Peter recently was asked for his thoughts on ‘the pivotal generation’ and given perhaps their most defining trait of always being ‘plugged in’ to the internet and social media, what mental health challenges they may face, if any, in the workplace. Following is an excerpt from that interview.
Centennials / Gen Z have been dubbed the “pivotal generation.” Do you agree with that title? What does it mean with regards to teens’ roles in society today?
It’s definitely an interesting title.
There’s no fixed age range, but generally speaking the term ‘Pivotal Generation’ refers to people currently under the age of 18. Why pivotal? Because the research shows they are displaying different patterns of thinking and behaviour to the Gen Y / Millennials before them. And some have suggested that those differences put them in a position to change the world.
In that sense, the Centennials have the opportunity to be pivotal but it’s yet to be seen whether they’ll take on that challenge. As a challenge it’s a big one, and it comes with a lot of responsibility.
What concerns me is whether a whole generation, whose obsession is with branding and personal (not collective) success, is ready to change the world.
That’s an interesting point – do you think today’s teens will in fact change the world?
Yes of course, every generation changes the world, in a sense. They cannot help it. The question is whether it will be an accidental change or an intentional change. The Centennials are in a world full of resources. Will they be able to get together collectively and decide how they want to shape it? There is no evidence to show they are any more willing to do that than previous generations. They are highly motivated for sure, but their focus appears to be on personal success over the collective.
We are at a pivotal moment technologically speaking. How will the human engage and interact with the technological and what impact will it make around the world? We have the option of self annihilation or evolution of the species.
I’d like to think we’ll go for evolution, but there are some indicators we are headed for self annihilation – just look at the increasing suicide rate for example. And that has been linked to an existential crisis magnified through technology like social media. For a species to evolve we need to be more ‘other people’ focussed, not just about ‘me’.
Have we taught the values of compassion and interest in others needed to drive meaningful change to Centennials or are they caught up in their own egocentric search for meaning through material things? And are these drives enough to change society? That remains to be seen.
In the workplace, definitely the pace of change has the potential to be more significant than with any previous generations. There’s a need for innovation. We’re already seeing challenges between Millennials and the older generations with older generations losing out – being slower to learn new technology (generally speaking), less able or willing to show initiative, or to think on their feet and adapt rapidly. They are more wired to an old-school academic mentality of first learning the theory, and following instructions. But that mentality is not able to rewire itself as needed. One exciting thing about Centennials is they live in a world where they do not need established institutions to learn what they need to learn at an expert level. Almost all skills are at their fingertips and they know where and how to get the knowledge.
What would you say are some of the defining characteristics of Gen Z / Centennials?
Certainly we’re generalising here, but I would say they are:
How would you say Centennials compare to Millennials, for example mentally, emotionally or socially?
Centennials share the same affinity with technology as Millenials, but this is taken a step further when it comes to the ability to adopt new technologies even faster, and to engage with social media in a more complex way.
In comparison to the Millennials, Centennials in some ways demonstrate a return to the values of the Gen X or Baby Boomers with an emphasis on personal success, ambition, and seemingly materialistic values. Yet they are not restricted in how they go about accomplishing this.
For example, while they are very driven for personal success, Centennials really don’t follow the old patterns of work – Monday to Friday 9-5, or even old styles of entrepreneurship. They can now make a living off of “nothing”. Very intangible stuff, like blogging about a company’s product, for example. This is perfect for the current environment, or perhaps it’s what’s shaping the current environment. Whereas Millennials still have a foot in each door of the old and the new way of working.
The problem I see is that with so much dependence on social media and personal branding, life can become superficial. There can be existential crises when your success is defined by your social media status. But is that really any different from the status of the old days – which was all about climbing the hierarchy in an organisation? At the core, I see the same issues, on a different playing field.
Let’s start with a couple of hypothetical scenarios.
Whether you feel like you are being sabotaged in the workplace or you are questioning the authenticity of your managers’ requests, it is important to realize that everyone experiences a certain amount of workplace paranoia from time to time. Today’s competitive economy seems to breed workplaces where managers and employees alike are feeling more pressure than ever to perform at a maximum level, 100 percent of the time.
In reality, our feelings of uncertainty are driving our perceptions of our workplace relationships rather than reality. As a result, the way we handle the situation is likely based on our perception rather than reality as well.
Let’s take these two scenarios and examine what might really be going on.
Perception: Your manager has placed you in charge of a large project. Overwhelmed by the vastness of what you are being asked to do, you wonder if they are setting you up to fail. Feeling defeated and abandoned, you likely react in one of two ways. Either you attempt to buckle down and do your job, but find yourself on edge or miserable. Or you admit defeat, update your resume, and chalk your experience up to your terrible manager.
Reality: Your manager is terrible at reading your mind. Chances are, they have no idea that you are feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about your ability to complete the project or lead the team or do the task. Fortunately, most managers do not want to set their teams up for failure but instead are happy to mentor their employees during particularly difficult projects or transitions. Rather than trying to go it alone or giving up, bring your concerns to them and ask for help regarding next steps.
Perception: As a change agent in your organization, you are caught between employees who are resistant to your ideas and bosses who expect huge changes in a short amount of time. You begin to wonder if you will be able to keep your job or if you will become the latest casualty of the organization.
Reality: If you are undergoing organizational change, chances are your manager is too. It is entirely likely that they’re feeling unsupported by their managers while experiencing resistance from their subordinates. Without realizing it, managers can pass on their own feelings of corporate paranoia, especially during large scale change. Rather than assuming your manager is asking you to do the impossible while leaving you to manage your department’s change on your own, discuss how you can strategically support one another.
If you are still uncertain as to whether your boss has your back, schedule an opportunity to informally discuss your specific situation with them. Go for coffee, ask if they are happy with how your team is functioning. Ask for feedback on whether you should be doing things differently over a casual lunch. Regardless of the setting, be sure you own your perceptions for what they are – your interpretation of the situation. Begin the discussion by asking for clarification, rather than confronting your manager with what you perceive as reality. Not only does this open the lines of communication, it helps you both understand how your personal bias has affected your situation.
You may be surprised to find out that they had your back all along.
Ever wondered how people screw themselves up?
Simple, we do it because we are afraid. And it’s ok. Fear is a natural survival mechanism. It’s a good thing, designed to protect us. But what happens when fear runs rampant? When your body reacts to a deadline at work with the same intensity as if it was being chased by a T-Rex? Then that’s not so good anymore, is it?
And it’s insane. It’s been said that 98% of the things we are scared of never come to fruition. Thank goodness, right? So, why do we make problems out of things that are highly unlikely to, ever, come true? It’s puzzling, isn’t it?
And when we keep doing that, fear, and anxiety turn into stress. And we all know what stress can do to our mental, not to mention physical health.
But, did you know that stress is actually good for you? Weird, right? But hear me out for a second…
Without some level of stress, we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. We wouldn’t bother going to work, and we certainly wouldn’t take on challenges and strive to better ourselves.
However it’s the amount of stress that’s the key.
The Performance-Arousal Curve shows us that performance increases with stress to a point, beyond which additional stress becomes counterproductive. Spend too long past the optimum point in the stress curve and we risk exhaustion, anxiety and eventually a breakdown.
But here’s where it gets even more complicated. The ‘optimum’ level of stress is not the same for everyone! That’s right, each individual will have their own version of this graph. But the good news is, it’s not set in stone. It can change.
As leaders, we want to build motivated, resilient and high performing teams. And wouldn’t it be great if our teams could do two things;
First, adjust their ‘optimum stress level’, so they are more resilient in the face of inevitable pressures and challenges.
And second, self monitor and self correct if approaching overload and burnout? That’s what I’d like to see in our workplaces. That’s my vision.
In order to achieve this, workplaces need to teach team members how to recognise when a colleague tips into the right of the curve, and how to catch that person before they start to spiral down.
BUT in order to be truly effective, this education needs to have a strong Recovery approach. At the Workplace Mental Health Institute, everything we do has a strong Recovery approach applied to the workplace. We focus on recovery not illness. This may seem a subtle distinction, but it’s a vital one. We don’t teach people how to look for problems that aren’t there; we teach them how to minimise risk, and confidently identify & deal with the typical warning signs of the most common mental illnesses. So their teammates can get the help they need and recover. (And the evidence is now pretty clear that the overwhelming majority of people DO recover)
We don’t need to teach employees and leaders to be mental health practitioners, but we can give them the basic skills to intervene early, before things get out of hand.
Btw, if you’re responsible for managing the mental health of your employees, and you need some help, please hit me up. We can help you meet your compliance obligations, foster a happy, high-performing environment, and significantly reduce risk.
There seems to be this idea floating about in the business world that in order to be profitable and productive, one needs to be hard and tough. Yet another contradictory idea seems to be that mental health is fluffy, soft, weak. Many people’s idea of good mental health is extreme. One where people have full love, consensus and agreement for all. Like everyone holding hands and singing Kumbayah. Nothing could be further from what’s required to promote and maintain a workplace’s mental wealth. Maybe that’s why so many organisations and leaders do so poorly at mental health. Either they adopt the “toughen up! take a spoonful of cement” approach, or they go too far the other way, with a “touchy, feely, anything goes” approach.
Meanwhile, 1 in 5 Australians suffer from a mental disorder and countless others detest going to work. (The stats are similar in other developed nations by the way). How has it become such a pervasive problem in our organisations and why isn’t more being done about it? To understand why, we need to look at the dynamics between the players in our organisations and ask ourselves what might be stopping them from taking action.
The prevailing management style through much of the last couple of centuries has been to keep a professional distance from staff members. The manager’s job was to set the direction and manage the performance of the employee, and the employee’s job was to reliably perform their tasks to the best of their ability. It’s a similar relationship to that between a machine and it’s operator, which is not surprising, given much of the early work was done by men on assembly lines in factories. Employees were cogs in a machine, so to speak, and much of the management and HR thinking was (and still is) centred around ensuring enough employees are available to maintain production, and that they perform reliably and at maximum efficiency. It would be ridiculous for an operator to ask his machine, ‘Are you ok?’. Similarly, many managers today feel that asking an employee about their mental state is not appropriate – it’s too personal, or taboo, or simply ‘not my job’.
The reality is that the prevailing management paradigm is fundamentally not equipped to deal with mental health issues. And that’s the main reason so many workplaces fail. A new paradigm is needed, for a new world of work.
What do mentally wealthy organisations differently to others? Good question, right?
What Mentally wealthy organisations do is they see resilience and wellbeing as an integral part of their culture, in the extraordinary cases – it IS their culture. It’s not just an add on.
Think back to your time in organisations over the past maybe 10 to 20 years or so. How many ‘strategic initiatives’ can you recall? I can think of a stack of them: Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, Employee Onboarding, Activity Based Costing, Management by Objectives, Triple Bottom Line Accounting… And quite a few more. How many of these really stuck and became part of the fabric of the organisation? How many are you actively practicing today?
Probably not many, right?
And this is the problem with bolt on initiatives. The Board or the leadership team will get hold of an idea from somewhere and decide it will be the next silver bullet that’s going to give them a strategic advantage over competitors and transform the industry landscape. Project teams are established, consultants are hired, strategic plans are announced, budgets are approved and work begins. But before long the project team encounters the headwinds of organisational inertia. When push comes to shove, for example when a leader’s bonus rides on hitting a sales target, they will prioritise business as usual over supporting the project team. With bolt on initiatives, what looks like commitment is actually in-principle support, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of ‘the important stuff’.
There is a ROI of 2.3 on average direct correlation between the mental health of your employees and your organisation’s financial performance. It is no-brainer. Therefore it is too important to chance employee mental health to the success of your ‘Wellness Program’ or ‘RUOK Awareness Day’. Mental health built into everything you do cannot be an add-on to what you do. It needs to be in built into everything you do. It needs to be part of the how you think or how you talk in your organization. It needs to permeate your policies. It needs to permeate how you move the organization.
You can cut logs and carry them to the nearest town and then put them on a truck. Or, you can chug the logs onto the river and let the flow take it to the nearest town. Which one is easier? Don’t make your employee mental health initiative a bolt on that you have to expend additional energy to execute. Make it flow by incorporating it into the way your leaders lead.
It can’t be like, “Oh, did we talk about mental health this quarter? We need to put something in the Board report.” No, it happens as a matter of course. It’s what we do. It’s not a bolt-on, it’s totally integrated.
That’s it for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this Pillar.
Talk soon and have a mentally healthy day.
This is a question which frequently comes up in our training courses. And our answer to this is “a bit of column A, and a bit of Column B”.
Across the ages, people have always experienced mental health issues. Whether it was overwhelming anxiety, depression, or even ‘psychotic’ episodes, which in past times would more likely have been explained in a spiritual reference as either connection to the gods, or possession. But it’s always been there.
In more recent times (but really only in the last 100-200 years, mind you), we have started to medicalise mental health issues, measure and examine them. If you look at it on the surface, it is true, that we do indeed see increasing numbers of people being diagnosed with mental health issues. But the key there is in the ‘diagnosis’.
You see, it may be that with increasing awareness about mental or emotional distress, more and more people are going to seek help, and receiving a diagnosis. But we also need to consider that if we look at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (with at least 56% of the panel members receiving funding from pharmaceutical companies) the number of mental health issues you can be diagnosed with has grown over the years. There are now hundreds of diagnoses you can get (we don’t recommend it).
Also the criteria for diagnosis of a mental health problem has been lowered over the years, to the point where many psychiatrists are actually speaking out against the current version of the DSM, particularly in the areas of grief and autism spectrum disorders, amongst others. When the latest version was put together many psychiatrists withdrew their participation and there were petitions against various aspects of it signed by hundreds of psychiatrists and mental health professionals. And yet it remains generally accepted as the “measurement” of mental health issues.
Add to that the fact that with increasing awareness and decreasing stigma around mental health issues, more people are reaching out to get help, and it would be reasonable to conclude that the actual numbers of people suffering are not actually on the increase, that it is purely the result of our diagnostic standards, and increasing awareness.
But, it gets more complicated than that. There are things in our current, modern lives, which we believe are also impacting on people’s general wellbeing. Just some of those include the increasing pace of change, increasing demands on us in terms of workloads, increasing opportunities to compare ourselves to others negatively (through globalization of media, social media, etc), increased use of medications (see our blog “3 little known things that are making people’s mental health worse”), new ways of viewing life which diminish personal responsibility, a culture of expectations, instant gratification, and entitlement, and the list goes on.
So, with all this in mind, how do we navigate the complex world of mental health? Well the first step is education – getting some good insight into these issues is an essential first step.
The mental health in the workplace is in crisis. Yet most people, even clinicians, don’t understand the depth of the problem. Here, we briefly reveal some problems in current approaches.
1. Overreliance on Medications to Treat Anxiety and Depression
Few people have problems acknowledging that, as a society, we are over medicated. Yet, most of us expect to walk out of the doctor’s office with at least one prescription. When it comes to mental health, that’s not a good idea. The evidence shows so called anti anxiety medications and anti depressants do not have better results than placebos for mild to moderate anxiety and depression and just slightly better than placebos for severe depression. We do know, however, that all these medications can have serious side effects, not just on physical health, but on mental health too. There’s increasing evidence that antipsychiatric medications can cause the very same pathology they were meant to treat. In fact for some medications, suicidal thoughts is listed as a side effect. Go figure!
2. Poor Explanations for Mental Health Problems
It’s usually agreed upon that how well you define a problem is key to resolving a problem. In the same vein, how we explain mental health problems determines what we’ll use as treatment. Hence, a bad explanation of why I have mental health problem results in bad, or inappropriate treatment. With a move to pathologising mental health problems across the world, we are reducing the importance, as societies, of other better or equally effective treatments; many without side effects.
3. Bad Science
There are some theories floating in the mental health space that are being accepted as factual. These theories have not been validated and should not be used as fact to treat mental health problems. For example, the theory that mental health problems stem from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Most people believe that this is fact, because it has been presented that way. But in fact, it’s just one of the theories out there. When someone says they have been feeling anxious or down, there is no way to test whether they have a chemical imbalance in the brain. And even if we could, and we did find a chemical imbalance, we couldn’t know if it caused the emotions, or if it was an effect of the emotions. Its not as simple as is being presented.
In mental health, it pays to get a second opinion.
The client sounded worried on the phone. We’d just been getting to know each other for the past few weeks; discussing the very real, and worrying, mental health needs of their staff, and today’s call was about setting up some dates for training. To my surprise, my new friend and colleague, had come come back with an unexpected answer: “At this time, it’s not at the top of our priority list”. I was dumbfounded. A little like a rabbit in the headlights. What did that mean? That the mental health of their people was not a priority? I knew that not to be true. These are caring and compassionate people interested in the wellbeing of their staff and their families. My conversations with them over the past few weeks had left no doubt in my mind. But why were we now having this particular ‘not-at-the-top-of-our-priority-list’ conversation?
Thank god, ‘not-priority’ conversations are not daily occurrences. But, I have found that, unfortunately, they do happen often enough. It does bring up some questions for me – what is at the top of the priority list for businesses? and is that what should be there for them to get better outcomes? and, more importantly, SHOULD a robust mental health initiative be a part of it?
We’re not going to get easy answers to any of those questions, but I can follow a thought trail to shed some light on the matter.
1) follow the results – whatever is on their priority list is what’s giving them the results they are getting now. From our conversations, we know the mental health of their people is suffering, not a good result in my books!;
2) since they are not getting the results they want in that area, that means that those priorities need some readjustment. But only IF they want better results in the area of mental health.
3) Which brings up the next question: do they really want better mental health for their teams? well, what would that require? it would require commitment, time and resources. And here’s where the problem starts to unravel, in business, as everywhere else, these three are precious and limited commodities. Which translates into the need to do an analysis of our business aims, values and options to get us there. Which brings us to point
4) Is the mental health of our teams going to get us closer to our business aims? how? By the way, these are highly valid questions. If the mental health of our teams has no correlation whatsoever to the business aims of the organisation then we should not use our precious time and resources on this, period. So what does the research say?
As a fellow business leader and manager, I also have to look at the business case. I need, want, to make sure something is not just an expense and it’s going to bring some hard, tangible benefits to our business. It’s my responsibility. I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t. So, what’s the Business Case?
Download the Silent Expectations report to get the facts.
For now, stay well and keep mentally healthy.