Uncertain times and employee mental health

I hope you are having a wonderful year. 2023 appears to be a year of change. I cannot remember receiving this many company/role change notifications in any other year. This combined with many conversations I have had in recent weeks with employees regarding their work and mental health, plus an imminent new French law on social media, sparked my thinking for today.

Today’s blog topics:

– Employee mental health in uncertain times
– Quiet quitting or conscious disengagement?
– Leadership lessons from being stuck in an elevator
– New social media regulations – why industry provided scientific information has a bright future

Employee Mental Health in Uncertain Times

Most pharma company employees I have met recently mention burnout in the course of our conversations. This saddens me, but also, as a physician, a coach and someone who is convinced that humans are a company’s most important resource it concerns me. It is a big topic and one that is top of mind for many, so today I wanted to share some thoughts. Many environmental factors can impact employee mental health, some of the more frequent topics mentioned in conversation are listed below:

  1. A feeling of instability and lack of control
  2. A working environment that is not conducive to being productive including for example days where back-to-back meetings are the norm not the exception
  3. Constantly working at maximum capacity but regularly having tasks added on top
  4. The feeling that one is never on top of tasks
  5. Taking on extra work because it needs doing but everyone else in the team is already overwhelmed

We are in a time of constant upheaval. A recent pandemic, an energy crisis, the cost of living crisis and a general feeling of instability, coupled with unstable work environments are putting employees under huge pressure.

As companies go through yet another transformation leading to new job descriptions and reporting structures, while letting people go, and expecting employees to figure out new ways of working on top of performing in very demanding jobs, the risk of burnout for employees becomes very real.

Unfortunately, burnout symptoms manifest slowly over time, so that at risk individuals often don’t realise what is happening until it is too late. In addition, individuals, who are suffering from a burnout, find it hard to identify that they need support and hard to say what type of support they need.

So what can you do? In the current environment it’s crucial that you monitor yourself, listen to warning messages from your friends and family, and monitor your team for signs of a struggle, and that you address any suspicions you have sensitively. A resource, that might come in handy to help you to get an objective perspective is an anonymous questionnaire by the British Medical Association, developed for doctors, but which will work for other professionals too, which you can access here. There is also an HBR article on suicide prevention in employees, which may be interesting here.

If you feel your health is at risk, please consider seeing a health care professional. If you feel healthy, yet you are continuously stretched but find yourself still saying yes to additional projects, and you would like to change your approach, an executive coach can help you with this. I am happy to discuss informally whether I can help, or to provide a referral to a trusted colleague of mine.

Key takeaways: 1) Be aware: many employees are at risk of burnout as they navigate high pressure jobs in constantly changing environments. Be aware for yourself and others and if you suspect you or a teammate is heading into a burnout offer/seek help. 2) Identify and address the root cause: If you find yourself chronically taking on more work than you can manage, “because somebody has to do it,” or working nights/weekends, while feeling overworked, it is worth identifying your motivating behaviours and potentially finding a better way to live.

Quiet Quitting or Conscious Disengagement?

I believe the following to be true:

  • Most people want to do a good job
  • When doing a good job appears impossible due to factors outside an individual’s control, most people will try to remedy the situation by speaking with their managers and team members
  • If a situation seems irremediable two options remain 1) leave 2) stay and perform core tasks well

Quiet quitting, I believe, typically follows extended periods of high engagement trying to solve issues or an experience leading to employee disillusionment.

A friend of mine told me once, after working for a company for 17 years: “I loved this company. We were a family. I stayed late, worked weekends and nights, when necessary. I was willing to do anything because I was a part of something bigger. However, in the past years, there is a disconnect between values and senior leader behaviours, I feel like a commodity, and friends of mine have been let go, and not treated with respect. So, while I won’t leave, I will no longer put my heart and soul into my job.”

Thirteen years later my friend still works for the same company.

Key takeaway: If a team member, who was initially motivated, is suddenly disengaged, it may be a symptom of a systemic issue. Before criticising the individual, it is worth asking yourself what may be going on in the system.

Leadership Lessons from Being Stuck in an Elevator

I read a fantastic newsletter by Gene Moran in which he described getting stuck in an elevator at a conference for 40 minutes. The elevator was full. Nobody panicked. However, people were anxious, some inebriated, and many solutions were offered. Imagining the situation: an enclosed space full of strangers, no mobile phone reception, no timeline on a rescue and thanks to the lights and the packed bodies a rapid rise in temperature. I still feel physical discomfort today as I write this. In attempt to effect rescue, one person risked electrocution by unscrewing the live electrical panel in the elevator. Finally, the firefighters arrived and initiated a rescue protocol.

Key takeaways: When in crisis 1) Action may feel better than inertia but it could get you electrocuted 2) If your team is in a crisis situation don’t expect rational behaviour 3) Bring in professionals to support you, they have done it before 4) Sometimes active read “conscious” inactivity is the best thing you can do

Gene’s description was hilarious, you can read it here.

New Social Media Regulations – Why Industry Provided Scientific Information has a Bright Future

When the internet was first available, I loved it. In the meantime, I am bombarded with advertising. Blogs are written in a standard way, anyone can post anything, with no quality control whatsoever, and I find myself bored by a sea of sameness and frequently frustrated.

Consequently, I have turned back to an enduring love: books. Halfway through Richard Attenborough’s “Life on earth” I am reminded of the joy of reading work that has not only been meticulously researched, but that is comprehensive, professionally written and presented by an expert. I suspect that as the internet evolves into a library of vapid content, and separating what has value from what does not becomes ever more time-consuming, that expert authored content will experience a renaissance. At some point the desire for speed will be tempered with the desire for accuracy and quality.

In addition, inaccurate information can be and has been life and livelihood threatening. Governments are acting. French newspaper le Figaro (article) recently reported that France is taking action to regulate social media influencer content, especially in areas that pose significant risk to unwary consumers, such as the promotion of products and services in the following areas: cryptocurrencies, tobacco, alcohol, health care, gambling.

I am confident that as the internet and content becomes more regulated and as people tire of trying to sift through information, trusted resources will gain value again including content that is provided by the pharmaceutical industry on topics such as disease awareness or product information.

Key takeaways: Unregulated social media content in the medical space poses risks to the general public especially in the healthcare space. Governments are starting to regulate this content. In addition, as finding accurate content and navigating pop-ups and advertising becomes ever more cumbersome, content from trusted and regulated sources will gain value.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

If you are struggling with your job, not sure where to go from here, want to develop further in your career, or want to look at repeat patterns in your daily work and private life, that you suspect may be blocking you from reaching your full potential and you would like to discuss how executive coaching could help, please contact me for a confidential and informal chat.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash