The un-British answer to career breakdown
The UK has been ruled by more than a century of Victorian stoicism, except the ‘stiff upper lip’ approach instilled by Queen Victoria is entirely outdated and her descendants (namely, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry) are among the most prominent figureheads proposing that things need to change. The challenges and problems facing the working population today are drastically different from those of the 1800s and yet our public emotional response has failed to evolve with the times. We wouldn’t expect a telephone from 1890 to suffice today, so why should intolerance to workplace wellbeing?
Wellness in the workplace
It’s official. Working in the city is causing stress and burnout, with statistics suggesting that more than one in four employees, who describe their mental health as ‘poor’, say work is the primary cause. Research, by the World Health Organization says that 12 billion working days will be lost to depression and anxiety disorders worldwide each year between now and 2030. This puts the annual loss to the global economy at £651billion.
While it may be a stretch to have men and women speaking publicly about their wellbeing, you could argue there’s little benefit in doing so without the appropriate guidance.
A recent Harvard Business Review study revealed that while only 3% of executive coaches were hired by companies specifically to tackle personal issues, 76% of the coaches surveyed reported they arose on a regular basis. The shocking part is that very few – if any – of these coaches are suitably qualified or experienced to deal with such psychological concerns.
London’s workforce is at breaking point within the high risk (high stress) office environment and traditional methods of personal development, such as executive coaching, are operating outside their remit. Just choosing any old executive coach off the corporate-approved list, does not cut it in today’s ‘burnout economy’. The lack of industry regulation means there are coaches who aren’t trained in the diagnosis of early onset mental illness and predilection to compulsive behaviour.
And it’s the captains of commerce – the high pressured leaders – who are most at risk. There is a clear business case for change. Those organisations which take a deliberate ‘Executive Wellbeing’ stance enjoy increased productivity, quality of work, staff retention, team morale and competitive advantage in the market place.
Differing defence mechanisms
Traditional coaching and therapy start with the same premise – each presumes we have experienced events that have wounded us. As we grow, some people’s wounds remain raw and painful, making them protective and, often, defensive. Others develop callouses over their wounds to shield them from everyday knocks. The latter may be considered more naturally resilient but, the truth is, both have wounds within them.
In time, these wounds create self-limiting beliefs. If we find ourselves hitting the same blocks again and again as we travel through life, sooner or later we say ‘enough is enough’ and seek help.
Psychotherapy looks to the past and helps people identify what’s causing the issues, allowing them to become more conscious of the self-sabotaging behaviours that can otherwise govern their lives.
Coaching, on the other hand, does not generally seek to heal. It’s about developing the capabilities of high-potential performers via specific agreed goals. A coach provides the tools to help a person navigate their own way around the block(s).
‘Executive Wellbeing’ provides a hybrid of both, essentially giving stretched leaders the resilience to tackle obstacles, while helping stop any future blocks that may occur. But it isn’t just about fixing problems. Maintaining peak performance is of equal significance to those with an ambitious outlook. A regular car engine, say, only needs a service every 10,000 miles, while a racing car needs one every 100, merely to keep functioning at the current level, let alone taking on even more.
Read more: How to deal with stress at work
Remember: It’s OK to need help
Robust overachievers are not used to calling out for help, often perceiving this as a weakness. But this is a national taboo we must smash through. It’s vital companies proactively support their leaders, checking in regularly to keep them working to the best of their abilities. Organisations must give proper backing to key staff – those who maintain peak performance, meet ever-increasing demands for a higher quality of work couple with even more responsibility.
An Employee Assistance Programme is the bare minimum an organisation can do. With advice and tips on how to meditate, be mindful, eat better and so on, this is a great resource, but to protect against burnout, something must be done before the cracks of mental health decline start to appear. It’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’ burnout will strike, for those who are in the engine room of our economy.
However, choosing a professional coach in today’s market can be difficult. The fact that somebody calls themselves a ‘coach’ doesn’t necessarily mean anything. At present, it remains an unregulated industry, although this is likely to change within 18 months. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the global governing body for coaches and you can find all accredited coaches who have met their criteria to be classified as such at coachfederation.org.
Before coaches can call themselves ‘Executive Wellbeing’, they must also possess the necessary experience and credentials to address mental health issues in a therapeutic manner. In this instance, I would suggest a CBT qualification or an educational background in psychology. This would mean the coach has an extensive toolkit of scientifically-backed techniques and is aware of circumstances in which a referral to a medical professional is necessary.
Organisations need to start profiling their staff and cultural working environments before identifying their true coaching and improvement requirements. In the melting pot that is the city of London today, every executive should be receiving from their employer a proactive, dare I say compulsory, approach to building resilience.
Chris Harvey is founder of professional coaching service Harvey Sinclair
3 TIPS FOR ORGANISATIONAL WELLBEING
1. Avoidance strategy: It can be tempting to push yourself until you’re at breaking point and simply deal with the fall-out. However, it’s imperative to take pre-emptive action long before that happens. Find an organisation that can offer a bespoke approach, one that can provide a service, which perfectly caters to both your needs and company requirements.
2. Support staff: It is in the interests of a company to take a proactive approach when it comes to coaches. Profile your staff and working environments to see what can be done. After all, people perform better when they feel their company cares about them, and a sense of worth and belonging can prove energising.
3. Take stock: Do your homework. Only hire executive coaches who are trained in mental health and have a firm grasp of when to refer clients to seek professional therapy. If you’re in a senior role, such moments can also inspire you to take a good hard look at your own company. Ask yourself questions, like: do managers need to work long hours?