Our industry is populated by bright, driven individuals who often work stupidly long hours to meet client demands and who take their work incredibly seriously. The pressures can sometimes feel overwhelming and I know I am not alone in having worked with colleagues who’ve come close to burning out simply because they have worked themselves to a standstill.
It’s not just about the client who calls at 4pm on a Friday afternoon with a crisis that simply MUST be worked on late into the evening or over the weekend though. Sometimes it’s about an individual who finds it hard to delegate because they are so anxious that their work is perfect that they have to do everything (yes, I’ve been there in my earlier years), or who has to check and double check the work of others (also been there) to make sure that they don’t fall foul of a client who’s similarly driven (oh yeah, I’ve definitely been there too).
This week there has been much discussion about mental health in the workplace to coincide with World Mental Health Day on Monday, and I do believe that as an industry we are much more sensitised to this issue than we were in the past. As leaders and managers, we’re more able to spot the individual most at risk of burning out because they’re often our best performers, the ones whose clients depend on them utterly and whose teams love them because they’re always picking up the pieces.
The bigger question for me is how we, as practitioners, can help ourselves. Not just in terms of managing our mental health but also our physical health, because people who work too many hours for too long struggle physically too. Not enough time for exercise, not eating properly, and most important of all, not taking care of ourselves when we are sick. I know I’m not alone in repeatedly struggling into the office when really I should have been at home under the duvet, and I can think of many high performers who push themselves far too hard physically as well as mentally.
The nature of our business is that it is not a 9-5 environment, and we need to encourage each other to look after ourselves, to give ourselves permission to recover properly from physical illness by taking appropriate rest and pacing ourselves. Too often physical illness is the harbinger of mental health problems, with the body breaking down because the mind won’t allow sufficient rest or relaxation.
So this year, as the evenings draw in, and coughs, colds and flu start to spread (not to mention norovirus), give yourself permission to take a couple of days off to properly rest, to consider what your body needs rather than what your team or your client needs. We are none of us superhuman – and you can’t lead a team from a hospital bed. Too extreme? Maybe, but as leaders, one of the examples we need to set is that of how to build a career with longevity – one where you can still get to the top but in a way that’s more sustainable. Don’t just think about the wellbeing of your teams, make your own wellbeing another one of the touchpoints you review when you’re thinking about the health of your business.