When I got my degree in Advertising, it came with the prerequisites of not just graphic design, media planning, journalistic writing, and presentation skills, but psychology and communication. I really didn’t understand the value of the latter at the time, but in hindsight, that was probably the most important class work I took in preparation for being an Executive in a service business. Now, as a student in an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach school which looks at wellness in a holistic sense – mind, body and spirit – and a couple decades of working under my belt to boot, I see more clearly how those education courses play a critical role in the happiness and sustainability of an employee in just about any business model. The challenge is you can’t just understand the theory, you must actively apply and practice those elements of productive communication, mindfulness, purpose, and even physical movement in your day-to-day as well.
In a recent panel on mental wellbeing I participated in at Ad Week in NYC (that’s me with the mic pictured above), The Drum Network presented some eye opening research that noted 91% of those working in agencies say they have struggled with their mental health in the past 12 months compared to 62% of the general working population. In addition, 46% of people working in agencies are stressed because they do not feel like they are good at their jobs.
From my perspective, feelings of constant judgement and isolation – both a result of internal organizational politics and the effects of external influences (read as: social media) – may be at the root of these statistics. Why? A service-based business, Advertising in this case, can often feel inherently judgmental: “Is the strategy good enough? Is the copy good enough? As a presenter, did you play your expected part well enough?” – it’s a cycle of perform and be evaluated. Meanwhile, for those (normal humans) who need to talk through emotions to help find perspective and identify solutions moving forward, it may not always feel safe to expose your fears or raw feelings in a team environment where a weak link can be quite easily be “voted off the island”…if I may carefully introduce a little jest here. So this toxic combination breeds anxiety, sleeplessness, nervous performance behaviors, snippiness, and so on.
Solving for those elements can bring tremendous good for all involved in my opinion. In health coach school they call your emotional elements “primary food” which come before “secondary food” (the actual food you eat) when actively pursuing your optimal wellbeing. It seems to me that in effort to shift to a desired state of emotionally stronger employees and organizations, there’s an opportunity to help employees, colleagues, and/or teammates identify and prioritize their primary food through a shift in supportive culture. An example of that might be access or direction to relatable mental health experts or coaches that can help them find tips and tools to better manage their communication, or perhaps, great books or even spiritual advisors (note: this doesn’t mean religion) who can arm them with helpful perspective. In fact, I just read a great book called the “Rushing Women’s Syndrome” which, frankly, would be helpful and interesting for any gender.
During some after-panel discussion there was a feeling that this type of change must come from the top of an organization in order to take root and be successful. That said, there are a number of different kind of successful leaders out there. Sometimes a leader in my field rose through the ranks because they were excellent client partners – anticipating every business need and delivering above and beyond expectation – and the value to the business in pure dollars and cents could not be disputed – that person is a money-maker, but not necessarily great with the soft skills. Then, there are other leaders that are great drivers of internal culture – knowing how to expertly balance client demands and protect the internal business model and culture that helps everyone feel a part of the same winning team. I surmise that these people are more likely to be in tune with the emotions of their organization, but if they also lean more to the “fun guy/gal” side, employees could still feel nervous and exposed approaching this serious and sensitive conversation.
I say, regardless of your leadership style, let’s start this conversation. Let’s get better educated about all the elements of mental wellness and start a dialogue about how we can work together as a community to achieve inroads in this dynamic process of change and growth. I believe it could be life and death for businesses in the world we live in now, and it’s human employees within it.
If you’d like to continue this important conversation with me, The Drum, and a couple other esteemed colleagues of mine, we’d love to see you at Agency Acceleration Day, November 14th, 2019 in NYC. Please book your registration here: https://acceleration-us.thedrum.com/
If you’re unable to attend or would like to connect on this topic or any other wellness-related discussion, I’m also available for presentations, panels, group or 1:1 coaching. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.