Professional pause: Why we MUST remove the stigma around workplace mental health

- April 21, 2022 4 MIN READ

Mental health is a hot topic lately, but are we doing enough to ensure that ourselves and our staff are well-supported and able to speak up when struggling? Brent-Stig Kraus, Chief Revenue Officer at SevenRooms, says it’s time we removed the stigma and embraced the ‘professional pause’.

After an incredibly difficult two years for employees and employers across Australia, it’s little surprise that so many of us are feeling burnt out and worn down.

The pandemic has caused an incredible amount of stress for working Australians, with many people mentally and physically exhausted. Feelings of anxiety and unease are natural and if anything, inevitable.

What’s worrying is that according to LifeWorks 2021 Mental Health Index, more than half of Australians believe that their career options would be limited if their workplace became aware that they had a mental health issue.

Removing the stigma around workplace mental health starts with a pause

The first step to tackle mental health is removing the stigma around it. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being human.

Stressed woman at desk with 'help' sign on her forehead

Given the immense responsibilities of a job or family life, taking a break is rarely top-of-mind. Instead, many people worry a professional pause could hurt their short-term job security and their long-term career prospects. However, a professional pause might be one of the single most important ways to help people take care of their mental health and wellbeing.

I know this because my own professional pause helped me tackle my battle with mental health. If you’re facing something similar, here’s how a professional pause can help.

Prioritise action

I can recall the specific moment that the emotional stress inside me had become too much. As many of us have experienced, I had an array of responsibilities and emotions at work which accumulated and resulted in a mental breakdown. I was tired, worn down and I was isolating myself.

The stigma about mental health in the workplace was significant enough that I’d tried to put on a brave face and hope that the anxiety would disappear in due time.

In the end, though, all I was achieving was a worsening of my mindset, so I let go and took a professional pause.

Rest, re-evaluate and recover

The fact that so many Australians fear the judgements and repercussions of going public with their mental health struggles is evidence that there’s still a long way to go.

While the journey is different for everyone, when you reach the point of a professional pause, it’s important to rest first, then re-evaluate. Whether it takes one week, one month or one year, take the time to decompress.

However, it’s also essential to reflect on what happened and why. Asking yourself tough questions about what went wrong and what could have been done differently can seem confrontational, but it’s an important part of the recovery process.

Seeking help, which comes in any form, is crucial too. For me it was to talk about my experience with family and friends, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What’s important is the time to rest, the period of reflection, and the learning that helps with your return to work and any future scenarios.

small business owners need our support during lockdown

Don’t fear vulnerability

We are living through a once-in-a-generation event. Few of us, if any, have been unaffected.

There is a dangerous and all-too-common misconception that being vulnerable is a bad thing. Instead, it’s an opportunity to start a conversation around how to manage the pressures and emotions that many of our friends, family and colleagues are facing too. By embracing our own vulnerability, it’s easy to encourage those who might be silently suffering too.

When I returned to the workforce, I decided the best way to lead was to do so with an entirely open and honest mindset, speaking candidly about my own mental health journey. Discussions around mental health at work are on the rise, but are still significantly overlooked. If it wasn’t for the pause I took, I would never have turned my previously debilitating anxiety into a manageable emotion. My experience has entirely shaped who I am, and my goal to be a more empathetic, relatable and honest leader.

The best workplaces are those where people feel valued and understood, and that starts with empathy, being there to help, and by normalising human emotions.

Today, my LinkedIn feed regularly features stories of others’ professional pauses. So much so in fact that LinkedIn even launched a new “Career Break” feature where users have over a dozen options to describe a career break, from bereavement to caregiving and travel.

The world of work today is built around flexibility – it’s the ability to fit our work around our personal lives, our passions and our struggles, rather than the other way around.

So, whatever stage you’re at in your career, don’t let the fear of judgement come at the expense of your mental health. If you’re struggling – or notice that someone you work with is – prioritising our mental health is paramount and often starts with a professional pause.

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