I want to provide for myself & my family is often most prominent in our thinking when our status is unemployed or under-employed. The more desperate we feel about paying our bills or getting access to health insurance, the less selective we are about the company's qualities or the position. In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, this is the base of the pyramid—physiological and safety needs. According to Maslow, these needs are foundational for all humans.
Do you remember preparing for your first day at a new job? I remember dressing to impress. I was awake early, took great care with my hair and makeup, and arrived almost thirty minutes early. [Honestly, I still do this when meeting with new clients.] My focus was items #2 & 3, showing my best self and being accepted. I wanted to prove that I was good enough and be welcomed and embraced by my new employer and co-workers. Maslow called this third level belonging.
Maslow's next level, esteem, focuses on our desire to be appreciated. We all share the need to be recognized and valued by others. Fulfilling this need is vital to retaining your best employees.
Once we feel confident and appreciated, we can pursue item #5--I want to make a difference. This pinnacle is where we are our most creative and able to express our full potential. Correspondingly, this also means that we offer our best selves to the benefit of our employer.
Maslow gave us a clear and concise framework for understanding the levers available to us as employers. Mental health at work isn't just about individuals. Culture and environment enable positive mental health and maximum personal contribution, but it doesn't happen accidentally.
Consider these examples of unhealthy norms at work.
😒Employers who pay low wages, limit employee hours or fail to provide a consistent schedule trap their employees in concern for their physiological needs.
👿Supervisors who use intimidation and verbal abuse to control employees confine those employees to focus on their safety needs.
😨Managers who create competition within the workgroup and use derogatory speech to and about others restrain their team from moving beyond questions of belonging.
😩Leaders who focus on deficits instead of leveraging strengths, chip away at their people's ability to maintain self-esteem.
These are all examples of toxic work environments which cause stress, anxiety, and burnout. Toxic work environments are unhealthy, unstable, and costly.
As you reflect on mental health this month, it is an excellent time to reacquaint yourself with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Constructing a healthy work environment in which people bring their personal best every day requires attention to each level and crafting a culture that supports and maintains psychological safety.
May is mental health awareness month. And since I'm a psychology geek, I've decided to spend this month discussing this topic and its relevance to all of us.
Let me ask you. How many of these statements are true for you?
As you reflect on your responses to the questions above, consider this definition of mental health from the CDC.
"Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act... Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same things."
Work encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, or mental health.
Embedded in our choice of profession are psychological needs (e.g., self-esteem). Social well-being informs our pick of where we work. And emotionally taxing workplaces (a.k.a., toxic environments) receive scathing reviews on Glassdoor by disillusioned current and former employees.
In the late 1950s, Herzberg studied motivation in the workplace. He concluded that it is ineffective to view dissatisfaction and satisfaction as a single continuum because resolving issues that create dissatisfaction only lessens dissatisfaction. The actions required to increase satisfaction are separate and distinct. Decades later, the work on employee engagement by the Gallup Organization supported this conclusion.
The following table presents the top seven factors causing dissatisfaction and the top six factors causing satisfaction, listed in the order of higher to lower importance. [source]
Leading to satisfaction
Herzberg's theory is vital to our discussion about mental health because it emphasizes the need for parallel work paths. To provide a healthy culture where everyone can be their best self and maximize their contribution, one must minimize the dissatisfiers and increase the satisfiers.
There's a wonderful story in The Power of Moments (Heath, 2017) about a woman who dreams of opening a bakery, but after the stress of making cakes to meet her client's expectations, she begins to lose joy for the craft and closes her business. This story supports Herzberg's theory; the motivation to continue to work so hard wasn't possible. It was a lot of responsibility without much recognition, and the work itself was less satisfying with each cake she made. [BTW, the woman celebrates her decision to close her business and hasn't baked a cake since.]
Decisions to walk away from what makes us unhappy to pursue a path of happiness is choosing mental health. So is permitting yourself to create or receive whatever is needed to improve your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Here are some questions to guide you. Be brutally honest in your answers.
Mental Health Check
You know I'm all about work being a place for joy and passion to abound. So let me know if you need help getting back to that place.
Can I be real? Lately, creating and engaging is a struggle. I'm not interested in pushing harder, launching more things, or adhering to a strict social posting schedule. I need a break, and whether I'm willing to recognize it or not, my mind and body are declaring freedom.
I read a book last week that discussed negative self-talk and the reasons to be more generous with ourselves. As I reflected on this, I realized that I was caught in my own loop of berating myself. And so I decided to lean into my need for stillness and stop fighting it.
Knowing the value of an eddy isn't enough. Because they sit alongside rapids, it takes skill to direct the raft away from the river's natural flow and into the eddy. Raft guides practice and hone this skill because once the current carries you too far downstream, there is no going back.
Mother nature offers so many lessons, and this is another one worth learning. Catching an eddy is a gift. It doesn't remove us from the fun. It isn't the end of our journey. An eddy is simply a moment of calm alongside the chaos of whitewater.
So I am no longer judging myself for everything I'm not doing. I'm choosing to enjoy my eddy, renew my energy, and take in the scenery. Moving forward is just a few strokes back into the current. Is your body telling you it is time to catch an eddy? Whether you give yourself five minutes or five days, don't be afraid to step out of the rapids and into an eddy of calm.
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Welcome back! I've got a question for you...Where is your level of emotional exhaustion today?
Emotions are such a rollercoaster ride, aren't they? Just when you think everything's nice and easy, the bottom drops out, and you're plummeting again. So many of my clients are identifying this struggle that I thought it worthy of a blog series. If you need to catch up, just use this link.
Humans are natural storytellers. And it turns out that storytelling doesn't require an audience. We are continuously telling stories in our own heads. It's our way of processing and making sense of the world around us. And this is especially true when we experience negative feelings like fear, anxiety, defensiveness, and uncertainty.
What's more, the story we tell ourselves can quickly become the story we tell others. You know what I'm talking about—lunch conversations that sound something like this, "Cathy couldn't stand that everyone else was interested in my idea, so she had to jump in and start telling everyone why my idea was never going to work. She always has to prove that she's the smartest person in the room, and she doesn't care who she steps on to do it."
Our default as humans is self-preservation, and that includes protecting our self-esteem. We love to be right and seek affirmation of our conclusions and beliefs. Often this takes the form of coalition building (a.k.a, dragging other people into our drama). Not only do we proclaim the story to our friends and colleagues, but as in the example above, we serve it with a side of character assassination.
We believe that we are good people who seek to do good in the world. When we negatively impact others, we tend to look outside of ourselves for cause and effect. For example, when I almost hit the car in my blind spot, and they honk their horn and wave at me furiously, I feel bad about my error and am thankful for their quick action, but the story I tell myself is "I didn't see them in my blind spot. If I had, I wouldn't have changed lanes."
On the other hand, when I'm the person being cut off, the story changes completely. Beyond the adrenaline-fueled expletive, I make a lot of assumptions about the other driver, "Get off your phone" or "Is it so important that you stay one car length ahead of me that you are willing to cause an accident" or "Pay attention @$$hole." Come on, admit it; you do this too.
It turns out that this is so common, social psychology named it—Fundamental Attribution Error. Succinctly, this is our tendency to ascribe our actions to external factors while ascribing the actions of others to their character or personality. Voila! The magic cocktail of resentment and snarkiness is born.
In her book, Rising Strong (2015), vulnerability expert Brené Brown encourages readers to share "the story I'm making up." She counsels that this act can be a relationship-saving move. Not only does it invite the other person to correct how you are reading the situation, it also opens you to how your story may not be accurate.
So beyond snarky, under your breath utterances, how do you get better at recognizing the story you're making up? Look for three words--could, would, and should.
"She could see that I was running around like crazy trying to get everything done, but she didn't offer any help."
"If he would have asked for my opinion, this wouldn't be such a cluster."
"She shouldn't make plans in front of me and not invite me—how rude!"
We keep ourselves stuck in a heightened emotional state when we continually set ourselves up to be triggered. Could, would, and should mask expectations that we project onto others, mostly without their agreement. We obligate others to our standards of behavior or expect them to read our minds. We're the architect of our own mousetrap of negativity.
When I catch myself in woulda, coulda, shoulda thought bubbles, I now recognize that I need something from the other person, and I have the option to ask for it.
Feeling rushed to prepare dinner, my thought bubble, "Why is he just sitting there reading instead of offering to help me?" becomes my spoken question, "Hey, Dave. Do you mind helping me by cutting the vegetables?"
So the next time you are trying to present an idea, and the other person is paying attention to their screen instead of looking at you, choose not to walk away in resentment, be a victim, or stay stuck in your story that is getting you nowhere. Who knows what you'll learn when you dare to say, "The story I'm making up is that you are not interested in discussing this with me, and so I'm wondering if I should talk with you about this at a later time." Perhaps there is a legitimate distraction, and perhaps there is zero interest in discussing your idea. Either way, you walk away with clarity and honesty in the relationship and take control of the dips and turns of your emotional rollercoaster.
Like me, are you a fan of Marie Kondo's idea of filling our lives with only the things that spark joy? I've been thinking about all that Emotional Fatigue and asking myself what it would take to replace that depletion with an infusion of positivity.
Just as Marie teaches her clients to consider material goods and discard those that no longer spark joy, I'm inviting you on a journey to do the same thing with your thoughts. Imagine examining each as if it were an object, looking with fine-tuned precision, and letting go of any thinking that contributes to your anger, frustration, or resentment. But, the exercise doesn't stop here. In equal measure, we need to recognize and increase focus on our positive thoughts.
In this series, I'm offering practical actions to create an upward spiral of positive experiences that build upon one another. My first recommendation comes from our universal need to be seen, understood, and valued.
When facilitating meetings with teams reporting emotional fatigue symptoms, I begin with an activity inviting participants to share a recent moment of pride at work. Next, I ask them to write notes of thanks or gratitude to their co-workers. The result of these two concurrent actions is immediate and powerful. Participants report a positivity bump from giving recognition to others that almost equals receiving appreciation from others.
So, the first step is following the wisdom of Gandhi, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world." By spreading appreciation to others, you give yourself a boost of positivity too. This step isn't enough to create an updraft that allows you to soar on positive vibes with minimal effort, but it's a significant mindset shift to help you start focusing on something that sparks joy.
Next week we'll take our mindset shift further with some help from Brené Brown.