Tips to avoid burnout at work, from FT readers who’ve been there
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Last week, the Financial Times Weekend Magazine published an investigation on the devastating toll that ignoring mental health at work can take on employees. The deeply personal topic resonated with FT readers and prompted hundreds of responses.
The late Gabe MacConaill, a 42-year old junior partner at global law firm Sidley Austin, died by suicide after a particularly stressful bankruptcy case. His widow believes things could have been different if workplaces were more open and supportive about mental health. MacConaill’s story sparked a discussion in the comments of the shortcomings of corporate culture — and ideas for how it could change.
The original story included several similar examples of mental health discrimination submitted by FT readers. We encourage you to continue sharing your stories in the comments below, and sending tips directly to the journalists for future coverage of the topic.
Avoid lip service
“So I went to a session at my company for supporters of their mental health initiative. The first thing that struck me was the lack of representation from senior management, particularly the hard-driving, most visible leaders who set the company culture. Secondly, the experiences that some participants shared seemed to me to be strangely independent from work. I had the sense that people were self-censoring and unwilling to point out how work and our company (which has a fairly whatever-it-takes, demanding culture) may have contributed to their conditions.
This is disappointing. It avoids the necessary hard conversations about how workplace culture and management should change to avoid creating mental health problems in employees. In my own experience, all my struggles and blackest moments in life have been work related.” — Melmoth
It starts with sleep
“Resiliency workshops make my blood boil. Employers should be prioritising sleep. When everyone has the opportunity to get 8 hours every night, then employers can start congratulating themselves on a f***ing fruitbowl.” — Old Brown
There is always a way out
“Thank you FT for tackling one of the biggest epidemics of our modern times.
For the first 12 years of my own working life, I was in two stressful 24/7/365 industries: ‘Breaking News’ journalism and Gaming/Casinos. I thought stress was a normal part of working life and figured I had to grow a thicker skin to succeed. Nights, holidays and weekends were usually devoted to putting out fires, responding to work-related phone calls and emails or just ‘staying on top of things’. I was often reprimanded by management in both industries for not responding fast enough outside of office hours!
In March of 2018 I finally had enough and hated the way my life was going. Every day was bleak and depressing. I felt exhausted and hopeless on a daily basis. It hit a point where even my mother openly expressed her concern to me. I left my casino management role without having another job lined up. I took web development classes online for a few months, travelled and spent time with family. When I was ready to go back to work, I immediately found a job at another company where I didn’t have to be on call 24/7/365. It was wonderful. I'm still there and am pivoting into a lucrative IT and web career.
My heart goes out to anyone dealing with extreme work stress. I hope things change for the better where companies and government entities do more about this issue.” — Lady T
During ‘off time’, log off
“As an American working for a large multinational, the expectation today is to be connected 24/7. Companies need to create a culture [in which employees are permitted] to turn those tools off. And it starts in the corner office. My EU colleagues that turn off their devices on weekends have a better idea. Are you going to die if you don’t answer that last email or phone call? No, but you might if you do.
All companies are in business to make money, but at what human cost?”
— Likeable Engineer
Emphasise prevention, not just treatment
“As a union rep, I raised the idea with my employer that we should do risk assessments for mental health the way we did them for physical health. Their response was that they monitored mental health through things like use of our private medical insurance and visits to the in-house staff counsellor, and that was enough. To me, that was like saying if there’s a hole in the stairs, we won’t do a risk assessment, but will just wait to see how many people break their legs tripping over it. Things have started to get better, but there’s still too much emphasis on cure and not enough on prevention.” — Beth
Learn to deal with bullies
“Here are a few things I’ve learned from colleagues and counsellors during a long career where I’ve experienced extreme stress and bullying. Hope some of this is helpful to anyone suffering from workplace stress:
1. Unfortunately, bullies are everywhere — learning to deal with them is an essential skill. The instant you feel you are being bullied by someone, calmly challenge the behaviour. If you don’t do this, they will think you’re weak and have the upper hand.
2. Bullying behaviour says more about the bully than it says about you. Most bullies have their own problems. That’s why they bully others: to make themselves feel better. I learned (eventually) to feel sorry for bullying managers.
3. Work is not a prison. You don’t have to work at a place that is damaging your health. Build your life so that you can walk away. Nice people, teams and jobs do exist. Don’t take on so many financial commitments that you absolutely need a particular job.
4. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Might another line of work be better for you?
5. Invest your time on yourself, your friends and your family. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.
Good luck.” — The Botanist
Put your money where your mouth is
“Every company: we’d like to promote mental health in the workplace.
Employees: how about hiring more people so we feel less pressured and increase our pay so we can keep up with the spiralling cost of living so we’re not so stressed out?
Every company: not like that. Try yoga.” — The_lone_ranger
Respect your own boundaries
“Not so long ago, I had to really push to my limits at work for about 12 months. I did not break, thanks to the support of senior colleagues, but I now understand that I have a breaking point. Good leaders keep themselves and their teams away from that breaking point, as it is the right thing to do morally AND for the long-term performance of the company. Nobody should ever be disrespected for this.”