When Does Working Under Pressure Become A Mental Health Issue?
Apr 18, 2017
Mental Health Awareness Week takes place 8-14 May with the admirable aim of reframing the general thinking about mental health and its effects. Rather than asking why so mental health issues have grown in recent years, the initiative will ask why too few of us are thriving with good mental health. This subtle new angle suggests that we all now accept more readily that mental health is commonplace in our society.
This made me wonder about the effectiveness of those that reach burn out, stress or a similar mental health based position and yet whose working style once thrived on pressure. Mental health, depression, anxiety and stress are terms that are being increasingly used in the business world but when do these definitions take the place of working under pressure? Can we easily identify a tipping point and actively manage the fine line between pushing towards optimum performance and work related stress and anxiety issues?
Let me first say that I am an advocate of Mental Health Awareness Week and the work of the Mental Health Foundation. The pressures of work and life, the constant flow of demands on time, body and mind and the continuous barrage of messages and communications in our connected world led to me noticing behaviours that are not characteristic for me. These manifested themselves in different ways but I was able to identify and realise their potential before they became worse. I sought help and am currently exploring CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) as a solution. I can see how the various pressures of my life got me to this point and how reframing things will help me to achieve a better balance. I can also see that some people may not be able to recognise such a change in themselves before it is too late (as part of the iManage team I coach EQ which is a big factor towards self reflection and recognition of emotional changes). My concern is therefore not whether mental health exists or that it has become catch all term for any symptom or an excuse for poor performance; I know it exists and can happen to anyone at any time. My concern is more about the results of identification and the systematic work towards an outcome that allows the person to remain as effective in their natural working style.
Let me explain. Through managing teams and coaching lots of client sessions I have been able to identify the type of working style that I have. I am measured but like pressure but not too much. A certain amount of pressure drives me towards end goals and keeps me focused on main priorities. My colleague’s working style is even more aligned with pressure, He openly admits to ‘thriving on chaos’ and working in pressurised environments. It brings out the best in him with the result that he will often take on too much and try to do everything himself. These is our natural styles and they have been successful to us as we recognise them and work accordingly. But what if that changes?
We have known for a very long time that all individuals work in different ways and that effective teams need a mixture of such people and working styles. Many of you my have done classic exercises such as Myers Briggs which explores such ideas. This is also based on the idea that such styles are constant but increasing mental health research suggests that changes can be triggered quickly or occur over seemingly short periods of time when certain symptoms may have been building for months or even years. The net result may be that a highly productive efficient member of a team that has a certain working style may change very suddenly. This will change team dynamics and the effectiveness of how they have been hereto managed.
If someone whose natural working style is aligned more to pressurised situations ends up with a mental health issue then it is important that the support recognises this and tries to get them back towards that natural state. Changing a natural working state may lead to further issues with low morale and feelings of ineffectiveness as they are having to not only cope with mental stress but subconsciously alter their mindset to a new way of working. For example, such a person will not be able to immediately adopt a slower more methodical approach to give them more time; it is not how their professional mind works. With so many forms of support and help now available it is unclear whether this is generally taken into consideration. I fear that whilst short term results will be met, long term effectiveness back to original levels may not be forthcoming.
Of course, some would say that anyone whose natural style is thrive in pressure will have increased tolerance in such a situation but everyone has their limits.
It would be wrong to copy all of the valuable tips that the Mental Health Foundation have published on their website about identifying and managing mental health issues in the workplace; I would urge you to explore that resource. But I will suggest things that are based around the identification of working styles, the areas we teach and the valuable insights that we have gained from clients alongside our own personal experiences.
- Ensure that all workers have clarity about their roles and objectives and how this fits in to the overall vision of the organisation (what we call the golden thread).
- Where possible, ensure that employees know how this filters down to task level, day to day tasks and that there is clarity around each of these too. This is not designed to be a micro management style. It is aimed at providing support and developing trust and honesty.
- Do a working styles assessment such as Profiling Choices, ensuring that all team members acknowledge and understand each other's working styles.
- Tune in to changes in people's behaviour, outlook, tone, body language
- Create an ‘open door approach’ where colleagues feel confident about being honest about their feelings even if it is not what you would want to hear. Reassurance and a safe environment to speak in often allows someone to open up which is the first step in realising that they need help.
We have also added a new range of videos and resources around mental health to the iManage Academy that build on some of these themes and our accrued experience within client organisations. The resources are sure to receive a lot of great rounded intelligent comments by members from all different sectors in what is an increasingly topical area.