I loved working as a petroleum geoscientist for 15 years. It is such an exciting profession and I found the work that I did to be extremely fascinating. I enjoyed making maps and solving problems and discovering what was under the surface of the Earth. I enjoyed talking about the work with other colleagues, partners, supervisors and even my friends (if they would listen). For several years in the earlier part of my career, going to work, exercising, spending time with my animals and visiting with friends was enough.
I did notice, however, as time rolled on and I had the capacity to consider what life is all about, you know, those seemingly nagging (but really important) existential questions, that my mind would drift during my working day. It would go to thinking about my favourite things, like music, and how I had never had the opportunity to learn the piano, but desperately wanted to have a go at it. I thought about writing and how much I enjoy it, but when was I going to find the time to write my novel(s)? I had many similar thoughts and they would usually come to a dead-end sign in my head that said "there is no time for any of this". And all of this was before I started a family, which meant - as most of us who have experience with such know - there is even less available time.
I grew annoyed with my job, knowing that by working 40-70 hours a week at it that I was not going to be able to be more than a petroleum geoscientist and that felt very limiting and sometimes suffocating. I used to look at the people around me and see how very dedicated they were to their jobs and think - "maybe there is something wrong with me that I want more?" I did eventually learn that there was nothing wrong with me for wanting to have the experience in life as an adult of doing something important to me that didn't include being a mother or a petroleum geoscientist. I also learned that many people have interests outside of their work that they seldom have the opportunity to pursue simply because of the time and energy commitments of work.
I encourage employers, supervisors, organisations and employees to work into their career planning a place for people to be more than their profession and title. Happy, satisfied employees are far more productive, innovative and dedicated than those that are begrudgingly showing-up day-after-day only to continue feeling dissatisfied and lacking in fulfillment. Imagine part of an accountant's career plan to include "Learn to Sail" or "Write and Illustrate a Children's Book" or "Learn to Fly Aircraft". Any activity outside of and unrelated to work can be stimulating and rejuvenating for a person. Rejuvenation, time away from work and identity blossoming are three very great ways to prevent and manage workaholism, burn-out, depression and anxiety. This is also a great way to promote longevity, organisational commitment and healthy functioning.
An organisation does not have to fund these activities - that would be quite a hard sell for investors and owners. However, a company can value these outside activities openly and support people in the organisation to engage in them and accomplish new goals. The first major step is to accept that mentally healthy people are usually more than their profession and family. A next step might be to line-item some personal development activities into a career plan. Talk about it openly in preparation, talk about it as it is happening and talk about it when it finishes and a person is ready for the next activity. Another way to help employees develop personally is to model and do it yourself. Identify your interests outside of work and put together a plan to accomplish them - maybe not all at once, but slowly and methodically in time. Additionally, if an employee needs to modify his or her work schedule to accommodate pursuit of a personal development task, then help this happen. In this day and age, with the assistance of sophisticated technology, we can catch-up easily if we miss a piece of action, or stay involved virtually and remotely. We can be flexible in organisations to help people follow their dreams outside of work - if we want to.
Workaholism, burn-out, depression and anxiety are serious conditions. People suffer with these when they do not feel free, when they are not personally diversified in interests, identity and activities, and when their self-esteem rides on how well they do in their job or profession. It matters less when a product line that an employee develops fails if that person feels good about other things in their life. A simple arrangement of life's priorities that honours this concept can, in some instances, prevent suicide, amongst less tragic but still serious outcomes. When you realise that this is the case with people and how they fit into the bigger picture of life, then it becomes clear and a no-brainer that helping people to feel good outside of work will help them stay engaged while at work. Engaged employees and personnel are priceless in terms of corporate and organisational success.
Blogging about mental health issues for personal and professional development. All material is authored by Cori Lambert unless explicitly stated otherwise. Authentic Consulting and Counselling is located in West Perth, Greater Perth Area.