Welcome to my little corner of the Journal! Over the next few months, I’ll be looking at some common issues affecting the profession at large. If any of the topics resonate with you or there is a particular issue that you’d like raised, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I didn’t want to start on a downer (particularly given the Eternal Optimist heading), but recently I’ve become increasingly concerned about stress levels and potential mental health issues within our profession. Placed in context, we have been through real worries about our health, our future and our businesses since lockdown struck. Over the ensuing seven months those not on furlough, principals in particular, have borne the brunt of ensuring that client work continued to be progressed and businesses continued to operate. Today, work for many is at unprecedented levels, yet many fear bringing in new staff lest the new year sees the much heralded recession. Add to that the feelings of isolation that working remotely brings, frustrations with technology and, for me worst of all, the darkening nights as winter approaches, and it is amazing that we have coped so far.
One of the great challenges of our profession is that stress is with us at almost every turn. We are perhaps unique in that we worry both when quiet and when busy, and seldom take decisive action to address either. We take on vicariously our clients’ issues along with our own worries on service, compliance and risk management. Many, like Boxer, the horse in Animal Farm, address times of extreme stress by simply saying “I will work harder”. While admirable, if taken to the extreme it may have a similar sad ending.
Keeping in good shape
What tools are there, then, to allow us to deal better with these issues?
One mechanism for me was my running shoes. My simple mantra was “If I feel I don’t have time to run, that’s when I most need to run”. Build into your day some time away from everything work related. Most importantly, make sure it’s ringfenced, non-negotiable non-work time. I was always amazed, when running and not thinking about work challenges, how often solutions just came to me.
Consider also an adage of an old friend of mine, “Sometimes in life the last thing you need is additional income: sometimes what you need is to build longevity.” Perhaps, then, it is OK occasionally to say no to a client when you are too busy, or to refer them to someone else more expert when it’s a matter at the edge of your comfort zone. Perhaps taking that time to work on you, will lead ultimately to a longer and healthier career.
Perhaps also take a little time to decide on your personal and business goals, and start to put in place the measures to achieve them. Often regaining that feeling of “control” of your career or your business helps.
So is there a silver lining in all of this? Always, and we have started just by talking about it. There have been times over the last seven months when I’ve felt low, missing the social interaction that had existed in my “normal” day. That, I know from speaking to many of you, has been a common theme. In itself that helps, just knowing that what we are experiencing is not unusual or unique, a problem shared. I also hear from many quarters of a re-emergence of a much more collegiate spirit within the profession, a sense of “we are all in this together”, and that has to be a good thing. The profession overall remains in good shape and is going to weather these times. Let’s then look after ourselves to make sure we are all around to share in the better times ahead.
Stephen Vallance works with HM Connect, the referral and support network operated by Harper Macleod
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