In the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of seeing some of my friends from all over the world and although they are all in different professions and even different generations, it surprised me that they all have a life situation in common – work stress. What surprised me was that they all have the same coping mechanism- don’t tell the boss and work through it.
Now this of course is symptomatic of society’s work ethic and the working environment, which varies from land to land. However I found that even here in Denmark where we are fortunate enough to have a major focus on working environment and employees mental health, that people are afraid of telling their boss the truth. And because of this mental block people are left feeling isolated, alone and ultimately their situation worsens to breaking point. And at the same time whilst we are caught in this mental (and sometimes physical hell) we are not actually able to do our jobs properly, which is actually more irresponsible of us when you think about it.
It’s unhealthy to the extreme. And it made me wonder why is it we are so afraid to tell our bosses what is really going on with us? I believe it all boils down to mistrust. We don’t trust our bosses to not judge us, we don’t trust that if (in the worse case scenario) we are dismissed from our job that the universe will help us find a new one. In short we are so busy clinging to other people’s opinions of us and our monetary survival that we make ourselves sick.
Now don’t get me wrong I know how important survival and money is. Having experienced true poverty, I know that sometimes you have to suck it up to survive. However we can “suck it up” as a victim or as a manifestor. What I mean by this is that we can allow the situation to get on top and surrender to it, or we can find ways to make life better for ourselves. And often this starts with being brave enough to ask for help. I know I know the last thing you want to do when stressed, focusing on survival and feeling hellishly alone is to reach out and trust someone to help you, however it does help.
I have always believed a quote I once heard from Nancy Astor “ I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” and I have found that time again and again it is true. When we reach out for help, honestly and bravely, help comes. And if it can come from strangers, it can come from people we know, friends, family and colleagues. I am not just speaking from a theoretical perspective. I have experienced this first hand.
In my last job before becoming self employed I suffered a full mental breakdown and recovery whist continuing to work. Following my blind trust in strangers and the universe I reached out to my boss. Explained what was going on with me. Explained that I would need some time to recover to be fully able to fulfill my position and basically cast my chips on the table. Did it change my relationship with him? Yes. Initially he did not have the respect for me he had once had. However he relaxed the pressure on me in my daily work and often asked me how it was going. Honestly I think in that first meeting he would have happily let me go if he could, yet overtime he respected me for it. During this period there were cutbacks and staff terminated, yet I was not one of them. Eventually as I recovered he increased my responsibilities and at the end of my time in the job he wrote me a personal letter saying how impressed he was that I overcame my challenges, impressed with the responsibility I took to myself and my job in coming to him and that he was sorry I had decided to leave as he valued me as an employee. I had put myself and my health first and in doing that gained more respect than if I had hidden my troubles away.
It is not easy to face the boss man and say you can’t cope and need help. However when you do do it, in a planned and careful way, your life and your working life will become much easier. If you like my friends are feeling isolated, over stressed and clinging at straws pretending that everything is alright you are going to make yourself melt down at some point. If you are there you need help. By going to the boss and then afterwards your network you will give yourself the breather you need to recover and come back on top again. You just have to be brave and put you and your welfare first.
So if you can feel in your heart of hearts that you are starting to crack under the pressure here is my guide for reaching out to your boss and getting the help you need.
Identify the problem
Your boss is a logical person, they have to be to run whatever organisation it is you are working within. It will not help you (practically or emotionally) to go into a meeting with your boss and breakdown in floods of tears. Identify on paper the problems you are having and group them into work life and home life. Identify how these problems are effecting you.
How do you believe these issues can be solved? What do you need to reduce the stress? Maybe a week or two off to sort out a deceased relatives home or sharing your workload with a colleague to ease off the pressure. Do you need a psychologist or therapist and need some funding help for that? Or do you need your boss to support you to talk with the colleague that is making your working life hell?
Choose who to contact
Now this is really important. Who do you need to contact to solve your issues? Is it your direct line manager, HR department, your union or your boss? If in doubt ask a colleague. You can always ask anonymously.
How to contact them
By email. When it comes to your job always, ALWAYS leave a paper trail. You need a record of your asking for help. In this mail explain that you are having some challenges in the workplace and would like a meeting to discuss them. Suggest a time and place and ask if it would be suitable for them. You may feel helpless inside however in this mail you need to appear proactive and take charge of the situation. If you would like someone else to be present say so, and choose that person yourself. By taking control of the issue you show that you are professional.
Plan your meeting
This is your battle plan and your anchor for this meeting. It will help you keep focused especially when discussing emotional issues. In your plan don’t just lay out the issues and solutions you have found remember to also ask what your boss thinks could be a solution. I have found it is always best to show that I have thought of a solution and then to ask what my boss thinks or suggests. Again this shows proactive, responsible and professional behaviour.
Watch your language
Bosses like positive language, which can be problematical when discussing stress. Instead of using the word “problem” say “challenge”. Instead of saying “I can’t do my job right now”, say that you are “concerned that due to the stress you know it would be irresponsible of you to expect that you can do your job at full capacity”. Stress in the meeting that you want to “nip this challenge in the bud before it becomes a serious issue”. And lastly make sure that all agreements are crystal clear. Even if you have to repeat them back to your boss to make sure that you are both agreeing to the same thing. And if you can agree on dates for actioning your agreements
Email after the meeting
Once the meeting has been held make sure you send your boss an email that outlines the challenges you discussed and the solutions you both agreed upon. Also thanking them for their support. In this email I would recommend suggesting a new date for a follow up meeting to reassess the situation and your progress a few months in the future. Once again keep a paper trail. Keep your boss in the loop. There is nothing worse than an unexplained situation to a manager.
Arrange help on the homefront
Work is not the only place of stress. You have a network friends and family and also professionals. As you have already identified problems and solutions at home as well as work then start to use the resources you have to support you and give you the breathing space you need to recover.
This is a challenging thing I am asking you to do for yourself and I implore you to do it. Your boss or workplace will react much more kindly to stress and sickness if you have communicated with them than if you are suddenly and inexplicably on sick leave without explanation. Having your workplace know what is going on with you is daunting however it also adds to your stress if you are afraid of communicating with them, and that is the last thing you need. Take care of you, respect your own boundaries and your boss will respect you. Remember what we send out we get back.
I hope this helps <3