I’ll take a bet with you that your initial response whenever this question is posed is ‘my family’. If you are then asked to rank your top three priorities, I would hazard a guess that you would still rank your family first, then either your friends or work, followed by an interest or a hobby. If that’s so, then where do ‘you’ fit into your list of priorities?
I would say that I am a person who is extremely clear on my priorities, but it may shock you to learn that I am at the top of my priority list. As the head of any team, be it a family team or a work team, failing to recognise ourselves as a priority can result in us being less useful than we originally intended. We often spend so much effort spinning plates and keeping others happy that ourselves and our wellbeing is put to the bottom of the pile. For some reason, we can often think that making ourselves a priority is self-centred.
This thinking can often be inadvertently reinforced by the approach that is taken during our individual meetings with our Line Manager. By using One to One Meetings to focus on getting a status update, it can appear that there is more interest in how a project is progressing, how a computer system is performing or the size of a backlog rather than a desire to discuss how you are getting on. Conversations during appraisals can often be no better when the focus is on grading you against a series of behavioural statements, rather than discussing what leads you to react in a certain way. And as I was told the other day, sadly some Line Managers only ‘do the fluffy stuff’ when the employee raises a wellbeing issue.
If we want to be viewed as a priority, we have to demonstrate that we believe it too
The impact of failing to recognise a wellbeing issue in yourself or an employee can be catastrophic. Think that’s a little dramatic? Even without quoting any figures about the cost to our economy of days lost to ‘stress’, I would still use the same word to describe the effect. Think for a couple of minutes in terms of the before, during and after the ‘catastrophe’. In the run up to the event, there are some typical precursors. A person may become less engaged, less motivated, less productive and more prone to making errors. This can lead to tensions within a team and the Line Manager ends up having to spend more time ‘managing’, not only the person but the whole team, and less time leading. During the event, the team will be a person down but there are likely to be some residual issues that need to be addressed. This could be sorting out the individual’s mistakes, but the event could be leaving the rest of the team feeling unhappy. The Line Manager has to increase the time spent motivating their team to regain their engagement or risk seeing them leave. Even when the person is well enough to return, their reappearance can have an impact on the revised team dynamics. All that said, we have not even considered the personal impact of a wellbeing issue. The lasting effect of any mental health problem can be lifechanging. With the focus that mental health is finally receiving, we hear daily about how individuals have had to completely rethink their world after suffering a problem that effected their long-term wellbeing. Still think be number one is self-centred?
If we want to be viewed as a priority, we have to demonstrate that we believe it too. I am a great advocate of the old adage ‘actions speak louder than words.’ Not only do I make my priorities clear verbally, I also act to reinforce this. For example, when I am under pressure to complete a piece of work, I cancel ALL other social events – and I mean all other events. My focus during my work day remains on achieving the task in hand and not organising which restaurant I will be dining at that evening. I will also refrain from discussing the latest shenanigans on Love Island. Boring I know, but as much as I like to know the latest gossip, my actions would do little to reinforce any verbal account of my current work load. The little time I then have left, I can spend on things that I know I need to do to maintain my wellbeing under this level of pressure, without feeling guilty as I will know I have given the tasks in hand my undivided attention. Initially, this may all sound a little extreme but, in my case, it is amazing how much my family will now do to ensure I get to my twice weekly yoga class as they are very aware of the impact that has on me being a ‘happy mummy’ (as they put it!). Demonstrating your priorities is essential if you are to gain buy in from colleagues and family.
During your One to One Meetings, don’t wait for your Line Manager to ask how you are feeling – tell them! Simple but you’d be amazed how many times we forget we have a voice. When agreeing your goals for the forthcoming year, think about building in a wellbeing goal. After all, a goal can be as simple as ‘taking a 20-minute walk at lunchtime three times a week consistently for 90% of the working year’. It is after all still specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely, and it can be evaluated and reviewed. This simple action reinforces your ‘I am a priority’ message.
Still uncomfortable with being the main priority? Well in the words of a direct speaking mentor following a rather virtuous conversation about how I was coping with my current high work load ‘you’re no bl@*dy use to anyone if you’re not functioning!’