Mental Health and Wellbeing: the tradeoffs

For International Trade Leaders

It’s an exciting time to be a leader in the International Trade sector. The ever changing and complex industry presents both opportunity and challenge to its leaders. Our work with executives in the sector shows that a conscious effort is required to carve out space for mental health & wellbeing. Otherwise, we risk burn out for those on the frontline at such a crucial time in global history.

Sitting at the forefront of economic, demographic, technological, political and environmental change is complex problem solving and innovative thinking. The actions we take impact our communities and ripple across business sectors. Working across cultures and time zones, managing change at pace, mastering emerging technology and logistics can quickly impact leaders’ health, relationships and sense of self. These elements are the cornerstones of good mental health and wellbeing, not to mention sound decision-making and critical thinking.

Breathing Space wellbeing strategist Gabriel Edwards appears on Ticker TV.

A proactive approach is needed

Rather than a reactive strategy to mental health, it makes sense for leaders of international trade who are required to work across time zones, travel internationally, be available on demand, understand and comply to rapidly changing regulations to be supported with proactive mental health and wellbeing strategies.

The recent release of the interim report of the Royal Commission onto Mental health Services in Victoria, and the launch of a number of other recent ground-breaking reports from PWC, EY and KMG are flagging a mental health crisis in our country.

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1 in every 5 Australians — about 4 million people — suffers from a mental illness each year, and almost half the population has suffered a mental disorder at some time in their life. The most common mental disorders are depression, anxiety and substance use disorders. The cost to the economy

Mental illness costs the Australian economy $180billion each year. In the business context, mental illness is costing business bottom lines $12billion every year. Only 3.5% of workers are asking for help, such as utilising employer funded EAP services when they’re suffering depression, burn out, anxiety and other mental illnesses. The gap this leaves is lost productivity in the form of absenteeism and presenteeism as defined in the Royal Commission’s interim report.

Leaders, step up!

Leaders across all sectors are being asked to step up and create mentally health workplaces, but at Fisher leadership, we’re asking, “who’s looking after the leaders who are looking after our people?”

At Fisher leadership we know that the leader’s journey is a unique one. Many are juggling competing needs and expectations from their customers, stakeholders, shareholders, employees and families.  Many believe that despite the sometimes unrelenting pressures they experience, asking for help is a weakness.  We know that in fact leaders are even less willing to ask for help. With only 1% of our leaders seeking support from official workplace EAP services it’s no wonder these reports are indicating our workplaces are contributors to the mental health crisis.

First-hand experience with executive clients has shown, anecdotally, that leaders tend to see asking for help as a weakness – one that will potentially undermine their position or reputation.  In extreme cases, some believe that if they stop to reflect on their mental health and wellbeing, they will “unravel” and the many plates they’re spinning “will come crashing down”, to quote my clients.

So, how do leaders prioritise and build good mental health and wellbeing in this environment? The upside is both personally and professionally compelling. Leaders who are mentally well make better decisions, maintain clearer perspective, are more innovative and build fruitful relationships. Organisations with leadership wellbeing strategies reduce health risk factors and stress by up to 56% ​(Ahrens,  McCarthy, Almeida, 2011)​.

Here’s some practical actions that will help leaders carve out the space they need to maintain good mental health and wellbeing.

How do we carve out space?

Delegate

Delegate the busy work that someone else can do for you.  Put effort into hiring skilled administrative employees and coordinators who can manage your schedule and administrative processes.  Even a casual, part time or a once-off support to establish systems will release the pressure of day to day logistics.

Technology: ensuring your device is NOT a vice

When we work across cultures and time zones, we risk being available around the clock. We easily lose control of our own physical, personal and social boundaries. This situation makes for unsustainable performance and will eventually impact health, relationships and peace of mind.

Investigate apps and platforms that enabling leaders to work collaboratively and productively with global teams. There are host of apps to identify and track different time zones, coordinate and schedule best meeting times, enable collaborative project and record and even minute meetings.

Boomerang, Time Temperature, Timeanddate are all apps designed to support teams to work collaboratively across different time zones while reducing burn out.

ScheduleOne and Doodle provide a seamless customer experience when scheduling meetings and meeting crucial communication needs.

Make Time to Take Time

Wellbeing is a holistic state. This means taking time for your mind, your body, your relationships and your work are equally interconnected and important.  Generally, this means scheduling time for:

  • Family– putting the kids to bed or helping with homework, school pick up or playing in the park after school
  • Your primary relationship – a scheduled dinner, shared hobby, coordinating sleep routines
  • A hobby and learning
  • Exercise and opportunities to move your body
  • Being in nature
  • Food and water!
  • Sleep
  • Work preparation and implementation

Understand your body

A leader is required to posses many skills and qualities. I received a post on LinkedIn recently that listed the 12 essential qualities of a leader.  It was daunting. I realised that these qualities are developed on a foundation of deep self-awareness, clarity of thought, good mental health and wellbeing. Being aware of what keeps our minds and bodies healthy is the new KPI for modern leaders. This includes:

  • Circadian rhythms
  • Regulation of cortisol levels
  • Reflection as an antidote to stress and anxiety

Put up your hand

Seek help early if you’re experiencing high levels of anxiety, sleep disturbance, unrelenting fatigue and depression. Contact an experienced Counsellor or see your GP for a referral to a Psychotherapist. As Alan Fels said at the launch of the PWC Shared Value Report (the Business Imperative to improve mental health in Australia), “all Executive Leaders should have a psychotherapist”. 

Of all the clients I’ve supported over the years, I’ve never met a CEO who has said, “I should never have asked for help”. What I hear more times than I can count is “I should have put my hand up sooner”.

At Fisher Leadership, we have designed an executive mental health and wellbeing program that covers all these topics and more. Reach out if you’d like to know more.

Written by Gabe Edwards, Breathing Space wellness strategist and Associate Partner, CogNative.

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