by Drew Streitberg

 

I recently wrote an article for “R U Ok?” Day 2018 on the 13th of September this year and felt it was a topic so important that it was worth revisiting for the EASE Business Services Blog.

It is relatively easy to celebrate a day for the National awareness of Mental Health issues in the broader community, however, it is a lot harder to keep that ball rolling and even harder to act when you see someone in distress.

In our industry both the CAANZ and CPA are supportive of the “R U Ok?” movement but the question itself raises additional questions and concerns.

I’ve seen many people in social media poke light-hearted fun at the notion of asking someone “Are you ok?” and whilst I realise some of it is in jest, some of it actually stems from a sense of awkwardness and embarrassment regarding the topic.

Is anyone prepared when someone answers:

“No.”

I wonder whether this is a reason in society as to why we avoid such situations even with our closest friends and family because we don’t know how to react to a confronting situation.

Now consider this in the professional environment as an answer provided by a colleague or a client and you quickly understand why people begin to avoid the topic altogether.

As professionals, very few of us are trained in human relations and psychology. When I first became a Manager many years ago, I was trained as… well as a Chartered Accountant but suddenly I’m dealing with the very human emotions behind the position in relation to team members, assistants, colleagues, Directors and occasionally clients.

It is a steep learning curve and traditionally there has been little emphasis or importance placed upon the ‘human’ side of management. I have had any number of people come to me in tears either over personal issues or work-related ones. I made my share of mistakes along the way in handling certain situations and individuals but I can also say that in some instances I know I made a real difference to that person.

Accounting, like many professions, is a highly stressful environment, often with a pressure-cooker atmosphere surrounding deadlines, budgets, personalities and the needs and wants of clients, team members as well as Directors at various firms.

In being a clichéd “little older and a little wiser” through reflection and life experience, I am more aware than before of these issues today but also have a different perspective on what drove people historically and the pressures they may or may not have been under at the time.

There are times upon reflection where I wished I reached out to colleagues to ensure they were coping, achieving a better sense of work/life balance or gave them the opportunity to vent a little more in a trusted private environment.

There are also times where I wish someone had done the same for me. Hindsight is 20:20 after all. Time and reflection provides the opportunity to realise not only the mistakes we’ve made in handling situations and our own stresses but in developing better ways to address these in the future.

Everyone is different. We all have different stress triggers and various thresholds when it comes to mental health. Being self-aware will help with your own but there are courses that can assist with understanding key personality types and how to successfully interact with them in the most effective and least stressful manner.

DiSC Training or the Myers-Briggs personality tests can help you better understand not only yourself but other people around you, especially in a professional environment, and I firmly believe every professional firm should seriously consider this as part of their HR policies and training for all personnel.

We grow as individuals and there isn’t a wise person out there who hasn’t made a multitude of mistakes in attaining such wisdom. I would like to think that I am better equipped these days to handle those conversations again should they ever arise in the future but I digress.

What it all boils down to is effective communication.

Not everyone knows how to deal with the emotions effectively. As men, we are traditionally and still too-often taught from a young age not to show emotion, so when a stressful situation arises later in life, we aren’t effectively equipped to deal with it. It has taken me years to understand my own better and realise that the work/life barrier in relation to emotions is non-existent because you will always get ‘bleed through’. That’s just life.

Whether professionally or socially it’s ok to admit:

  • You don’t have all the answers
  • You need assistance
  • You’re not coping in the current environment
  • You were wrong

It’s not a sign of weakness to admit these things, in fact, as a professional, if a team member came to me with these concerns now, I would consider it a sign of true character and inner strength. Ego often prevents us from admitting such things but in the act of ‘letting go’ of all you’ve held onto in that tight little ball internally you are taking the first steps towards a better life. 0

For those professionals in our industry who are currently feeling ‘a little overcooked’ and feel like they don’t remember a time when it hasn’t felt that way, I say to you – reach out and talk to someone because it shouldn’t be like that every day.

For clients, the test I often ask them is “what is going to keep you up at night?” and that helps me determine their stress levels when assisting in developing various structures and/or plans for their business.

In my industry, we often work long hours and form close bonds, not only with colleagues but with clients as well. We are the “bartender” they talk to because often they are spending more time with us rather than their own friends and family.

I previously said on the actual “R U Ok?” day that is was a day for conversation but the reality is that every day is an opportunity for conversation. It is an opportunity to listen if someone reaches out and it’s an opportunity for you to reach out, especially if you feel you need to chat because in your life, no one is more important than you.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone “Are you ok?”. Yes, their answer may be confronting but it also might be life changing for them.

Isn’t that worth a little discomfort for you?

We all can get so caught up in our professional life that we often forget that it’s just one aspect of our lives. It’s the second word that matters after all, isn’t it? Life.