I’ve always been the type to squeeze a lot in my life. A flurry of children, a boisterous puppy and a global role as GM of Global People Experience are my norm on a slow day. Mostly all the pieces muddle together just fine, but throw in a few of life’s curve balls and the pressure can quickly add up.
I am just one person among thousands of whole-hearted individuals who work at Xero – each of whom has their own unique responsibilities and relationships, highs and heartaches, in and outside of work. None of us are immune to stress and every one of us deserves support in a non-judgemental environment when the time calls for it.
Last Thursday, I was grateful to facilitate a World Mental Health Day panel where we could discuss these realities and what more we could do to support people in the workplace. I was joined by Amy Nelson-Strom, GTM Program Lead at Xero; Ian Boyd, Financial Industry Director at Xero; Justine Alter, co-founder and director of Transitioning Well; and Catherine Doherty, Workplace Engagement Manager at Beyond Blue – and I want to thank each of them for their input around such an important topic.
The invisible backpack
Everyone will have taken something different from our discussion but I wanted to share a concept that particularly resonated with me. It was offered by registered psychologist Justine Alter of Transitioning Well, a company focused on shaping and supporting Parental-Leave, Work-Life and Mature-Age transitions within workplaces.
“We all wear an invisible backpack,” she said. “You can never tell how light or heavy someone else’s pack might feel on any particular day. We have to be in a space where we feel comfortable to share that with others. But being vulnerable takes courage and, often, that only comes when you see other people doing it.”
It’s up to us to own this
At Xero, we strive to create a positive environment where everyone feels they belong and can do their best work – and we’re seeing firsthand the transformative effect of voicing vulnerability from the top. It was a conversation that pulsed through our Xerocon conference last month and I was proud to see such courage continue to flow in Melbourne.
Because it is up to all of us – across any and every workplace – to create that space and understanding, and to make these conversations a constant.
As Ian Boyd said, “People at Xero are sharing their stories. It’s powerful, it’s moving and it’s brave. But that doesn’t happen by accident. You need the space and the environment to feel safe to do that. We have that here – both internally and among our community. But collectively we all have carriage of this. We have to make sure it stays.”
“If you are not seeing the right behaviours that allow this, you’ve got to call it out. We all need to own this.”
It’s not black or white; it’s green, amber and red
As we commit to the continued awareness of mental health and its impact, I wanted to share one final element of our discussion that I hope you’ll find as valuable as I did. It’s that nothing is black and white; it’s not a question of mentally healthy or mentally ill.
Beyond Blue refers to this concept as a continuum of wellbeing, as Catherine explained.
You may be in the green zone – when you are in a warm, thriving and energised state – but drift into the amber area if some pressure starts to build, for example. If you’re aware of the triggers and have a good support system in place, this is a good time to pause and prioritise your health in a way that works for you; by taking more outdoor exercise or cutting down on alcohol, for example. If you don’t recognise that you’re lingering in amber, or the pressure continues to build, you may move into the red zone. This is often the time where people require additional support.
It’s incumbent on our workplaces that we continue to create the psychological safety to help people come forward when this is the case: to encourage open and honest conversations about more than just work, stamp out gossip that can lead to self-stigma, practice active listening, and be open-minded and flexible to the needs of others.
There are no pre-set rules or restrictions. Your path is your own and it’s different for everyone. The one thing that should be a constant? Psychologically safe work environments and access to support.
Resources to support you
If you or a member of your team has been under pressure lately, there are resources available.
Headsup.org.au has a range of information to help you take care of yourself, including:
- Personal Wellbeing Plan template
- Supporting others
- Small business resources
You can also access Beyond Blue for support, including:
- Immediate support services – online and by phone (1300 224 636)
- Short pieces in the Personal Best section
Lifeline offers support online and by phone – 13 11 14.