Corporate Life and Personal Health – Is it a Trade-off?

Some time ago, my husband forwarded the following article to me: Half of Millenials and 75% of Gen Zers have left their jobs for mental health issues. The article details a couple reasons they believe this is happening, including increased use of smartphones which decreases face-to-face interactions and increases exposure to negative world events, and an increase in younger folks feeling of being lost.

This came up in our conversation because I had been noticing a trend in my research project. As I spoke to more and more women, I was hearing story after story of women feeling compelled to leave corporate America in order to take control of their health.

The stories I heard were not only to do with mental health; sometimes physical health was the major issue at hand. Regardless, these women did not feel there was a way to solve their individual issues while maintaining their careers. At least, not the way they were going.

I want to be clear – most of these women did not blame their work, their corporate environment, or anything else of that nature. Most often, they took their inability to manage their current health situation on themselves.

One woman, diagnosed with fibromyalgia while at work, described herself as addicted to work. She shared stories of working at all hours of the day, never being off the clock, taking laptop and phone with her on vacations. She was simply unable to stop working, and this was having a negative effect on her ability to deal with her new diagnosis.

She did not necessarily feel that her work demanded this kind of attention from her. In fact, she was sometimes encouraged to take time off, to relax, to not work quite so hard.

Another woman shared a similar story. She was suffering from crippling anxiety, and yet kept pushing and pushing herself at work. In fact, she was working so hard, she was unable to see to the (negative) effect it was having on her work, and in the end was asked to leave a company where previously she had been a fast-tracked star.

Other phrases I have heard: “If I didn’t leave, I was going to lose my mind.” “My health was suffering significantly. If I didn’t change something quick, something bad was going to happen.” “I know I needed to take care of myself, and I just couldn’t figure out how to do that.”

Another woman brought to my attention the idea and research theme of corporate PTSD, or as one author calls it, CTSD (Corporate Traumatic Stress Disorder). If you get a chance, look it up. It explains why, among many other things, so many people pass away so quickly after retirement.

What in the world is going on here? I have been in the same situation myself – this is what prompted me to write the blog post Why You Workaholics Should Go Home and Take The Day Off! I was feeling the same types of stress.

While any particular manager may not be asking us to work around the clock (although I have known managers who do – one in particular was notable for saying, “The REAL work doesn’t start until 6pm!”), it must be something in the corporate culture that is asking us to sacrifice in this way.

I realize this is not something particular to women, although I do worry that it might be affecting us to a greater extent. I explored some of the reasons for this recently in my post on the lack of female mentors – successful women have a hard time saying “no.”

It must be that this kind of behavior is rewarded. I know I had a boss at one point who judged everyone on “face time” – or the amount of time they spent in the office. At the very least, he judged people negatively if they weren’t around when he went looking for them. It is fortunate for us all that he retired before we introduced the work-from-home policy!

So how do we fix this? I think all of the corporate HR programs that support mental and physical health are a start. We need to have confidential ways to deal with the stress and anxiety any job can give us. Health insurance incentives to address weight, blood pressure, blood sugar issues can help.

But these will only go so far. What companies really need to do is to change their culture. We need to stop rewarding people for “face time” (I mean really, are people actually more productive just because they are in the office longer? I think not). We need to see our employees as the valuable resources they are, and care about their health as much as their families do.

Only by changing the culture, by rewarding behavior that brings long-term results, will we build companies of physically and mentally strong employees who are willing to help us succeed.

What do think is the cause? How do we change this culture? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave them here on the blog or wherever you might be reading this.

And as always, keep it positive!

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