Let’s face it, even when things are going pretty well, managing staff and time are two of the biggest challenges that face financial advisers. And it’s no wonder these tasks are always so hard when no two brains are created the same. When you add mental strain to the equation, things can become especially tricky to manage.
We all want to provide a safe, energising workplace for our staff and a profitable bottom line (yes they are very much dependent on each other), so it’s important to know how to manage people with mental strain when the need arises. Because it probably will.
The latest studies have shown that about 45 per cent of people in the workplace suffer anxiety or depression at some point. These figures are even higher for those working in financial services and insurance.
Such mental strain has a financial impact on your business. There are a number of studies showing the impact that stress has on the profitability of a business. Various studies have shown that stress and related illnesses are responsible for as much as 70 per cent of sicknesses. This can be felt in both absenteeism (where people take the time of work) and presenteeism (where people come to work but aren’t as productive as they could be – not to mention probably spreading illness to others). In Australia, studies have shown that about $7 billion is lost each year due to absenteeism and a staggering $28 billion is lost to presenteeism.
How to address mental strain
The best way to stop mental strain is to keep it from happening in the first place. However, this often requires us to tap into the concept of neuro-plasticity of the brain – basically the ability to re-wire our thinking. Other prevention techniques include helping people better structure their days, weeks, months and years at work.
As you can imagine, these steps take time to implement and would be the subject of a much longer article. For this piece, we are going to focus on a couple of quick things you can do when you have an issue you need to handle.
- Understand good stress and bad stress. There is a certain amount of stress the brain needs to function optimally. We all know we are a little more alert when we have to get a certain task done by a certain time. However, when those deadlines get too unrealistic, we start to feel overwhelmed. At this point, our ‘fight/flight’ response kicks in and stops us thinking rationally. Instead, our energy goes towards being stressed rather than getting the job done. Productivity starts to decline and mental strain increases. It’s important that your team knows how to recognise when this is happening, so they can do something about it.
- Provide an environment where your team members understand and acknowledge that they are overwhelmed. Often, people’s mental strain won’t originate in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean the workplace won’t make it worse, or that the impact is not felt at work. If you have an environment where people can talk about this confidentially, they are more likely to understand the feeling, so they can do something about it. You are also more likely to be able to help. Bizarrely enough, just knowing you care might be all your staff needs to alleviate some of the stress.
- Understand breathing techniques to reduce anxiety. The only physical way to get the body out of fight/flight mode immediately is to take control of your breathing to send the message to the brain that ‘I am safe’. Once the brain receives this message, it can start thinking rationally again and focus on getting the job done. It’s important that the breathing is done through the diaphragm and not just the chest. Place your hand on your belly below the ribs and make sure it rises and falls as you take long slow breaths. Sound crazy? Try it and tell me you don’t feel instantly relaxed!
- Encourage your team to move and eat better. It has now been shown that exercise helps improve mental performance. Exercise releases oxytocin – a hormone that helps us be more positive and also combats excess cortisol (the stress hormone). It’s no secret that those who move more generally have a better mindset than those who don’t. The mental benefits of exercise can be felt almost immediately – we like that! In addition, certain food intolerances are now showing signs in the brain rather than just in obvious physical ways. Eating lots of green vegetables and lean protein will help reduce the chances of too many highly processed foods and sugars leading to a negative mindset.
Technology and increasing expectations for people to do more with less are only increasing mental strain. Like it or not, it will probably affect your staff if it hasn’t already. There are so many ways we can decrease the likelihood of people experiencing mental strain but, in the meantime, the above provides a necessary starting point to help manage people who are already having difficulty.
Let’s hope that we can all be part of the solution.
Vanessa Bennett is the global chief executive of Next Evolution Performance. She is also a speaker at the Professional Planner Best Practice Forum in August. To register, click here.