To protect your mental health at work, try to worry less about it

To protect your mental health at work, try to worry less about it

“Careless.” That was the mantra we used just to get the project done. I was leading a massive change management effort for a large hospital system, and almost everyone on the project described themselves, at least behind closed doors, as miserable. We were missing deadlines due to a lack of action from leadership and we were running into walls due to the all-too-normal corporate behavior that expects things to change without more clarity or capacity for staff.

The frustration and disenchantment we felt is not exclusive to change projects that are likely to change very little. It’s in the IT employee who feels the approach to work lacks creativity and is disappointed with the level of talent they work with. It is in the middle frame that is frustrated with layoffs while executive compensation is not affected.

This may appear in the disconnection for those who work for companies that rank among the best work while feeling that the amount of work imposed on them is unfair. Or it can be felt by the person who has not yet recovered from the impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

I spent nearly two decades of my career trying to change companies and even gave a TEDx Conference to take charge of your career and act as intraentrepreneur. Yet even I can attest that sometimes we have to put the brakes on our big ideas and aspirations and simply focus on the essential work that is being asked of us and ourselves.

Many of us have put too many happy eggs in the work basket and, like an investment portfolio, could benefit from diversification. But how can you “care less” while still maintaining your integrity? And their job?

A careless approach can improve your mental health and performance

I once led a round of layoffs for a company and contacted all the remaining employees I could. I asked, “How does this affect you right now?” Some shared that they were sad for their former colleagues, while others worried about the backlog. However, one of our top performers didn’t look phased. He said, “I don’t think about work the way other people do. I have a lot of things that make me happy, and I try not to rely too much on work to do that for me, so I don’t sweat. It’s just a job. What did he know that most people don’t?

It has been proven that having a job better for your mental health than not having one. But when you experience mental health issues at work, because of life, or because of work or the environment, it can be costly for your productivity or impact. (As researchers referencing a study by the Integrated Benefits Institute once said: “Physical health symptoms primarily affect absence, mental health issues tend to affect performance, and unsupportive work cultures have exacerbated the effects of both.”)

6 ways to “care less” about work without getting fired

Even though we realize that we need a good distance between our work and our well-being, most don’t want to suddenly become distant or try to sabotage others. Caring less isn’t about sticking with the man; it’s about making sure you don’t sacrifice your own well-being for the good of the system. Here are tactics you can implement to still have an impact at work while protecting yourself:

Define your new strategy.

Economist Albert Hirschman’s book, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to the Decline of Businesses, Organizations and Statesshares four responses one can choose from when one is unhappy at work, or in one’s relationship with one’s government, etc. :

  • Exit: remove yourself from the situation
  • Voice: try to improve the situation
  • Perseverance: smile and bear it
  • Neglect: stay but reduce effort

While I’m suggesting that you “worry less,” which falls squarely in the category of neglect, perhaps another course of action makes more sense, depending on your situation. So before you do anything else, take stock of your situation so you feel empowered to choose the strategy that will work best for you right now.

Authorize yourself for a defined period

Whatever strategy you choose is a reaction to your environment and your current situation. It doesn’t have to last forever. Instead, consider giving yourself permission to try this for a specific amount of time, maybe two weeks, a month, or even a quarter. This will help you remember that you are in control while allowing room for new behaviors that serve your well-being.

Reduce company events

Unless attendance is mandatory, consider skipping the meeting and asking a trusted colleague, or your boss, for the highlights. If attending triggers anxiety or makes you frustrated and unable to do your job, don’t go. This includes company-wide meetings, happy hours, and holiday parties — Zoom or in person.

Office gossip CliffsNotes

Your best friend from work slacks at you, “You’re not going to believe what just happened!” Instead of taking the bait, consider responding and saying, “I stay away from office gossip that will annoy me.” Is there anything I need to know that might impact me or my work? Set the boundaries for the facts that matter, and most people will learn to honor them and begin to share only the details that can be helpful.

Ask for priorities

Most companies are not good at setting priorities, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to fully understand what is expected of you. Make a list of your ongoing projects (formal or informal), recurring tasks, and other important categories of work that require your attention. Estimate how long each takes you and assign a priority number between one and three: 1 for high priority, 2 for medium priority, and 3 for low. Share your analysis with your leader, and here’s the key: let them know that you’re striving to maximize your impact while taking care of yourself.

Then ask them to help you adjust the priority levels and time spent on each. Finally, ask if there’s work on your plate that should be given to someone else (hello, capacity!). Typically, leaders leave these conversations shocked by the amount on employees’ plates and are ready to do something about it.

Build a “carefree team”

Many find it risky to talk about frustrations or concerns about others or their business. While you’re right to be cautious, don’t sacrifice the support of others by never speaking your truth. A sense of community at work, even with a small handful of other like-minded people, can help you feel less alone. They can also advise you when you get stuck or if you want to understand how to react to a specific situation.

How Employers Can Respond to the “Less Concerned” Approach

Even if done simultaneously, the above six steps are unlikely to get you fired. Indeed, most leaders will like to hear that you want to maximize your impact and will respect your desire to nurture your well-being. And if you try a few of the suggestions in succession, they’ll see that you’re not giving up, but harnessing your energy in new, ideally more impactful ways.

Perhaps you are an executive or a leader who hopes to find a balance on your own. Glory! But know that this resizing at work affects all levels of your company. Author Simon Sinek, one of my people and work gurus, appeared on Brene Brown’s Dare to lead the podcast and shared the following when reviewing junior workers: “I hear a lot of older people working fewer hours, finishing the day a little earlier, not rushing to answer their emails, and we praise that behavior and say, “Oh, this person is finding their footing. But if a junior person does it, we call it quiet stop. I realize there’s a judgment in that because maybe that junior person is also trying to find a balance.

If you’re a leader whose blood pressure rises at the thought of your employees “rebelling” like this, there’s good news: their behavior is under your control. First, improve the company’s strategy and operations. Prioritize better and fewer. While the mental health benefits are great, they’ll only move the needle if you’ve operationalized the culture and corporate strategy you keep touting. Motivate your employees, equip them to maximize their impact, and make changes that support their work, and they’ll care more and be mentally healthier doing this. I would take this over an annual subscription to a meditation app any day.

#protect #mental #health #work #worry

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