There is a new way of thinking emerging around health and wellness. In reading this article you will not only be aware of it but are probably involved or interested in this shift. If you are a CEO or business leader, it should form part of your personal wellbeing approach and subsequently that of your staff.
Real understanding however, can only come from a personal commitment to developing our own self-awareness.
Stress finds us, we don’t need to look for it
Most people get stressed at one time or another - many are regularly or even permanently stressed - it goes with the job. Stress has become part of our life. We worry about work, money, our family, the economy. We get anxious over small daily things and we never ever have enough time.
Stress is our natural and automatic response to a perceived or real threat to our body or our ego.
Those of us who have been at the top of their game know how lonely and tough it can be. Stress levels rise quicker than our salaries! Stress finds us, we don’t need to look for it.
It’s not about what’s happening - it’s our reaction to it
But what causes stress and how can we deal with it? Our biggest asset in controlling our personal stress levels is our ability to control our thoughts. We can choose not to be stressed. Stress is caused by an overthinking we impose on ourselves. Therefore, by definition, we can choose not to be stressed.
Stress is not about what is happening, it is our reaction to it. We are either anxious about what is happening, pontificating over what has happened or worried about what might happen. Stress distorts our reality. I believe it should be at the forefront of every leader’s care and wellness programme, with a budget to initiate a Prevention methodology.
Stress is recognised by the World Health Organisation who recommend companies “mount an aggressive approach to wellness, prevention, screening and active management”. Stress is a mental illness that can and will lead to all manner of seemingly indirect physical conditions and it will cost your business money.
Lessons I learned the hard way
As a leader myself I knew that I was often ignoring my personal stress levels, let alone those of my staff. In doing so I was complicit in ignoring my own wellbeing and that of others. Stress is contagious and I was spreading it...fast.
With never ending deadlines to meet and with penalty clauses to avoid, I found that my stress levels rose when key staff responsible for critical delivery went sick. Their doctors’ notes more often than not cited stress as the underlying cause for their absence.
We subsequently began to miss key milestone dates as essential staff were off sick - some often for months, others failed to return at all.
It cost us as a business dearly. I had to change things, which meant changing myself. It started with me.
My initial research was based on a personal quest - my own health. If I could understand myself better, I could Lead by example. Only then could I expect my staff to become aware of their own stress and mental wellbeing.
Are you in denial?
Ask any CEO or member of the so called ‘C suite’ if they are stressed or under stress and their initial response will be denial. Ask them to do something about it, to help themselves manage their personal stress levels and the response will range from excuses about ‘not enough time’ to ‘Foxtrot Oscar’.
That’s exactly how I responded when I was told, as a CEO, that I needed to not only manage my own health but that of key members of my senior management team. At the time I ignored it. Now some 15 years later, two of my old team are dead (stress related cause). However, others have made great progress in personal wellbeing management. Others I’ve no idea about.
I myself have retrained and refocussed on bringing awareness to senior executives about implementing personal and team mental health and wellbeing into their lives and businesses.
Start at the top with personal and interpersonal awareness
Often, they don’t know where or how to start. They need it to be confidential, effective, cheap and show a beneficial return to the business. All these can be easily achieved once we develop personal and interpersonal awareness and regard, not only for ourselves but for others. The starting point has to be non- invasive and seen as a personal development initiative.
Learning more about developing our self-regard and regard for others for a more effective and resilient organisation starts at the top. Ergo, the mental health of a company lies in the hands of leaders who are prepared to recognise that the mental health of its employees does not exclude, rather, it - like most things, begins with them. Therefore, acknowledging that they, like all of us, are only human at the end of the day.
Emotional Intelligence is an accepted and proven route to building resilience in people and teams. It is sold to staff as a personal development programme to help build awareness and resilience. It is the first non- invasive step to introducing what people refer to as a mental health initiative. Try introducing that to the staff and you will get nothing but resistance. Bring a programme of professional and personal development that the senior team have experienced into the business and, in my opinion, the staff will buy into it more.
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