‘We are not good at dealing with feelings, experiencing vulnerability or expressing vulnerability’: In conversation with Julian Hall, Calm People
SHP Online recently caught up with Julian Hall, who is the co-founder of emotional resilience consultancy Calm People.
Calm People works with organisations and individuals to find healthy ways to express emotions and resolve conflict both at home and at work.
In addition, Mr Hall has more than 20 years experience working in challenging corporate environments and dealing with change programmes, and has gained extensive experience in counselling, facilitation and training techniques.
From your perspective how big an issue is stress in the workplace?
Julian Hall (JH): “It’s a huge issue for workplaces, but that does not necessarily mean that the stress people are suffering is entirely going on at work. An awful lot of stress is generated out of work, but it that’s where it is presented. If a business wants their team to be focussed, flexible and have all the qualities they require in this fast-moving world then they really need to be aware of stress.”
Do you see any particular reasons for this rise in stress? Are there any obvious factors for this?
JH: “You’ve always got the obvious economic factors. We’ve just had the first interest rate rise in years, which echoes back to the financial crisis of 2008. Since that crisis, actual pay rises have been low, so people have been worried about job security. They don’t have the security of a pay rise every year and are less able to save. At the same time, businesses feel the need to be very agile and fast-moving. Those are the economic and strategic conditions, which are going on in the workplace. Outside of that, it’s not just stress. There are other factors going on for individuals as well, and one of the biggest issues we see is self-esteem. If people do not have healthy self-esteem then their ability to deal with stress is impaired. There’s a direct causal relation between the two.
“We’ve been running a project for the last couple of years about presenting a comprehensive profile of people’s emotional health. One of our client companies said we could work with their employees and more than 300 answered questionnaire for us. It showed us that 48% of the people who took part scored red on self-esteem. For a lot of people that would be a startling statistic.”
British people can be famously reserved. Is this lack of self-esteem a cultural issue or is it bigger than that?
JH: “It’s definitely bigger than that. We have a basic model for emotional resilience. We help people understand themselves from the perspective of their self-esteem, their relationship with stress and their relationship with the ‘f-word’. Our ‘f-word’ is feelings. We call it the ‘f-word’ because talking about your feelings in public is about as welcome as using the other ‘f-word’ in polite society. That’s where British reserve comes in. We are not good at dealing with feelings, experiencing vulnerability or expressing vulnerability. As a result of that, we stuff down and suppress any feelings of vulnerability, because we do not think it’s good to talk about it. We throw them to the back of our mind and hope they will go away. The real problem is that they don’t go away. They keep coming back to visit you for precisely the reason you want them to go away. Because you push them away, they will come back.”
How can companies create a workplace environment where a person’s self-esteem is boosted and harnessed?
JH: “I would say workplaces need to provide reading, employee assistance programmes or having initiatives in place. There needs to be more resources.”
Is there a strong business case for investing in this?
JH: “I think any organisation that has a real handle on this will recognise there’s a strong business case. Unfortunately, in the UK, there is a culture of work harder, not smarter. A lot of that is generated by employers who like the fact they have people who do not have healthy self-esteem. One of the ways we get our self-esteem topped up is to go to work, do a great job and be told how fantastic we are. If that becomes addictive, we start putting longer and longer hours in just to get that feedback. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you never get enough, but keep going for more.”
There’s been a lot of talk about the rise of social media and how that has impacted our need for affirmation…
JH: “Yes, particularly when you share your life online and then how good you feel about what you shared depends on the number of likes and the comments you get. It’s not the technology’s fault. It’s the way we use that technology. If we went into using that technology with a healthy sense of self-esteem to start with, then we probably would not have the issues we have. But our sense of self-esteem is not healthy, therefore we have some real challenges. All the technology does is magnify and accelerate the issue.”
Have you got any tips for people who are struggling with self-esteem?
JH: “Little things like practising gratitude can help. It can be boiled down to getting to the end of the day and saying ‘what’s happened and what can I be grateful for’. As you practice it on a daily basis, it can become a rolling ball of moss, which just gets bigger and bigger, and you start to realise that actually life is not so bad after all. There are also exercises you can do where you can sit down and analyse what your strengths are and all the things you are proud of. Those reflective practises can really help in terms of just raising your own awareness of your own strengths, because there is a lot of negative messaging out there. If you look behind a lot of the adverts out there, trying to sell us things, they are playing to negative beliefs about ourselves. We need to acknowledge the good things about ourselves.”
How important is it for people to develop more emotional resilience?
JH: “Our experience shows if you are not emotionally resilient yourself, then you will pass that lack of skill onto your children. Most of us want to be good parents and the only way we can do that is to be really healthy role models. If you have parents who are working too many hours, bringing their stress home with them and acting out stuff that is going on work, that will provide all the role-modelling for children to do the same. You will have generations growing up with unhealthy self-esteem and that can be quite toxic.”
What makes us susceptible to burnout?
In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.
We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.