Overwhelmed. Drained. Exhausted by the post-pandemic rush back to the office and IRL socialising? Worried where that next creative shot of genius is going to come from?
That the past two years of blurred lines between work and home life have taken their toll on our mental health is an understatement. But this, coupled with the Great Resignation that is seeing people exit the creative industries en masse, is in turn putting even more pressure on those staying in roles.
And despite the global efforts to address mental health challenges openly, for something that seems so prevalent, it gets talked about in ways that feel predictable and often rather bland in mainstream media discussions. Aside from personal reasons to focus on our mental health, there’s a clear business imperative to do so, too.
When the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) surveyed senior ranking HR executives from large-scale organisations about the most significant barriers to HR functions’ ability to deliver on strategic imperatives and objectives, 60% mentioned burnout (possibly the most insidious form of work-related stress). And in Deloitte’s 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, nearly half reported feeling burned out due to workloads. Yet 65% felt that while their organisation now talks more about mental health, it has not resulted in any meaningful impact on employees. There is clearly an opportunity to make more of a positive impact here.
Historically studies indicated that those in less senior positions suffered the greatest stress and were potentially more prone to burn out, due to a very real or perceived lack of control over their workloads and circumstances. These days it appears to be universally experienced, with high profile CEOs of large organisations such as Lloyds Bank boss Antonio Horta-Osorio speaking about his own personal experiences of work stress, and Imax CEO Richard Gelford talking candidly about feeling overwhelmed, including how it’s helped them to take the issue seriously within their organisations as well as in their own lives.
Back in the early 2000s, I came close to burnout and I think my experience is fairly common as I carry traits that many will identify within the creative industries (as with many others) where the work can feel like a vocation. For example, I’m totally committed to my work, my clients and my team mates, I want to do an amazing job in an industry that sets a very high bar and applauds high standards, and I find it very hard to switch off when there’s work to be done (and there’s always more work to be done).
Add in clients working across vastly different time zones within an environment that encourages personal responsibility and you have the perfect recipe for potential trouble. A combination of short-term health issues shocked me into making lifestyle changes that have set me on a more sustainable path since.
We all need to get beyond the stigma of talking about burnout and turning it into action. It’s essential that we encourage employees to speak openly about issues they may be experiencing and provide training to spot the early signs of someone who may be in distress. IBM’s ‘mental health ally’ programme does just that – training teams to recognise signs of stress or trauma among colleagues, and to approach them in the right way and with empathy, and to access support.
Unfortunately there is no simple solution to tackling mental health issues widely in society or within the workplace. However, a broader understanding and empathy for mental health issues, combined with feeling more empowered to prioritise our mental health will inevitably lead to better, more open conversations and actions that can make a difference.
Someone I’m very close to was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder some 20 years ago, which they manage through diet, medication and lifestyle. It’s a full-time focus alongside all the usual things the rest of us manage in our daily lives. If there’s one thing that would make a difference to them it’s that others see them first and foremost as a person rather than a condition. As the creative, intelligent, funny and productive person they are with a few considerations around what helps them to interact with the world in a way that reduces their stress and anxiety – a more personalised prescription in order to be at their best if you will.
And that seems to be the fundamental key overall. Taking the time to understand what helps us to perform at our best very personally, combined with employers and leaders who are empathetic enough to experiment with more individualised ways of working and support, that help to unlock our potential.