Work for the soul

Like many on the Internet I fell in love with last year’s story of a CEO thanking one of his team for openly saying she was taking a mental health day, lauding her for helping to cut through the stigma that still surrounds, and being brave enough to be open and direct with her colleagues about her struggles, when it would be easier just to say you weren’t feeling well.

Mental health and the workplace came up in a recent discussion I took part in in my workplace. I like to think I am lucky enough to work in a very accepting and open culture. I often laugh with my colleagues that I embody our value of ‘We can be ourselves here’. It’s fair to say I bring the – and I quote a former DR, colleague and greatest friend here – “brilliantly batshit on-it bitch” each day. But in that group we all agreed that apart from a handful of brave examples, mental health is still very much in the unspoken shadows, be it for the individual or for a loved one.

Yesterday I decided to take two actions for my own well-being, and I took some of my team with me on the second. Firstly, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I began my day at my local MoreYoga for an 8am Morning Flow practice. Now, lowering my voice to a whisper…. (clearly kidding… anyone who has worked with me knows I am incapable of whispering. When he heard I was taking over the department, one of my now team members asked his previous boss what I was like…. She replied “you’ll hear her before you see her.” Five minutes later I proved her right.)

The class doesn’t finish until 9am. And I live an hour from work. So I didn’t get in till gone 10am.

It’s fair to say I also don’t have a reputation for being an early bird and my body clock has been firmly set to night owl for many a year, so coming in at 10 doesn’t raise too many eyes. I also lead the team so perhaps you could say I’m less likely to be challenged on my time-keeping, though it was actually a conscious decision to time shift my day; I was one of the last to leave that night.

I was explicit in telling my team that I was doing yoga that morning and they know it’s an important part of my balance. This was as much about transparency as it was about wanting to state that this is acceptable. I remember all those years ago when I started working (!) and it felt like only parents were allowed to deviate from the 9-5 because they had a legitimate ‘excuse’. Clearly there are all kinds of nuances around equality, not abusing the trust, ensuring the work is done, complexities of office-based roles etc which I don’t intend to get into here, but I just don’t believe the old routine of work works.

Our lives, our health – physical or mental – doesn’t fit into neat little ‘work’ or ‘life’ boxes. Mundane everyday life admin appears and depression can flare. Managing needs to be proactive not just reactive.

So that afternoon we stopped and at 4pm a group of the floor took 20 minutes for what ended up being the second meditation session of the day. Some of the team had done a morning session whilst I was coming out of my savasana. We’re lucky enough to have a web stroke meditation master who practices at least twice a day and has started to lead group sessions. In what is a buzzy delivery computer focused environment the time out to breathe is game changing for our well being dynamic. We have newbies, infrequent practicers, experienced daily meditators, some sceptics, lots of new converts and even more interested participants coming forward each day from all around the building. I think it’s becoming quite a cult.

Today I took some of my team for an ‘offsite’ coffee to grab some air and a breather from the office floor to do a general check in on how they were feeling. Whilst we were talking about what things make a company a great place to work, one of them said something that really stuck. It wasn’t the big social things that cost a lot of money, not the trips to the pub at the end of the day, her happiest times in her short six months here have been the spontaneous 4pm pizza deliveries when we just take a break, come together and chat. She wants the things in the office, like meditation, because it’s something to break up the daily routine of coming to work, sitting at a desk or in meetings, grabbing a sandwich at lunch and then going home at night. That’s why she works from home, it gives a respite to the monotony and makes her feel, well, well. Who doesn’t need a little bit more of that.

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