I want to start this blog post by asking a rather profound question:
Are you happy?
Whether you feel that these three words constitute a profound question or not, have a think about it for a moment. If it is not a question that you can answer quickly, then it warrants greater time to consider. I meet a lot of people as I travel around the world – I rarely ask them this question. However, very often, the people I meet are anything but happy – especially when it comes to the working aspect of their lives.
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As human beings, we spend most our lives at work. Even though I now work for myself, much of my career was spent working for others. One thing that has stuck with me, as both business owner and employee, is that stress and anxiety has a profound effect on my behaviour, my business performance, my friends and perhaps most significantly, my family. Many of us will be affected by varying degrees of stress and anxiety during our lifetimes – some of us are affected more than others. Yet despite this fact, the way we ‘feel’ as human beings at work is not commonly spoken about. In fact, I would argue that simply acknowledging or even ‘admitting’ a level of stress or anxiety is still considered a weakness… or a ‘taboo’.
Today, the pressure on men and women all over the world increases on an almost annual basis. Creating and maintaining a quality of life that balances both personal and career goals is ever more challenging. In our working lives, businesses and organisations just appear to want more and more from us, while giving back less and less. The result is stress and anxiety – although I see another key effect happening as well.
There is absolutely no doubt that the stress and anxiety being felt by millions of working people is having a hugely detrimental effect on BOTH employee and customer experiences. The longer this fact goes unnoticed or unaddressed, the worse it will be for all of us. Stress and anxiety is prevalent at all levels – from CEOs to front line staff – the sense of unabating pressure is immense. Some people can manage their stress and anxiety – others not. Some get angry and shout. Others hide away and avoid confrontation. Much of the time, people just shut off their minds and stop thinking, preferring to focus on simple completion of tasks. The majority also stop talking, keeping their stress and anxiety to themselves, whilst taking out their frustration on everyone close to them – and sometimes even their customers.
I myself have felt this way – angry; upset; frustrated; scared; confused – there have been times in my career when I thought I was the only one. For many years, I never talked about the way I felt. I had regular moans and groans about the way I was being treated by my superiors – but don’t we all! However, it was very uncommon for me to actually talk about how I was feeling – that knowledge was locked firmly inside my head!
Towards the end of my employed career, this situation changed. I was fortunate enough to be part of a management development programme. During that period of my life, I was introduced to a chap called Mark Thompson – a man who ended up becoming a transformational mentor of mine. Mark was the first person I talked to about my career. Mark was also the first person who listened. What I learned about myself has stuck with me ever since.
Human beings never stop learning – about things and about themselves. To understand if we are happy or not, we need to be able to talk openly and honestly about the way we feel, so we can have the confidence to make decisions that benefit us. Today, I am happier in my career than I have ever been – in February, I will have been running my own business for five years – an achievement I am immensely proud of. However, that does not mean I do not feel stress and anxiety as much as when I was employed. In fact, I would argue I feel more stress and anxiety now than I did then!!
That is why I am still talking – a brilliant mentor called David Downes now has the pleasure of listening, guiding and coaching me to feel confident about the things I do – my time with him is invaluable. Talking with David allows me time to think – time to reflect – time to reassess. Time with David allows me to appreciate the things I do, whilst understanding what I might consider doing to make me and those around me ever happier.
As my own boss, I have decided to invest time and money in looking after me. I could still do far more to ensure the same for my family – but I am working on that. By investing in me in this way, I can be more productive, effective and useful for my clients. Therefore, I believe that all companies – however big or small – should be doing the same. Stress and anxiety is having a direct effect on interactions with employees and customers alike. Companies have a responsibility to look after their own people – and not just their wallets – but also their minds.
So, ask yourself a slightly different question:
Are your colleagues happy?
If the answer to this is “no”, or “I’m not sure”, then do something about it – and quickly. Let them talk. Let them be listened to. Let them learn. Making our people happier will immediately make our customers happier – the Return on Investment could not be clearer.
Am I happy? Yes… but. There is always one of those. I am incredibly lucky to have now found my vocation. I love what I do for a living. Yet my working life is just part of the puzzle. I will keep on talking and learning – and encouraging others to talk and listen to. We must never be scared to open up about the way we feel – we must admire the courage of those who do and help others to do so as well. Don’t let stress and anxiety kill the experiences of your employees. Do something about it before they kill the experiences of your customers.