A couple of years ago I’d have never imagined that I’d be openly sharing my experience of burnout and the anxiety that followed, let alone running a business that focuses on nurturing mental health at work.
Yet, here I am talking about it all with anyone who has access to the internet…
It all got a bit wobbly as I was heading up internal communication for a successful tech startup. As with all organisations, there was heaps of change, lots of competing priorities and some big personalities.
Despite the company making efforts to look after our wellbeing with healthy food, gym membership and meditation classes, the rapid growth and constantly evolving demands started to take their toll and I wasn’t immune.
Ignoring the signs
I started getting sick – headaches, stomach pain, skin complaints, muscle spasms, the list went on – but I explained away the symptoms, convinced I was just a bit run down.
I’d worked under lots of stress before and my perfectionist tendencies stepped up and assured me that once the next big task was complete, I’d feel better.
I delayed much needed holidays to deliver projects and worked weekends to satisfy last-minute requests, even when I “admitted defeat” and took a sick day I found myself answering calls and emails.
I had no boundaries for myself, so neither did others.
I was exhausted, completely burned out. My doctors saw it, my friends saw it, yet somehow I didn’t want to admit it.
Burnout? Me? No way!
So, I powered through. I looked for a “better” doctor that could figure out what was really going on. I popped another painkiller. I slurped another health potion.
Then a miracle happened. A miracle in the form of 3 weeks with almost no sleep.
My body finally got my attention. It forced me to listen, sit down, rest. And it didn’t let me get back up again for months.
Mental Health Stigma is REAL
Work supported me to take time to recover but I felt huge amounts of pressure to get better. I didn’t want them to find out that all the recent illness was really due to stress and anxiety.
I was desperate to find ways to get back to work but the stigma of poor mental health stopped me opening up to my manager or HR about what was really happening.
They were good people with good intentions but there was no framework or safe space to deal with these sorts of things. At that time I was too vulnerable to be the catalyst for this change so we both stayed silent.
Be the change you want to see
As I recovered this silence stuck with me.
Why? Because I feel that if either side had had the ability to start a frank conversation about mental health in the workplace (before, during and after) things would have been a lot easier for everyone.
This is not a critique of this team, I’ve seen other organisations and myself fail to tackle this ‘taboo’ topic with grace. And from speaking with business owners and individuals since, it’s clear that even when people really care it can be a struggle to understand and talk about mental health. It’s complex and delicate, so we avoid it.
That’s why I am here sharing my story, hoping it will allow others can do the same and help breakdown mental health stigma.
We can’t afford to stay silent
Sidestepping the difficult conversations about mental health is costing people and businesses, dearly. 1 in 4 people suffer from mental health problems. That’s 25% of the people you know and work with who will struggle at some point. Many of them going out of their way to hide it.
With the recent global pandemic, things aren’t set to improve. In fact, estimates state that by 2030 mental health problems will be the primary cause of disability in the world.
This blew my mind. It also opened my eyes to what was really going on around me.
Present but not productive
These numbers made me question how productive you can really be when you continue to work whilst burned out.
This took me back down the presenteeism rabbit hole, a topic I had laboured over when working on “staff engagement” initiatives but I hadn’t really considered in the context of poor mental health at work.
Down the hole, I found out that presenteeism can reduce productivity by a third and that it does even more damage to businesses than absenteeism, causing a loss in productivity that is 7.5 times higher.
Working when we should be looking after our physical and mental health are acts of presenteeism, I’d go further and say they are acts of self and business sabotage that are heavily contributing to the “phenomena of burnout.”
Whether you are running your own business or working for someone else, can you afford to ignore these numbers?
Starting the conversation
Wellbeing “perks”, good intentions and HR policies are a start, but they aren’t enough. They may encourage individuals to look after themselves and help organisations show they care but they don’t create the safe spaces needed for frank conversations about mental health.
And that’s where the magic happens – when we talk. Conversations make us human and enable connection. When we feel safe to talk about mental health things change and improve.
So that why I’m here. I’m starting the conversation and to help others avoid workplace burnout.
How I help
I’m combining my expertise in business change, strategy, projects and communication with my Mental Health First Aid qualification and personal experience. I’m helping people and businesses to stay healthy by creating environments that not only protect but nurture mental wellbeing with clear, simple and practical actions plans.
To find out more about how I can help you or your business avoid burnout and nurture mental health, get in touch.