When I was younger, I had ambition. When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I told them I wanted to be a vice president. Vice president of what, I didn’t know, but boy did it sound like a great job. It involved power and money and all the good stuff that I thought I needed to be happy.
It’s surprising how my perspective has changed with time. Ask me that same question today and my answer will be completely different. No, I am not interested in climbing up the corporate ladder. No, I’m not interested in increasing my corporate visibility. No, I’m not interested in elevating my status by pursuing an M.B.A., Ph. D. or other credential that will allow me to add extra letters after my name.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. But it’s stressful. And mentally exhausting. Over time, I’ve come to realize that I really have no desire to keep climbing. It’s not worth it. Moving up in an organization may bring more money, more visibility and more responsibility, but it also brings more hours, more expectations and more stress.
Everyone deals with stress at some point in their lives. Stress can be good in some limited circumstances, if it engages and motivates in a positive way. But when it goes on for too long, it’s bad. Many studies have linked chronic stress to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and memory loss. Stress also been linked to physical ailments like heart disease, asthma, ulcers and arthritis.
Consider these statistics: In 2010, 3.7 million working adults felt that their lives were extremely stressful, according to Statistics Canada. Sixty-two per cent identified work as their main source of stress. One in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Anxiety disorders and depression cost $51 billion to the Canadian economy every year. Depression will become the second leading cause of disability in the world (next to heart disease) by 2020.
It’s scary, really. But also frustrating because not enough employers are paying attention. Obsessive CEOs abound, pushing their staff to the limits so that they can boost their profile as powerful leaders that get the job done. What they don’t seem to see is how their people are suffering.
Take Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, for instance, whose biographer describes him as a “modern day Genghis Khan”. (18 Executives Who Lead by Fear ) Or film and theater producer, Scott Rudin, who drove away 250 assistants in 5 years for minor things like producing a confusing chart. Or former CEO of GE, Jack Welch, who would review and rank all his managers every year and fire the bottom 10%. And Steve Jobs… well, enough said.
But there are companies out there that are paying attention. Some have developed mental health awareness strategies for the workplace. Some that are taking concrete steps towards addressing stressors in the workplace – like unrealistic workloads and artificial deadlines.
So if you’re lucky enough to work for one of these organizations, enjoy it. For the rest of us, we need to make sure that set our own limits and take whatever steps necessary to keep ourselves healthy. Because, in the end, we all know that when push comes to shove, it won’t be the company sitting by our bedside in the hospital when our body decides enough is enough.