64% of entrepreneurs and CEOs not faring well in the mental health stakes
“It’s like jumping off a cliff, and building a plane, and hoping that you build it before you hit the bottom.”
- Jamie Pride (on the stress of being an entrepreneur), Unicorn Tears.
Leaders, CEOs and founders are not faring well in the mental health stakes
While the majority report anxiety, stress and depression, 58% of business leaders say that, in their position, it’s too hard to talk about mental health.
Is your boss suffering in silence? Or, do you recognise these symptoms in yourself?
The warning signs that all is not okay- What to look for:
• Changes in entrepreneur or leader’s physical appearance;
• Entrepreneur or leader showing changes in mood;
• Personality of entrepreneur or leader showing changes;
• Entrepreneur or leader changes the way they express themselves.
A more detailed look at the 4 warning signs in a moment, but first, two leaders share their stories.
Case study #1: Death threats from investors, sleepless nights, and a plummeting share price
Sydney entrepreneur Jamie Pride’s stress rose to sky-high levels in 2015, when his ASX-listed HR company Refined (“a darling of the tech industry”) lost $200 million in 14 weeks.
The author of Unicorn Tears (pictured above) says he was averaging 3 hours a night of sleep during what was the worst time in his professional career.
But, when it was over, he didn’t get out of bed at all.
“I couldn’t get out of bed for about, three months, post resigning from the position in the company. I put on a lot of weight. I wasn’t sleeping,” he said in an interview with The Growth Faculty.
Case study #2 - Layne Beachley, world champion surfer, and founder Aim for the Stars foundation
47-year-old R U OK? ambassador Layne Beachley told The Growth Faculty in an interview she'd struggled with mental health while battling chronic fatigue syndrome.
"I was in, what Dr John Demartini refers to as, the A, B, C, Ds of negativity: Anger, Blame, Criticism, Despair. And, ultimately, a state of depression. Every day I woke up thinking of different ways to end my own life, and that was a pretty dark uncomfortable, restless place," she said in our interview.
The 7 times world champion surfer, Surfing Australia Chair, and motivational speaker, said she has learned to prioritise her health.
Research shows anxiety, stress and depression is common in business leaders.
Jamie, who now helps start-up founders and leaders to become as successful as some of Silcon Valley's best, says there's a real danger of poor mental health.
“About 30% of all founders suffer from some form of depression, and so, not only is there a monetary impact, for those failures, but there’s very much, a human and personal impact.”
And, it’s not just founders, or those among us with destructive perfectionism traits.
According to a 2018 Bupa Global study of CEOs and senior decision-makers:
- 64% of senior business leaders have suffered from mental health conditions including anxiety, stress and depression;
- 58% of business leaders say that in their position it’s hard to talk about mental health;
- 1 in 4 people feel less support for mental health issues since becoming more senior;
- Sufferers fear that talking about mental health would affect perceptions of their capabilities and careers prospects.
For leaders, the very nature of their work is surrounded by uncertainty.
But, they will hide their feelings of anxiety, stress and depression, lest they appear to not be coping. Work pressures and focus may have led to a reduced social network, so it's not surprising many leaders feel alone.
Jamie’s weight gain, sleeplessness, and apathy were classic warning signs that he was not okay, according to The Centre for Corporate Health’s guide to R U Ok? conversations at work.
Here, a more detailed guide to what warning signs to look out for:
Changes in physical appearance?
- Look more tired than usual
- Seem “flat” or drained of energy
- Have had a pattern of illness or being constantly run down
- Are complaining of physical health issues such as headaches/migraines
- Are eating much more or much less than usual
- Are drinking more alcohol than usual
- Seem more fidgety and nervous than usual
Changes in mood?
- Seem more irritable, snappy or fly off the handle when they normally wouldn’t
- Appear more anxious and worried about everything i.e. work and personal life
- React more emotionally than the situation warrants
- Are quick to anger
- Appear to be overwhelmed by tasks that they had previously found manageable
Changes in behaviour?
- Seem more withdrawn than usual
- Don’t seem to enjoy hobbies/interests they once did
- Seem to have difficulty concentrating or seem constantly distracted
- Are taking on more work to avoid being in social situations with others
- Are not performing to their usual standard
Changes in how thoughts are expressed?
- Struggles to see a positive side e.g. “It’s always terrible…”
- Seem to think the worst e.g. they might conclude that two people in a meeting are discussing their performance or future in the workplace
- Personalise situations e.g. “I knew I’d get the toughest roster. They’ve got it in for me”
- Saying things that sound more confused or irrational
- Complain they have difficulty switching off
If you’ve noticed two or more of these changes, it’s time for you to start a conversation.
4 steps to R U Ok? conversation in the workplace
- Ask R U OK?
2. Listen without judgement
3. Encourage action
“Where do you think we can go from here?” Ask: “What would be a good first step we can take?” Ask: “What do you need from me? How can I help?” Good options for action might include talking to family, a trusted friend, their doctor, or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if there is one available.
4. Check in
Remember to check in and see how the person is doing in a few days’ time. Understand that sometimes it can take a long time for someone to be ready to see a professional.
Are you a stressed leader? Do your own mental spring cleaning
"You need to work on your life as a R&D project”
– Kevin Lawrence, author Your Oxygen Mask First.
By the time middle-age hits, Kevin Lawrence, author of Your Oxygen Mask First, says that most people have at least one major trauma they need to “clear out of their system.”
- Note any major trauma events in your life history
- Ask yourself for each “Is this an open or a healed wound?”
- Consider getting expert help to make the healing process faster and easier.
Tips for staying mentally healthy
(from Kevin Lawrence's Your Oxygen Mask First)
- Acknowledge working 80 hours a week will catch up with you.
- Let go of the stuff that isn’t your strong suit or passion.
- Gather a team of experts. They may include a lawyer, accountant, business coach, psychologist, and personal trainer.
- Write a one-page Master Plan for work, self, and life.
- Pre-book next year’s holiday now.
- Stop being Chief Problem Solver. Articulate your goals and expectations. Let your team make 90% of the decisions.
- Five Ds method: List everything that’s bothering you: Catching up with past taxes, doing a will, fixing a scratch on your vehicle. Then either Do it, Don’t do it (right now), Delegate it, Delete it, Date it.
CEOs who value mentally healthy workplaces reduce absenteeism
A research study by Beyond Blue and TNS shows CEOs must take the lead on creating safe spaces for conversations around mental health.
The study shows one in 5 Australians (21%) have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.
- This statistic is more than twice as high (46%) among those who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy.
- There is strong evidence that when employees believe their CEO values a mentally healthy workplace, they will feel more inclined to discuss their problems openly.
The myth of martyrdom – when you pretend you’re okay but you’re not.
Conversations around mental health are important, and not just to solve an immediately apparent problem.
Leaders and entrepreneurs need to accept that sometimes they need to put themselves first, admit they’re not okay, and be selfish - if they’re to last the distance.
Business coach Kevin Lawrence says it’s simple: You need oxygen.
“In a plane crisis, you must don your own mask first so you have the oxygen to survive and help others. Leadership is no different.”
He says to give yourself permission to put yourself first.
“It’s about making your needs an unwavering priority, so you are strong and resilient enough to be of service to others.”
And, that may start with recognising the warning signs in yourself, and having an R U Ok? conversation with yourself or someone you work with today.
- Anxiety and stress amongst entrepreneurs and leaders is common.
- Many leaders deeply, deeply suffer, often to the point where they aren’t able to continue the growth of their company.
- 58% of business leaders say that, in their position, it’s hard to talk about mental health.
- Changes in appearance, personality and mood can indicate mental health stress.
- Starting an R U Ok? conversation can help.
- Mentally unhealthy workplaces make people try to hide depression or anxiety.
- Expert advice is widely available.
Lifeline (24/7 )
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Suicide Call Back Service (24/7)
1300 659 467
1300 224 636
1800 18 SANE (7263)
R U Ok? Day