Like most, I can take a bit of disruption (actually probably a lot). I can usually cope quite fine when my Uber driver forgets to end the ride and I need to remedy the overcharge. Or the late fee email notification from Telstra when I have a receipt from paying 2 weeks earlier. Or even the extra ‘housemate’ taking up residence in my house. Combine those things, no dramas. But then an unexpected delivery truck of anxiety, frustration and sheer anger pulled up and dumped it in my lap on Friday 4pm. And then I woke up to the news of the tragic death of a guy from home to make me stop and put things into perspective.
Cue complete ignorance of my ‘don’t drink to feel better, drink to feel even better’ proverb, a few nights of broken sleep and total impatience ensued. At work I lacked motivation and struggled to concentrate. It was time to do something.
Last night I texted my manager. My request was not unexpected and swiftly granted. I am thankful I work in a supportive environment where I can be honest.
I give 110% at work. I don’t have performance issues (unless it’s over-performance?). I have taken 5 days of sick leave in 2 years – 4 for my wisdom teeth extraction. I take annual leave regularly. I consider my mental wellness to be good and stable. But following recent events I needed a day to stop, reset and recharge in order to give at that same level again.
Why am I being so transparent? Beyond Blue recently found 1 in 5 Australian workers took time off last year because of mental health issues, although the reported reason for the leave is considerably underreported. Where workplaces and management were supportive of mental health, self-reported absentee-ism halved. That is – employees took less time off because of the positive perceptions of mental health and physical safety and no surprise, reported higher respect from colleagues and increased productivity.
Unless Jesus returns sooner, I anticipate I’ll work until about my mid 60s, putting me at about 10-15% through my career. And when I look around at people in similar stages of their careers, across many industries, I see exhaustion. I see a pathway to burnout. I hear of 7am starts and 10pm finishes. Being ‘busy’ is worn as badge of honour. I aspire to a career of nurturing people and seeing people be constructive members of society. I’ll be working until close to 2050 and I hope in that time Australia sees a dramatic decrease in the current 3 million adults with depression and anxiety.
Gen Y’s are regularly tormented for silver platter syndrome, so please I welcome your thrown stones. I accept many gone before me have worked incredibly hard in awful conditions. But we’re now living in 2017 when this can be changed. A time when mental illness should not be stigmatised. Managers need to model responsible mental health. Employees should not fear showing weakness or falsify a physical illness instead. We have the opportunity to reshape mental wellness in the workplace and self-care overall.
With haste, I sent off a pretty pointed email on Friday night. Amongst other things, and after some consideration, I pleaded with my organisation to not deliver bad news on a Friday again. Most organisations have no idea of the other concerns of their employees. (Unless you’re my colleagues and you have a pretty good idea because *arm up high* classic verbal processor and chronic over-sharer right here.) Sending an employee home into the weekend devastated could end in tragedy. For example, redundancies are best done on a Tuesday and if done on a Friday should be considered sheer negligence. (Correction: Sorry folks for leading you astray, I was not made redundant! Just using that as the extreme example).
However back to today. What did this mental health day entail? A sleep in, baking, an hour stretching (leg day yesterday) over episodes of Utopia and then a few hours in the sun exploring a new area of Brisbane on my new set of wheels. All things that I enjoy. All things that enabled me to de-stress and reset – literally, thanks endorphins. And then because I think it’s the best treatment, I spent time reflecting and praying. I also went to listen to a podcast on Romans 3 from a local church but failed (don’t podcast + drive) and ended up with 40mins on a brilliant section of Romans 8. Verses 18 through 30 of which extracting one verse for this post was impossible.
Australians are great at the olde ‘sickie’, and to the outsider my day looked exactly like that – an absolute cop out. We can’t abuse the privilege of improved working conditions. I know what gets me back from the brink – sunshine + water + exercise, but perhaps you’re best at home on couch, or chatting to a professional. Either way I felt a little odd explaining to my housemate why I was home early, and then to a weekly group of my church community. But I know and I know my manager knows that the one lost day of my productivity will pay dividends to my current projects thanks to today’s rejuvenation.
Don’t be ashamed. Ask for a day, or if it’s beyond that, talk about it and find a solution.
And if a recruitment agent calls you wondering if you’re interested in a role during the mental health day, laugh – it’s good for the soul. Not even kidding, if I wasn’t stopped already the coincidence of it may have knocked me off my bike.