of the funny response on the way out.  But actually, there were also some that I had there and then, but wasn’t quick enough to jump in, and someone moved the action on. I found myself frustrated that I’d got a potentially funny story line, but lost the chance to use it.

Audience members amongst my friends said that a couple of the performers dominated.  There are some big personalities involved.  I also heard that one of the performers was upset about this, though I was not witness to the discussion they had.

I just wanted to share some of my feelings about the experience, and to examine my responses a bit more closely.

Belonging

There have been moments where I didn’t quite feel like I belonged.  I’m older than everyone else, and that doesn’t usually bother me.  Some friendships have been forged, meeting up at the weekend, sharing stories of dating and how that’s going. I’ve been married for donkey’s years and I’m a grandma, so obviously that social life is not for me. Some in jokes have developed amongst the lads, and I didn’t always feel included with those.

On the other hand, there were others who I really bonded with, and the tutor was always supportive and encouraging to those of us who were less confident in our ability to perform. I really liked a couple of the guys (I liked them all to be honest, even with the factors I just mentioned) and found them to be supportive too – I definitely felt that a couple of them went out of their way to help me.  There was only one other woman on the course, aside from the tutor, so we three were outnumbered by seven men.  Again, that wasn’t an issue, but I felt that the other woman also made an effort to include me, even though we are quite different personalities and she is much younger.

But then the actual performance brought up some issues.  Like I said, I was a rabbit in the headlights for much of the time. My dominant feeling afterwards was to be annoyed at myself for missing opportunities.  And then I felt bad too, because that meant I didn’t pick up on something someone else had said, even after he had taken a risk to say it. So in addition, I feel I let him down. I’m trying to be kind to myself and accept that this was the first time I’d done this live in front of an audience, but I’m still annoyed at myself.

Then others commented on the team dynamics, about people who dominated.  At first, I agreed with their perception, that a couple of people had kind of taken over.  There were times when someone rushed in, and I didn’t have the chance to take the direction I wanted to. 

I could have been annoyed about this, resenting how they took over.  But, using my developing empathy skills, let’s think about it from their point of view.  They may have been worried that the performance would go wrong, the story would get stuck.  They may have been worried that I would be stood on stage, in front of a live audience, and not know what to say, would freeze on stage.  I’d certainly frozen enough times in the weeks leading up to the show.

Positive intent

So instead of resenting them for not letting me go ahead, if I view their actions as having a positive intent, they were working to save me (and possibly one or two of the other participants) from the embarrassment of ‘dying’ on stage. Maybe they were doing what they thought was right to look after me.

I haven’t had the chance to debrief the show with them, so I have no idea what the other participants thought. I would really love to have the opportunity to talk to the guy who was upset about how it had gone.  I hope I’d be able to help him see that it wasn’t done deliberately to thwart him, but that the other person had their own concerns and was trying to help in the best way they knew how.

But if we continue with a work analogy, if someone behaves in a way that annoys you, can you reframe it, and think what their positive intent may have been?  Maybe they have anxieties of their own causing them to act in that way?  We’re going our separate ways now, but if it’s an ongoing working relationship, it’s worth the effort to look for the positive intent.  The choice is yours.  If you assume they’re out to get you, you’re building up negative feelings.  This obviously has a negative impact on you, but research consistently shows that negativity breeds negativity.  No-one likes sharing office space with a complainer.  If you assume they were trying to help you, you’ll be positively disposed towards them.  In return, they’ll like being around you, and continue to support you.

Team relationships

I get that I’ve not really made a central point here, probably because my own feelings are so entangled and it’s recent events, so I’m still trying to work it out.  We were effectively like a new team, so the relationships are also at the early stages.  It’s natural that we would get along more easily with some than others, and unavoidable I guess that there would be more than one grouping amongst us.

Annie McKee, in ‘How to be happy at work’ talks about how important friendships are at work, and how organisations can foster a spirit of openness and trust that allows friendships to develop.  The improv course did everything it could to facilitate this.  How does your workplace do?

You can see my review of ‘How to be happy at work’ here.

Working out. Consequences urgency and procrastination

Consequences, urgency and procrastination

​I’ve been thinking a lot about consequences and urgency just lately, and the effects of procrastination.

Are you stuck in a job you don’t like, and you’d really like to make some changes, but somehow you never seem to get around to doing anything about it other than complain? I just want to say, it’s not your fault.  It’s really hard to make that change, and sometimes we don’t even know where to start.  To compound the problem, our brains conspire to keep us where we are. This ​post I wrote some time ago tells you more about how it does this.

I told you in the last post how I’d finally got the diet and exercise habit.  What I didn’t say was that this was after more than forty years of failing to adopt healthy diet and fitness habits on a sustainable basis.  So yay for me!  And that got me thinking about transferring the lessons learned into other areas, and I showed you how you could start small to make some changes in your work situation.

Consequences

I realised that the reason I’ve now adopted the new habits is because there are consequences to not sticking with it.  At first, the consequence was that I’d have to pay a fine and show on a public website that I’d not achieved my goal.  But now, several months later, the consequences of not getting in my activity for the day mean that I don’t get to eat so much.  To continue losing weight, I must maintain a calorie deficit.  If I’m active, I get more calories to eat and can still maintain a deficit on the day.  If I don’t maintain a deficit, I won’t continue losing weight, and I now know that the progress motivates me.  I don’t like to see a weight gain.  I’ve associated the behaviour with the consequences.

There are other things I’d like to achieve though, and I realised that the consequences are not sufficiently associated with the results, so I need to find a way to link them – to ingrain the new habit to work towards other goals.

Urgency

Which brings me to urgency. I’ve also always been a last minute kind of woman.  As a mature student, I was often up until 3.30 am to finish an assignment.  Once, I handed something in at one minute to the deadline, and my dissertation involved two consecutive all nighters in order to get it in on time. I did well to do two consecutive all nighters – that involved me planning ahead and doing some work two days before it was due in.

Now that I work alone, I have to create my own urgency, I have no tutor or manager expecting work to be done to a specific time, so you might have noticed that I don’t post an article every week. At the moment, I don’t have readers who expect a weekly post, so there are no immediate or obvious consequences if I miss a week. ​

You may be in a job you don’t like, you may come home and complain to your family or friends about how awful it is, and you may even look at the job ads online to see if there’s anything else out there.  But you’re not really taking action, you feel stuck in your current situation.  There’s no urgency to make the change.  You need the income ​your job provides, you’re tired out when you get back with domestic responsibilities, you don’t have time to fill out job applications online. The consequences, remaining fed up, dreading Sunday evenings and Monday mornings – well, that’s how it is, you’ll just continue to whinge about it.

Urgency can be a double edged sword.  You may eventually get to the point where you’re desperate, things are so bad that you’ll start to take action.  But then your options may be limited, and you could end up in just as bad a position or worse.  Like Brenda (not her real name) who left a public sector job because she wasn’t happy there, and took a job with a charity working for a cause she believed in.  However, she soon found that the organisation had a toxic work environment. Her new manager was someone who had been promoted but wasn’t capable of her new job, there were no support structures in place to provide the training and coaching that the manager needed, a colleague was being bullied, bitching and gossip were rife.  Speaking up got her nowhere.

You don’t want to act out of real urgency and not be able to take a considered action.  So how can you create some urgency for yourself - enough to motivate you to take consistent action and start a new habit but not so much that you have to act at all costs?

As I’ve already said, I’m finding the public accountability very helpful, combined with making a commitment to myself.  Owain Service and Rory Gallagher in their book, Think Small, support the idea that making yourself publicly accountable is one of the foundations of creating good habits successfully.

Procrastination

And then we come to procrastination.  The result of consequences not having a direct link in your mind to your current behaviour, and of not having urgency to act, is procrastination.  You know you want to do something – most likely look for another job – but you put it off. There are reasons we do this – it can be too hard to take the action we want to take, it can take up too much time, we don’t give it priority over more immediate things.  This article in the New York Times puts a different light on it, and it makes perfect sense to me.  It’s not a time management problem, it’s an emotional problem.  We don’t procrastinate because we’re lazy or because we don’t have time management skills.  It’s a response to a negative mood – the urgency of managing that negative mood takes priority over the longer term consequences.  It may just be that the task itself is unpleasant, but it may also relate to deeper feelings of self doubt, low self esteem, anxiety or insecurity. 

The article gives some useful tips on dealing with procrastination.  I’d like to add one more. Start small.  Think about your habits, and what you’d like to do differently in your working life.  You may think that finding a new job is what you want – and you may be right in the long term that’s the right course of action – but starting small means exactly that.  What else could you do? The last post had a few suggestions.  Here’s a few more – they are massive goals, but small actions to make a start.

Be more confident at work

Repeat affirmations to yourself every morning

​Be more motivated

Pick a task that you must do daily or weekly at work, where you usually struggle to get it done.  Set yourself a target – must have it done by 11.30 am every day, or by Tuesday lunchtime each week, whatever is appropriate for the task.  Make a pledge in stickk.com and ask a friend at work to be your referee

​Be more creative

Walk to work, or during your lunchbreak.  Exercise has so many more benefits than just for your body.  The time walking gives your mind the opportunity to wander, enhancing your creativity. Start with three times a week, or even once a week if you’re not active.  Walk for 20 – 30 minutes.

​Be nicer at work

Smile at people. Set a target – I must smile at five people today ? You’ll probably find you’ll soon smile at more than five.

​Learn a new skill

Block out the time to devote to it.  You can’t learn a new skill without practice.  So either go to a class, or ensure you block out the time – at work if appropriate, at home if it’s not.

​Improve working relationships

Resolve to ask one person each day how they are.  And really listen to the response – give them your time and attention. Or even resolve to do this once a week to begin with

​Be more organised

Pick one task and work on that.  As for motivation, set a target, make a pledge in stickk.com

​As well as on stickk.com, make your pledge here in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to support your efforts.  Look forward to seeing how you get on.