High-Pressure Jobs and Mental Illness – HBR

High-Pressure Jobs and Mental Illness – HBR.

A thoughtful piece written in light of the recent tragedy with the Germanwings flight.

I most appreciated the author explaining how her own career trajectory was marked by recognizing that her depression was brought on by high stress environments.  She’s made trade offs and she misses some aspects of her former high flying life but she’s made choices that make sense.

The article also contains some good reminders of how risky it can be to disclose a mental illness and how costly it can be to get treatment.

Lastly, I appreciated the author laying out that formal accommodation is the base but what we really should strive for is a culture of understanding where we can express open support for employees with mental health issues.


Ask The Experts: Should I Tell My Boss Im Going Through A Personal Crisis? | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

Ask The Experts: Should I Tell My Boss Im Going Through A Personal Crisis? | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

An important piece which broaches the difficult issue of how to navigate the work environment when you are navigating a significant personal crisis.  They hit the issue head on by noting the difficulty in navigating issues that can affect your productivity but not be ones you’d want to disclose to your boss or fellow workers.  They use the example of a woman navigating a miscarriage.

The advice here runs the gamut between recommending journaling and the most practical and useful piece in my opinion:

“There is no need to provide details about events that you want to keep private. But, it would is important and useful to say that some personal events have happened that you are dealing with and that if you appear distracted or seem less productive, that is why. That provides your boss with a way to explain any change in your performance he may have noticed. In addition, you may discover that your boss is a more empathic individual than you expected.”

I can speak from personal experience that you can get some space to navigate a difficult patch with a general admission that you are having an especially bad week and even that you might need a day off to get back on your feet.  Several years ago, I went looking for my birth mother only to find that she had passed away many years earlier.  I found this devastating and had absolutely no interest in disclosing this personal information at work.  Nonetheless, I found that I did not have enough of a window to grieve this difficult passage for which there is no leave code while also trying to manage a busy job.

I basically did as suggested here – indicated that I was going through a bad patch on the personal front and would benefit from a day off at week end.  This was easily granted no questions asked.

The greater pity and topic worthy of even greater discussion in my opinion is the difficult empathy path to figure how we support people having difficult times and not make them feel their disclosures are going to be used against them.

Why you need to stop bragging about how busy you are

Why you need to stop bragging about how busy you are

Some good reminders here about how longer hours doesn’t produce the best work or the best workers.

Those who produce brilliant work work hard for short stretches (90 minutes is the rule cited in The Talent Code and Be Excellent at Anything) and take breaks or even naps to restore.  With this approach, thinking becomes sharper and innovation is supported.

And I wholeheartedly agree that the boss has to leave first to set the tone for the culture of balance.

Preventing Your Own Burnout Is Part Of Your Job ⚙ Co.Labs ⚙ code + community

Preventing Your Own Burnout Is Part Of Your Job ⚙ Co.Labs ⚙ code + community.

There is no special magic in this article, but I loved the sentiment – staying healthy and on top of your game is part of your job and time off feeds this.

Also appreciated the nod to freelancers who need to be able to take vacations too:

“Freelancers might find vacation time more challenging than most. For the self-employed, no work equals no pay, plain and simple, although some freelancers have figured out how to hack back their hourly rates.   Not everyone can afford to get away from it all, but there are a number of options recommended by Freelance Folder. In short: Plan ahead, save a bit, inform your clients, and scale back as much as you can.”



Happy Workaholics Need Boundaries, Not Balance – Ed Batista – Harvard Business Review

A good piece from the HBR that suggest we re-set the term work/life balance with boundaries.  I have heard some senior executives say that they have found their own definition of “balance” and I think that this approach would fit with that statement – basically as long as you can draw clear lines between work and the rest of your life, whether you spend much time devoted to the personal sphere is your own choice.  This author offers a few different ways to slice these boundaries:

Time boundaries – where you exclusively devote time to non-work pursuits.

Physical boundaries – where you take a break from the office in all its forms.

and my favourite as a think today about redoubling my efforts to get to a regular mediation practice, the cognitive boundary – a place to stop thinking about work.

via Happy Workaholics Need Boundaries, Not Balance – Ed Batista – Harvard Business Review.

Slow ideas


I’m a fan of Atul Gawande’s writing from the New Yorker and have posted a link to an earlier article here.  He is surgeon who also writes about how changes occur in medical culture.

This post is about why good ideas take off and why they don’t.  He uses one  case study of trying to make  improvements to the medical system for newborns and their mothers in the developing world.  This would include keeping babies from dying of hypothermia by encouraging skin-to-skin contact with their mothers.

Bottom line:  Good ideas take hold from human beings talking to each other.  As well, the approach between teacher and student matters for the message to stick in the long haul.  As you see in this piece, the early days of  a mentor relationship may be rocky, especially when trying to impart information to an already burdened person.

But if you hang in there and have respectful exchanges, the to and fro of changing behaviour begins to take place – as one mentored nurse says near the end of the piece, she initially didn’t listen to the mentor but in the end, she started looking forward to her visits:

“It wasn’t like talking to someone who was trying to find mistakes,” she said. “It was like talking to a friend.”

Taking a vacation from work is just too stressful – The Globe and Mail

Taking a vacation from work is just too stressful – The Globe and Mail.

A recent article from the Globe that hits the nail on the head for how difficult I found it to take three months off from my job this year.  While this author is not proud of the fact that she worked on July 1st this year, I am even less proud of the fact that my three months of leave was largely made up of vacation left on the table for the past few years.  The reasons for this accumulation vary but one big reason is the amount of stress it caused me to take time off be it for vacation or other reasons.

While this article lays out many reasons for why taking vacation is stressful, I’d argue that none of them is really very good and offer my own rebuttals:

The onslaught of work on return is too much: A senior government manager who I know, used to (and may still) essentially delete her inbox en masse on her return from vacation.  Draconian yes but her reasoning was legit: Someone has been paid to act in my place until I return.  My email and phone clearly indicate who to contact in my absence.  If someone really needs to speak to me personally, they will contact me again for action.

The burden on colleagues is too much:  I prefer the logic that “I pull for you, you pull for me.”  We cover each other for vacations and we all survive.  Resentment over earned and predictable time off just doesn’t make sense.  And even more than survive, we can thrive.  Two senior advisors replaced me for approx. six weeks each as manager.  They got the chance to be exposed to different files and a different perspective with commensurate pay.  Lastly, I don’t buy the fact that someone can’t be effectively briefed to hold the fort on the majority of files for a brief absence.

The work routine is too deep seated:  This is probably the one that is most concerning – I wonder what it says about us if you can’t let go of careening out of the house every day, working through lunch, skipping the gym to work more, taking work home etc.

A disturbing new definition of holiday is proposed in the article such as just limiting to long weekends or adopting a stance that there is no such thing as a day off because you’d work for a minimum of an hour each day no matter what.

As discussed elsewhere on this blog, we need vacation to be good workers.  In addition, we know that our elder statesman would tell us that the one of the key things that they say at the end of their lives is that they wish that they had worked less.

For me, my time off gave me much needed perspective at the mid-point in my career.  I was able to fully explore alternatives for my career on a scale that would not have been supported with full time work.  I connected more deeply with my community and started volunteering at some community gardens.  I conducted several information interviews with coaches and other consultants and received encouragement to continue advancing my desire to be a coach at the margins of my main career.  Bottom line, I am returning to the work world more grounded and committed to another stretch in the pubic service.

To help guide me to the future, I’ve adopted some new routines and taken two go-forward mantras from  The Art of Possibility: Rule number six (don’t take yourself so seriously) and it’s all invented, so have some fun with it.

Relax! You’ll Be More Productive – NYTimes.com

Relax! You’ll Be More Productive – NYTimes.com.

A great forward (please keep them coming) written by one of my favourite bloggers for the Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz.

The gist of what he wants us to know is this:

“A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

While we should building in renewal cycles we do the opposite:

“As athletes understand especially well, the greater the performance demand, the greater the need for renewal. When we’re under pressure, however, most of us experience the opposite impulse: to push harder rather than rest. This may explain why a recent survey by Harris Interactive found that Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 — up from 6.2 days in 2011.”

This opinion pieces lays out, with links to the research, why more frequent breaks make us better workers.  He cites the example of how he changed his approach to writing his books from writing 10 hours a day to working in 90 minute bursts to dramatically shorten the time it took to write.

Managing stress at the top

(c) Mr. G’s travels

Managing stress at the top.

A good if list-y piece on how CEOs and others at the top can combat stress – a few suggestions from a much longer list in the entire article:

Peer group support: “The role of the CEO can be isolating so that discussions with other CEOs can help you gain a greater perspective of your own work and possibly obtain other ideas that may help you cope more effectively.”

Draw a line: “Learn how to recognise situations that are outside of your control.”

Learn how to switch off: “This is a skill and has to be learnt. You can meditate, cycle, learn yoga or paint – whatever works for you – just do it!”

10 Things Bosses Wish They Could Tell Employees | LinkedIn

A good post, though I can’t agree wholeheartedly with all of it  – in particular, in our world, I feel that we are well remunerated so I can’t honestly say that I want to pay everyone more.  But more vacation, a wholehearted “yes” on that one.

I do love this bit in particular though which reflects how I am feeling on a not so good day about my attempts at being a leader:

“Leadership is like a smorgasbord of insecurity.

I worry about sales. I worry about costs. I worry about facilities and employees and vendors and customers and… you name it, I worry about it.

So occasionally I’m snappy. Occasionally I’m distracted. Occasionally I’m tense and irritable and short-tempered. It’s not your fault. I’m just worried.

More than anything, I’m worried about whether I can fulfill the trust you place in me as your boss.”

via 10 Things Bosses Wish They Could Tell Employees | LinkedIn.