(Author’s Note: For those who have been following along with this blog for a while, you know that your authors, especially this one, are not afraid to share elements of our non-work life here. For those who are new to this blog, don’t let the personal nature of today’s topic scare you away. This is a business blog, first and foremost. And while we often use personal anecdotes to make a point, we always bring it back to a business lesson. I hope today’s topic resonates with you. I think it is a critical one. Clearly.)
I have been in therapy, more or less continuously, since I was a junior in college. I started going on the advice of an older friend, someone who had been “around the block” a few more times than I had. After college, changes in life, geography, or jobs, caused several starts and stops in the support I was getting. And then in 2012, I found an outstanding fit with a local therapist, and have been going every week ever since. These days, the work I am doing is not really about “fixing” anything… my weekly visit is mostly about balance.
It was not all that long ago that therapy was not something that you talked about, with anyone. (And you certainly didn’t write about it in your company blog.) In fact, when I first started going, I went to great lengths to hide it. Everyone did. That’s just how it was handled. I didn’t want anyone in my life to think there was something wrong with me, so I kept it to myself. Even worse, I often wrestled with the fact that I believed there was something wrong with me. Later on, my wife Emily was usually the only one in my life who knew. The need for support has long been interpreted by many as a sign of weakness, and something that most people have preferred to keep as a private matter.
Keeping something like this private is fine, and perfectly appropriate. But keeping something private because you choose to, or keeping it private because society would frown on you, are very different things. And the concern that “something is wrong with me” often compounds the feelings we are having, and almost always gets in the way of getting to a better place. As long as we convince ourselves that something is wrong with us when we don’t feel OK, the longer it will take to start feeling better.
Why this topic today? This is a business blog, after all. But this is an important conversation, with big leadership and organizational implications. There are two things that have changed significantly over the last two years, and these two changes should be having a big impact on how we deal with each other in the workplace.
First, the barrier between home life and personal life has been obliterated. Over the last two years, we have been welcomed into each others’ homes, we have heard each others’ dogs barking, our cats have jumped across the desk during meetings… we see each others’ unmade beds, unwashed dishes, and unfolded clothes… we see each other say goodbye to our kids as they head off to school, we hear babies crying in the background. I have seen people log into video meetings from their closets, their bathrooms, their bedrooms, in an effort to find some privacy within the house. We see each other more intimately than we ever did before.
And second, we are together, in the same rooms, far less often. A critical component of human connection, being in each others’ presence, has been reduced significantly. For many people, getting out of the house, into the office, and spending time with different people used to be a welcomed pressure release. But that is far less available now.
After two years of this, we are just starting to see and feel the long-term implications of these new realities. And I have been thinking about this a lot. Yes… this is a business blog, and since I am writing about this here, I clearly believe this is a business issue. But I also believe this is also a human issue. So, all the more reason to talk about it here and now.
When I mentally scroll through the list of people in my life, I know many… many… who have been comfortable enough to share with me that they are not doing OK. The world feels heavy right now… I am struggling to balance home and work… I don’t get out of the house as much as I should… I am scared to start doing the things I used to do… I am worried about my parents/kids/spouse… all things I have heard in the last few months.
The combination of all of these things makes this a critical time to change the conversation around the need for support. The stigma needs to go away, for good. It’s OK to not be OK, as I often to say to people in my life. Getting your balance back often starts with giving yourself a break, and not assuming that there is something wrong with you. I am here to tell you that, loud and clear.
And as business leaders, I believe it is critical to good leadership today to set a tone for emotional safety in the workplace. Emotional safety does not mean you are telling people they don’t have to work hard. We all have jobs to do, and we all have our goals and metrics that have to be met. But we can set a tone of hard work in the workplace, and at the same time set a tone where we treat our colleagues like human beings, and acknowledge that their work is only one part of their full life. When we set this kind of tone, we destigmatize feeling “not OK.” When we set this kind of tone, we create the emotional safety to be human. When we set this kind of tone, we make our organizations a place where people will be more likely to thrive.
I want my team to understand that we have to work hard, and treat our clients and each other exceptionally well. But I also want my team to understand that our organization is a place where you are allowed to have a bad day. You are allowed to ask for a helping hand. You are allowed to be not OK. Creating a culture of emotional safety is a business issue and a leadership requirement, that I did not spend a lot of time thinking about prior to 2020. But I think about it a lot now.
The barriers between our work and our home are a lot less clear and rigid than they used to be. And we don’t spend a ton of time together anymore. Which means we have to find other ways to be good and supportive colleagues.
I speak with a professional every Friday. It keeps me balanced, and helps me on the days when I am not feeling OK. And I am clearly not embarrassed to talk about it. It’s OK to not be OK. For me, and for you.
Have a great day.
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This hit home hard. Today is a day I’m not okay, and this subject line was the first thing I read this morning. Beautifully said and much appreciated.
Glad this helped a little, Liz. But in many ways, you are in fact, “OK”, Liz. You may just not know it.