Why Work May Be Killing You

Right! I’ve got your attention but can I keep it?

The evidence is against me. Each one of us spends at least 47% of our day not in the ‘present moment’.  It’s bad for our work. It’s bad for our productivity and it’s especially bad for our health – both physically and mentally.

It's Mental Health Awareness Week and I want to talk about how our minds and our jobs may be killing us.

This threat represents a big cost to both the workers and the bosses. Employers are now responsible for the mental wellbeing of their workforce. The Health and Safety at Work Act now defines ‘health’ as including mental health. 

Consider this:

  • One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.
  • Mental disorders are one of the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
  • It’s estimated that depression and anxiety costs the global economy more than $1.4 trillion each year in lost productivity.
  • Nearly a third of Kiwis are grappling with work-demands. Among the biggest causes of stress are excessive workloads, pressure to meet work targets, long hours, and management style and workplace relationships.
  • Sick and stressed Kiwi workers took around 6.6 billion sick-days last year – at a cost to businesses of $1.5billion.
  • Nearly 80% of employees say they are disengaged at work. This is leading to lower productivity, innovation and wellbeing.

Enough said.

The sobering news is that we spend more of our time working than doing anything else and yet it’s been found that these hours, on average, are the least happy of our lives. Work-related stress is one of the major causes of illnesses in the West.

Only this week, there was the sad news of the death of a 31 year-old TV reporter in Japan who died after working 159 hours of overtime in a month. An apparent victim of the ‘overwork culture’ that’s now so insidious and pervasive in western workplaces.

I have been there.  Nearly three years ago I was over-worked and over-stressed in my job. The problem for me was that it was, supposedly, the ‘dream’ job. I knew that aspiring journalists would have crawled over broken glass to be me. After all, I was working in TV and radio as ‘multi-platform’ reporter – something I’d wanted all my life.

I had covered a gruelling and brutal murder trial and it had taken its toll. During that time, I discovered a lot about myself. I couldn’t handle the emotional impact of the case and I was working every minute of the day supplying the mainstream and online platforms. I had no energy. I was burnt out. It was time to take control.

I changed my job and that changed my life. I started training to be a yoga teacher and began a new career as a media advisor and trainer for am&co, a communications company. I was transformed.

Now I see that ‘over-work culture’ present itself in nearly every client we work with. They walk in to our training – stressed, pre-occupied, distracted, exhausted and overworked. Yet they’re expected to be the best they can be when they need to front up on camera or in front of audience.

It’s our job to peel them back and then rebuild them. And that’s where mindfulness comes into it. And I know the word can often put people off.

So before you close the tab on your browser, hear me out… Studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation can have major health benefits. These include effects on depression, drug addiction, ADHD, asthma, psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome. Research has shown that meditation can reduce levels of stress hormones and help us focus better at work.

It’s being used to improve creativity, effective decision-making and communication within the office space, too. It will make you a better leader, communicator and it can enhance creativity and innovation.

Novac Djokovic says his mindfulness practice is just as important as his physical training. 

Novac Djokovic says his mindfulness practice is just as important as his physical training. 

One of the biggest blocks to productivity is multi-tasking.  We check our phones an average 80 times a-day. Couple that with the constant slew of emails and we find ourselves in dangerously distracted territory. When we multitask we quickly switch between tasks and that exhausts us. It uses up oxygenated glucose in the brain, which is the same fuel that’s needed to focus on one task. In fact, every time we get interrupted it can take us more than 23 minutes to return to that piece of work. This all leads to a build up of stress.

You only need to look to multi-nationals throughout the world to see that they rate mindfulness. General Mills, Google, Goldman Sachs, LinkedIn, Facebook are all investing in mindfulness training.

Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

General Mills (think Betty Crocker desserts, Yoplait yoghurt) has seen impressive results following its seven-week mindfulness and meditation course. Eighty per cent of senior executives said they had improved their decision-making after the programme and almost 90% reported that they had become better listeners. General Mills now has ‘meditation rooms’ throughout all of its buildings.

Intel, an American multinational corporation and technology company, is brimming with scientists who were initially skeptical towards the practice. But its ‘Awake@Intel’ programme has seen a boost in creativity, wellbeing and focus along with a decrease in stress.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a MIT-trained microbiologist. In the 1970’s, he developed a course called ‘Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction’ for people suffering from chronic pain. He tested the effects on the meditators following the programme and found thicker grey matter in the areas of the brain linked with self-awareness and compassion. Areas associated with stress had shrunk. So, we can’t argue with neuroscience.

We can train our brain to focus better. Mindfulness can help us cut through the noise and simplify the complex. It can help us improve our emotional intelligence, in particular empathy and self-regulation.

We can create better leaders, better teams and better communicators. We can choose to respond wisely to stress, conflict and challenging situations. We can make the workplace and the country a healthier and more productive place.

So let’s put our mind to it and at least start talking about the importance of mindfulness in the workplace?

Tennessee Mansford is a communications advisor for am&co as well as a certified Ovio mindfulness facilitator.

The 'Outing' of Amanda Millar & Co

It’s been almost seven years since I started running my own business. Seven years since I left the 60 Minutes office. Seven years of operating successfully via word of mouth. And it’s taken seven years to admit to myself that I need to get online. 

I’m finally ‘outing’ myself. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do as a communications consultant.  But it’s taken me this long to openly admit that I am one. 

I now realise it wasn’t so much admitting to others that I was working on the ‘dark side’, as journos call it but rather admitting it to myself. After all I had spent more than 30 years in TV news and current affairs. I used to call myself the ‘P dealer’ in TV; perverts, politicians, pedophiles, prostitutes, pathologically disturbed people and property developers…normally crooked ones. They were my gig.  And I loved it. I lived and breathed it. It was a drug and it was hard to pull the needle out of my arm. 

But something changed with the Pike River Mine explosion in November 2010. The media landscape was morphing into the digital space. There wasn’t the money for long-format current affairs (read investigative journalism) or for senior and experienced journalists anymore. Plummeting ratings weren’t helping either. 

While we were part of the international stable that pays its US reporters $10s of millions, the 60 Minutes Wellington crew that was dispatched to Greymouth had no internet capacity on their phones and no laptops provided by TV3. We were digitally marooned. 

As every crew flew in from around the globe and set up satellite dishes and canvas edit suites on every corner of Greymouth’s main street, we were resorting to listening to updates on the car radio, calling our Auckland office for developments and using the local petrol station’s, Yellow Pages to try and find the phone numbers and addresses of the families of the victims of the explosion.

If it weren’t such a tragic story, it would have been a joke. It was also a sign that the industry had changed forever and the prestigious “60 Minutes” brand hadn’t kept up in New Zealand. 

For me, the epiphany came when I had to do the dreaded ‘death-knock’ on the door of the Rockhouse family.  Two of their sons had been involved in the explosion.  Ben was killed while the other son, Daniel, had managed to escape. I had petulantly refused like a spoilt child to get out of the car – telling my colleagues I felt I couldn’t do it. I was too ‘old’ for this stuff. They just barked at me, “You’re the face of 60 Minutes so get out and do it.” 

When that door opened and Sonya Rockhouse, stood in front of me with absolute disdain on her face, I got it. I felt it. I knew it. When I uttered who I was she swore at me. Again, I understood her anger. All I could do was splutter as tears rolled down my face. I was crying at the futility of it all.  Not professional. Not a good look. However, Sonya Rockhouse in her pain, had done me a favour.

On that long, humiliating walk down their path as the family watched me from the window, I made the decision that this was my final story for 60 Minutes. 

After working 120 hours in five days, we put our Pike River Explosion story to air. Three days later, TV3 announced staff cuts to current affairs, including the disbandment of the 60 Minutes office in Wellington. 

It was indeed my final story after decades with TV3/Mediaworks. Thank you Sonya Rockhouse for changing my life and my career.