Mental wellness and techniques to emphasise psychological health have come into the mainstream since the turn of the millennium, but that’s not to say there isn’t still a deep anxiety connected to the workplace. Whether it’s planning future career progression, looking for a next move at the end of tenure or even the stress of job hunting, it is easy to see why a lot of people can develop ‘Overwhelming, persistent’ feelings, as UK independent behavioural care institute Priory describes depression, ‘Which affect [a person’s] ability to function on a daily basis’. Over half of my life, whether it was through my executive leadership coaching or through my days as a social worker, I have worked with a lot of individuals that have been vulnerable to these sorts of negative thought and behavioural patterns and I am pleased to say that I have seen an improvement in a majority of these cases. For those that might be going through tough times in terms of their working life themselves however, I would like to offer a few pearls of wisdom that I have picked up over the years with the hope that it might give those that need it a few ideas to help them steer themselves back on the right track.
One of the biggest stresses in the workplace is the fast paced, ever changing nature of the modern world. A lot of jobs nowadays are no longer for life – all hail the mighty gig economy! – which means anxiety can be rife with not knowing when and where the next step will come. This can especially be a problem if one is out of tenure. My advice here is to be proactive about planning for the future and assessing your attributes. To offer an anecdote about how little planning most people do in terms of their professional career and how much more they could consider doing, I often ask executives in my leadership coaching programmes whether or not they have bought a second car. A lot of them usually have. I then ask what checks, if any, they carry out before making their purchase. The similar answers are: checking all necessary documentation, checking the seller is the registered owner of the vehicle, checking for signs of wear, checking electrics, doing test drives, et cetera. I then put the question to them: if you spent all of this time meticulously combing through the details of that car purchase, why didn’t you spend a similar amount of time constructing a roadmap for your future? I don’t mean the question to come across as abrasive or shaming because we have all fallen foul of failing to prepare from time to time; it gets them thinking though. This idea of planning then becomes a priority from then on in. Creating roadmaps of where you’d like to go, as a living document, gives you a meaningful focus for directing your efforts and analysing what skills you need to improve in order to meet those ends. It’s fascinating how powerful adding even a few notes a day or taking at least five minutes a day to review your ideas can be – especially in terms of reducing one’s level of anxiety when it comes to the unknown.
What about being depressed because you feel you’re stuck at the bottom of the pile? What about being at the top, but, try as you might, things aren’t going your way? What about having been at the top for years in your previous role, but now you’re out on a limb looking for new employment? All of these prospects can be daunting and can lead to great distress because of psychological ‘Incongruence’ between ‘The self as perceived’ – or more the way you wish things were – and ‘The actual experience’. This can especially be the case for those out of tenure who may feel ‘A sense of shame, of personal failure’ because of their situation; indeed, research shows that although ‘People experience an increased sense of well-being just after losing their jobs’, this trend often ‘Reverses if they’re still hunting after 10 to 12 weeks’. What ways can persons suffering from a ‘State…of tension and internal confusion’ caused by psychological incongruence do to better their situation then? I suggest surrounding yourself with a positive support network made up of persons that can provide either emotional succour or good quality, professional career advice – and for the latter, I don’t mean taking advice from comments on LinkedIn or listening to the first recruiters to get a sniff of your CV. Consider career coaching as one way to shake off stagnation. Professionals in this field can not only broaden your horizons to opportunities you may not know exist, but also objectively help you decide what course would best suit both your skills and ambitions; a lot of times, this advice is free too. If coaching in this sense is not for you, perhaps mentoring could be the way forward. This does not necessarily have to be in a formal setting, but could be receiving guidance from another successful individual to garner ideas that have worked well for them over their career. All the same and not depending on which of these routes best suits your modus operandum, having a supportive and understanding network can help relieve anxiety in tense situations and help you to make better decisions to help yourself in your career progression.
Mental health issues can also occur in seemingly self-actualising environments. The idiom that work you love isn’t work is probably the most common misconception when it comes to maintaining a healthy workplace mentality because, as Harvard Business Review’s Jennifer Moss states, ‘This type of mentality leads to burnout, and the consequences can be both dire and hard to detect’. The reason for this is that there is no less stress induced by activities one enjoys so a greater sense of enjoyment derived from such tasks can cloud an individual’s judgement when it comes to making sure to refresh one’s mind and body. For the most part, there is one idea that predominates helping to cope with this kind of mental strain: maintaining a healthy work and life balance and taking appropriate breaks when they are needed. Using myself as an example: I love my time away from the office, coaching school rugby as it gives me a chance to switch off the work part of my brain whilst keeping active. I’ve often found that a problem I’ve had on a Friday was soon solved on Monday morning because the parts of me driving business function are given a rest whilst I’m focusing on ‘me time’ over the weekend.
It’s a great step forward that a lot of companies are taking on policies which look after employee mental health and that such employers are more recipient to the psychological needs of their workforce. It is important to remember however, what steps an individual can take in securing their psychological wellbeing and whether or not they are doing enough in this venture. To this end, I would encourage everyone to consider reviewing their current strategies on coping with job anxiety and say that if ever anybody should need a judgement free, confidential conversation on these sorts of matters, don’t hesitate to get in touch! Even if you think you’re just being silly and blowing things out of proportion, isn’t it better to check rather than find out you were impeding your own health and future success all along?
 No author, Depression Treatment, priorygroup.com, (London: Priory Group, 2019). Ibid. Carl Rogers, A Theory of Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal Relationships, as Developed in the Client-centred Framework, (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1959), 202. Ibid. Ibid.  Robert L Leahy, Feeling Ashamed of Being Unemployed, psychologytoday.com, (New York: Sussex Publishers, 2013).  Micaela Marini Higgs, How to Deal With Job-Search Depression, nytimes.com, (New York: The New York Times Company, 2019).  Ibid. Carl Rogers, A Theory of Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal Relationships, as Developed in the Client-centred Framework, (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1959), 202. Jennifer Moss, When Passion Leads to Burnout, hbr.org, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2019).