Tag Archives: career

my mental health camp talk: insanity in the workplace

my talk at mental health camp yesterday:

it’s not about mental illness. it’s about mental health.

in 1996, 510 murders occurred in canada. taking a prevalence rate of about 3% of violent crimes committed by people with mental illness, at most, 16 of these people were killed by someone with a mental illness. i’m mentioning that because of the tragedy that happened a few days ago where a little girl was killed.

still. i’d like you to get that number. 16.

at the same time, 45,000 deaths were attributed to tobacco, 2,900 to car accidents, and 1,900 to alcohol.

mental illness is not the big problem.

i think mental health is.

an industry that makes products that kill tens of thousands of people in canada alone is not mentally healthy. in fact, it is literally insane.

i’ll tell you what else is insane.

a country that does not extradite someone who has been judged responsible for the death of at least 25,000 people is insane. the country is the united states, the person in question is warren anderson. he was the executive in charge at the time of the bhopal disaster.

who else is insane?

a company that disregards safety just like union carbide in bhopal did. the company is BP. it is insane.

a police force that is more concerned with turf wars than preventing disasters is insane. the police force is the RCMP and the disaster is the air india crash.

i’m not here to say that mental illness is not important, that all of us here who are dealing with depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder or whatever, either ourselves or through our loved ones, are not important because otherwise we wouldn’t have mental health camp.

but right here, right now, i want to talk about mental HEALTH. because i’ve looked at all these things and all of a sudden, i realized something enormous:

the vast majority of big disasters nowadays, from environmental crimes to wars to major health problems such as lung cancer and diabetes – you know where most of them come from, or more precisely, where the decisions are made to go ahead and do or not do things that have vast negative consequences?

they are all fomented in the work place. union carbide, the RCMP, the cigarette company philip morris, BP – all the decisions that have a horrible effect on countless people are made at the workplace.

those workplaces are insane.

who here has worked in an insane workplace?

who here is working in an insane workplace right now?

what type of insanity do we find in the workplace?

  • incivility
  • bullying
  • abusive supervisors
  • resentment
  • never being appreciated
  • blame
  • betrayal
  • cynicism
  • distrust, always on the lookout for trouble
  • focusing on shortcomings
  • obsessed with reputation
  • reluctance and lack of cooperation
  • fear of disappointment
  • anger
  • grief
  • anxiety
  • extreme vigilance
  • phoniness
  • being a “hard-ass,”
  • playing favorites
  • irrationality
  • scrutinizing everything for hidden meaning
  • closed mindedness
  • uneasy relationships that never get repaired – toxins build up
  • layoffs and other painful measures that are being pushed through disregarding the effect they have
  • disconnection from reality
  • in-groups and out-groups that fight each other
  • differential treatment from bosses
  • active and passive provocation
  • incompetence
  • not admitting problems
  • not asking for help
  • lack of meaningful relationships at work
  • getting blindsided
  • frustration
  • evasiveness
  • lack of fairness
  • nobody listens
  • deflecting responsibility
  • self-handicapping

(adapted from an MIT sloan management review article)

there’s quite a bit of research on the dysfunctional workplace, for example on violence in the workplace, or the effect abusive supervisors have on turnover in the workplace. however, i haven’t seen anything yet on how the dysfunctionality that seems to be the norm in many workplaces makes it possible for disastrous decisions to be made.

but i’m just going to go out on a limb and say that someone who is in complete and optimal mental health cannot make the kinds of decisions that end up killing people, destroying the environment and otherwise compromising the wellbeing of people and the planet.

let me use the air india disaster as an example. reading through justice john major’s report, we see that these things happened at the RCMP and CSIS

  • not communicating effectively with each other
  • RCMP not sharing information with CSIS when they clearly should have, and vice versa
  • not respecting each others’ rules and requirements – e.g. RCMP was often careless in protecting CSIS sources
  • a culture of managing information designed to protect individual institutional interests and not the public interest
  • compromising the need for reliable proof (when the parmar tapes were erased)
  • misunderstanding or dismissing that the relevance of information, not who has the information, determines what happens before the court
  • institutional lack of self-restraint and self-discipline
  • overstating the need for secrecy

i propose that all of these things are signs of dysfunctional mental health. i propose that most people would say that these are signs of mental health:

  • open and honest communication
  • reflecting on the consequences of one’s actions
  • having a degree of basic trust towards others
  • working hard to resolve any tensions that arise
  • co-operating for the common good
  • a degree of maturity that includes self restraint and self discipline where needed

and i propose that if these and other indicators of mental health were present, there would be less, and probably far less, calamities in the world.

i have to tell you that these ideas are still pretty new to me. as some of you know, i was going to talk about a different topic. but then one day, interestingly enough, when i was preparing a talk somewhere else about mental health in the workplace, i saw this connection between war and destruction and the workplace.

a book i have been reading avidly lately is tony schwartz’s the way we’re working isn’t working. (you can follow tony on twitter, it’s @tonyschwartz.)

let me read you just a few excerpts. here is the one that may have triggered all of this:

not a single CEO or senior executive at a large bank ever stood up and blew the whistle on the practices that led to the worldwide financial meltdown in 2008. nor has virtually any one of them ever explicitly acknowledged any personal responsibility for what happened.

we tolerate extraordinary disconnects in our own lives, even in areas we plainly have the power to influence.

human beings have continued to evolve by leaps and bounds in terms of what can be externally measured and observed. but for all these extraordinary external advances, we’ve devoted remarkably little attention to better understanding our inner world.

[we have a] tendency to default to impatience, irritation and even anger as a way to mobilize others to action

no single behaviour, we’ve come to believe, more funamentally influences our effectiveness in waking life than sleep

the survival zone is an acceptable place in which to operate in most organizations

survivial zone, performance zone, burnout zone, renewal zone

[when a amy pascal needed to implement some major changes at sony] she began by asking herself a simple question: “what is the right thing to do here? … everybody knows that it means to do the right thing. it means serving the greatest good even when it doesn’t seem to be in your immediate self-interest. it means you don’t make choices out of fear of failure or just because they seem expedient, you don’t make choices that are quicker or easier because that’s what everyone else is doing.”

okay, so now we’ve spent about 35 minutes on doom and gloom, and that’s just about all i can handle. i want to talk about more positive things now. like mental illness.

actually, about the experience and wisdom of people with mental illness. more precisely, the experience and wisdom of people with mental illness who are working hard at making the best of their lives. i’ll assume there’s a few of us in here right now, and more who may have friends or family who have learned to manage mental illness.

part of that management is medication. but the other part of that is therapy and even more importantly, leading a life that strives for as much mental health as possible.

in the course of managing mental illness, we have learned some valuable things. so what i’m saying is that precisely BECAUSE we are forced to manage mental illness we have gained tools that can make a difference, a big difference.

my final point then is, seeing that the world needs help, and seeing that in managing mental illness, we have gained these valuable tools, how can we practically, day by day, today and not tomorrow, use these tools to influence our places of work? because i think that’s one place where we can start. make it our responsibility to make our places of work places where we can be in what tony schwartz calls the performance and renewal zones, where we can be calm, engaged, invigorated and peaceful, mellow and receptive. and even more specifically, how can we use social media to make this happen?

incivility

bullying

abusive supervisors

resentful


never being appreciated

blame

betrayal

cynicism

distrustful, always on the lookout for trouble

focusing on shortcomings

obsessed with reputation

reluctance and lack of cooperation

fear of disappointment

anger

grief

anxiety,

extreme vigilance,

phony

being a “hard-ass,”

playing favorites

irrational

scrutinizing everything for hidden meaning

closed minded

uneasy relationship that never get repaired – toxins build up

layoffs and other painful measures that are being pushed through disregarding the effect they have

disconnection from reality

in-groups and out-groups that fight each other

differential treatment from bosses

active and passive provocation.

incompetence

not admitting problems

not asking for help

lack of meaningful relationships at work

getting blindsided

frustration

evasiveness

lack of fairness

nobody listens

deflecting responsibility

self-handicapping

recovering from bad work experiences: after the job offer

welcome to my last instalment of jacob share’s and my conversation on leaving bad work experiences behind. we started this in november and discovered the six stages of recovery from bad work experiences:

we’ve already covered

  1. resign: get the hell out of dodge!
  2. recover: get your bearings before you throw yourself back into the job search
  3. resources: make an inventory of your values, skills, knowledge and experience
  4. research: get the skinny on the people you’re next going to work with
  5. reapply: put yourself on an even foot with the employer
  6. results

so today we’re on to the “results” phase. usually this is:

get a job offer, accept it, phew.

this is how we usually do it, right? but if we’re smart it’s more involved – so involved that i’m thinking that “what happens after you get the job offer” could be a whole different series of posts …

however, i digress.

let me tell you a better sequence than get – accept – phew:

  • negotiate: once you get the offer, don’t say yes right away. this is the time for questions and negotiations: they want you and you are in the power seat. discuss benefits, vacation, work hours, start date and similar topics.
  • time off: when discussing the start date, unless you are totally strapped for money, build in some free time. you just left a difficult job, went through unemployment and a job search – one of the most stressful events in a person’s life – and you need to reward yourself with a day or so where you can take a breather. either take some time off now, before the job starts, or get a day or so right at the beginning of the first few weeks. you can tell your prospective employer that you had already booked day X and it would be difficult for you to reschedule. i’ve never seen an employer refuse that.
  • make a considered decision: unless you are 100% percent sure that you want the job and the chances of regretting it later are minute, give yourself some time. a graceful way of doing that that i have always seen work is saying something like, “thank you, this is marvellous! i have a policy of making important decisions within 24 hours. can i call you tomorrow at 10?” (by the way, that is a good policy!) if you have a feeling that this isn’t the right job, i urge you not to give in to panic and keep on looking.
  • stay alert: once you start your new job, don’t ditch your job search completely. there is a reason why the first 3-6 months are a probationary period. obviously, you won’t continue a full-fledged search – but keep your eyes open.
  • keep that resume fresh: even after the probationary period, never stop updating your resume.

why do this? of course, you want to be prepared. but more than that, doing this will remind you that you are in charge of your job and your job search. with that frame of mind, chances are you’ll never find yourself in a bad employment situation again.

(this post was included in the “i want to change my family tree” carnival) 

recovering from bad work experiences: out on the hunt again

this is another instalment of jacob share’s and my conversation on leaving bad work experiences behind. we started this last month, and pointed out the six stages of recovery from bad work experiences: resign, recover, resources, research, re-apply and results.

we’ve already covered

  • resign (get the hell out of dodge!)
  • recover (get your bearings before you throw yourself back into the job search),
  • resources (make an inventory of your values, skills, knowledge and experience) and
  • research (get the skinny on the people you’re next going to work with)

jacob and one of his guest bloggers, andrew rondeau, have some great advice regarding the “re-apply” phase – that’s when you go out there and look for a new job. a good job. a better job!

don’t forget that the job interview goes both ways – not only do they interview you, you interview them as well. in that interview, don’t be shy to ask smart questions like “when did you last ask for feedback on your management style, and what were the results?”

sounds pretty forward, doesn’t it? but if management style is important to you, why wouldn’t you ask such a question? of course, because you’ve inventoried your resources, you know what’s important to you in a new job, and you’ll craft the questions that will help you find out what you need to know about this organization.

apart from the background research and the job interview, there are many more clues that can give you a sense for your new work environment. pay particular attention to the receptionist: he or she is the organization’s human business card. how friendly, polite, upbeat and bright does he or she appear? again, what are your values? what type of receptionist would you like to have around? if the receptionist isn’t quite to your liking, ask yourself what that says about the organization.

another clue is how you are invited to the job interview. are you being told to show up at a certain time and place, or are you given a choice? what’s your first impression of the voice on the other end of the line? with the exception of large organizations, in most cases, the person you’re talking to will be a potential boss or supervisor. does that person sound like someone you’d like to work with?

do you have any more tips on how to tell whether an organization is good to work for?

(this post was listed in the carnival of healing at reiki digest

blog conversation: dealing with bad work experiences, part 2

yesterday we started a discussion of bad job experiences – part of a blog conversation i’m having with jacob share from the job mob.

so yesterday we set the scene – an awful, awful work environment with a boss or co-workers who make your life miserable.

what can you do about it?

here are the first steps back to career health that i’ve helped some clients take:

phase I – resign

  • if you’re still in that horrible environment and you’ve tried a few things to make it better – get out. if your boss or abusiv coworker walks like a monster, talks like a monster and quacks like a monster – guess what, she’s a monster! (well, probably not – but then you’re not his therapist; it’s not your job to help bring out the angel in that person) get away from the job, even if it’s going to cost you a few weeks’ worth of wages.

phase II – recovery

  • once you’re out of that environment, do whatever you need to do to bring your mental and physical health up to speed. if this takes you a few weeks – so be it. dedicate yourself to it. i’ve seen too many people say, “oh no, i can’t afford to go away for a few days/join a gym/catch up on my sleep because i need to look for another job.” jumping immediately back into the labour pool without replenishing your resources hugely increases your chances at landing yet another bad job.

phase III – resources

  • figure out what your values are, especially your social values. your values are a resource; something that helps you live well. most people who find themselves in difficult work environments don’t use this resource very well. questions are, what role does respect play, and how can you tell you’re respected? what type of personal boundaries do you need? which of your values are non-negotiable?
  • make an inventory of your assets. what skills, experience, knowledge, talents and attitudes do you enjoy using at work? in this phase, it’s really important to focus on that. never mind what you’re not so good at (i bet your old boss was very good at pointing that out) – what are you good at? what makes your heart sing?

let’s hear it from you – have you had bad jobs? did you recover from them? what were your first steps towards a better work environment?

i’m looking forward to what you, gentle readers, have to say about it, as well as jacob’s reply. in future posts, we’ll also talk about the last three phases: research, re-apply and results.

(go here for the next instalment)

blog conversation: dealing with bad work experiences

what was the worst job you’ve ever had? what are ways of surviving that experience – and not just surviving but learning from it and thriving in the next job?

that’s the topic of a blog conversation jacob from the job mob and i will be having in the next little while. jacob started it off in his post recovering from bad work experiences by mentioning a few very unpleasant work situations, for example

  • being yelled at by a receptionist for daring to follow up after sending over a CV
  • told 7 months in advance that i was going to be laid off
  • sitting in a tense meeting listening to one executive berate another one

these experiences leave a bad taste in your mouth, even if they happen only once. i remember once being bullied to tears at a meeting; it took me quite a while to get over that.

angry man

it’s even worse when these things happen on a consistent basis. being yelled at is a good example – i can’t tell you how many clients i’ve had who have told me that their supervisor raised his or her voice at them on a regular basis, like a few times a week.

consistently being asked to carry out a boss’s personal tasks and effectively being treated like a servant seems to be high on the list, too. (i once had a job where i was asked to take out the owner’s poodle. to this day i’m grateful i was fired from that job).

and the list goes on …

staying in these work situations is often like staying in a bad marriage. you try and try and try and it doesn’t get better. best case scenario, you learn to live with it. worst case scenario, you end up traumatized the same way people get traumatized by an abusive spouse. and i’d say that even the best case scenario is still pretty lousy.

how do you deal with the fallout, then? how do you get back your self confidence, enthusiasm and motivation so that you can look for better work, don’t go back to yet another bad experience and enjoy your next position?

we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

(image courtesy of orange_beard)
(this post appears in the carnival of life editing and  the december career and job advice blog carnival)