Meeting The Mental Health Challenge, How ‘Human’ Is Your HR Department?

Last week I co-presented a breakfast seminar on mental health in the workplace and it reminded me of the importance that HR used to play in the mental health of others in an organisation. I say ‘used to’, back in the days when it was more common to have ‘conversations’ with employees about how they were, and when you could notice that someone wasn’t looking their best and check in with them. Having spent a quarter of a century in HR I can safely say the role has changed immeasurably, and the pressure being felt from the business has become acute. HR is more aligned to the business than ever, but does this mean we have lost the ability to be ‘human’, to notice people on the ground and be able to observe human behaviour at its best and worst. What we know is that mental health issues are on the rise and the need for organisations to notice, manage and help employees has never been more important.

But is today’s HR practitioner geared up for it? Possibly not. And that’s because the past couple of decades has seen a tectonic style shift in the HR role.

When I started out ‘HR’ didn’t even exist, it was called ‘Personnel’ and I remember taking an instant dislike to the name. Your personnel manager was your backstop, the person you went to if you were upset or you needed to hand in a document of some kind pertaining to your employment. They always had a box of tissues at the ready, a hackneyed stereotype complete with cardigans and dangly ear-rings.. Having not come from the well-worn ‘official personnel route’ for someone being in HR I was quite pleased to be a ‘different kind’ that sat on the outer echelons of the dartboard, I certainly didn’t go in for the cardigans, soft touch and ear rings. When the industry morphed the function into ‘Human Resources’ it all sounded much better and less administrative giving everyone more ‘teeth’ and credibility in an organisation. And then, tough times hit. Companies had to start looking at their bottom line and looking for savings and employees to justify their existence to the business. None more so than the HR department. I mean ‘what did they all do with their time’? They didn’t ‘sell’ anything, they didn’t help anyone else to ‘sell’ anything yet there they were costing an organisation money. Yes, they helped with difficult employees, did all that boring employee paperwork, and sorted some training out but did we need that many people to do it all? For the last 15 years of being employed as an HR director in various organisations I don’t think I ever experienced one year of the function not having to downsize or reduce its budget.

The HR industry was feeling the strain, and it soon morphed the role of HR Managers into ‘HR Business Partners’. Because that’s what we were and it sounded better. The more we could align with leadership and attribute the programmes and the work we did to the bottom line the better. It meant we could now be ‘more strategic’, more of a ‘valued and trusted partner’ to senior executives and the board. HR was even more commonly allowed a seat on the board rather than languish under a CFO or a COO who had never wanted to look after the function in the first place. HR was finally allowed to align itself with the ‘strategic vision’ of a business and launch projects and initiatives off the back of it without fear of being called into question. The ‘new breed’ of HR was formed and it was a much-needed shift and recognition which gave PR to the importance that HR had in an organisation.

Naturally there isn’t anything wrong with functions evolving in a business in fact it’s critical. The interesting thing here however is the misunderstanding of what makes a great HR person and its department. I have the pleasure of knowing and have worked with some amazing HR professionals, who are smart, business savvy and who also can treat people as human beings. The nuts and bolts of supporting an organisation in strategic projects, initiatives, retention, engagement and attraction are critically important and we have come a long way in implementing valuable and much needed structure to the point where it’s a fundamental part of most businesses.

However, there is also a very large part of what we do (and if we aren’t we should be doing) that isn’t always seen or measurable, and that is the Harry Potter-style defence of the dark arts. We move around smoothing over internal conflict with individuals, teams, executives, coaching on conversations and helping initiatives with all the skill of Kofi Anan. But no-one really notices. Employees and leaders notice that something went well/better than expected yes, that was HR operating underneath an invisibility cloak. The ability of HR people to ‘get ahead’ of problems and understand human behaviour is one of the most underrated skills an organisation can possess, without it people and challenges can be a nightmare and yes, impact success, engagement, retention and business outcome. It can also cost the business money, we all know how much more it costs to rehire an employee to replace another when an issue isn’t dealt with, it can impact profitability in many ways.

And this is where the rub comes: because you also must be trusted by the people, be approachable, confidential and tread the fine line between knowing information and sharing information. The more HR has aligned themselves to the executive level to ensure the ‘business connection’ is seen and felt the more I hear HR not ‘being trusted’ or ‘interested in people’. And I’ll freely admit it’s hard to have both, skilled HR people fit somewhere in the gap between the executive level where they can feed expertise and strategy into helping achieve business goals, but they are also able to find the time to stop and talk to people and listen rather than give platitudes. The pressure to deliver, add value, reduce budgets, ‘do more with less’ means that this profession is busier than ever, perhaps too busy to speak to the very people they are there to support.

Mental health issues are on the rise and being given more and more visibility. Your people need help, executives, leaders, managers, the entire workforce and the people best placed to provide help and support will be your HR team. It won’t be measurable, and it won’t give you a nice pile of data on your dashboard or a pretty infographic but it will be providing something that you can’t buy. Empathy, understanding and compassion. An ability to allow employees to air their problems and feel supported. This will enable them to be the best that they can be, and that drives business value. So, allow your talented HR people the time to connect, and build trusted relationships.

HR can be both brilliant business people and good at the ‘people part’ if they are given the time and the space. Perhaps we need to go back to the future, and openly acknowledge that being human is okay after all.

Paula Meir is a business consultant, author, and trainer with over 25 years of experience in HR. Click for more information on how you can book a place on her latest training course on Building Mental Resilience in the Workplace.

How To Understand And Control Your Anger

Do you spend a lot of your time angry? Is your anger directed toward a single event or person, or do you just find that a lot of situations make you angry? Is anger holding back your career or harming your personal relationships? If so, it may be time to understand your anger and what triggers it.

Anger is a normal emotional response. It is a signpost that tells us something is wrong and needs our attention.

It may be that you need to have a hard conversation with someone and explain how their actions affected you. It may be that you need to seek an apology or a better understanding of what happened. Or you may simply need to “get over yourself” and just let it go.

Anger is a place we sometimes need to visit, but we shouldn’t live there.

Prolonged anger is exceptionally bad for your physical and mental health. It floods your body with cortisol – the stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels have been linked to a variety of serious health problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, depression and dementia.

You don’t have to let anger own you. Here are some strategies for dealing with your anger.

  • Walk away. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to regain your equilibrium once you are already angry. The energy (e) is already in ‘motion’ in your body, hence the term ’emotion’. Remove yourself from the situation before you say or do something you’ll regret.
  • Removed from the situation, consider your role. Anger is often the result of feeling as though something has been done to us. We therefore see ourselves as victims, which often amplifies the anger because we feel powerless. Instead, consider how you contributed to the situation and own it. Owning your part, however small, helps to immediately defuse some of the intensity of the anger and, more importantly, helps to put you back in control so you are no longer a ‘victim’.
  • Accept the fact that people don’t always act reasonably or nicely. There isn’t always a reason, there isn’t always an excuse, and you may never get to the bottom of why it happened or why someone behaved in a certain way.
  • Put yourself back in control. Decide how you are going to manage your reaction rather than being at the mercy of your reaction, and acknowledge that you may never know why someone has acted the way they have.

Now, you are ready for the next steps.

  • Consider: How important is this to you? How important is the person to you? If they are important, you may need to invest in some self-reflection and spend some time and effort sorting things.
  • Ask yourself: If the situation or the person is not that important to you, then why are you so angry? Often in these situations, it’s not the event or person that’s causing the anger, but your own ego. Example, you may be embarrassed or feel silly, but rather than brush it off you overcompensate and fly into a rage instead. Of course, this can so easily make matters worse as you look even more silly because of the overreaction! Vocabulary or thinking such as, ‘Who do they think they are?’ or ‘They can’t do that to someone like me!’ are sure signs your ego has stepped forward and is about to make matters worse! These types of phrases indicate that you are more worried about what something ‘looks like’ than what you actually feel.
  • Consider writing down what happened to help you gain clarity. You may want to write a letter to the other person explaining your point of view. It can’t be an angry rant full of blame and recrimination. Rather, it needs to be a sane explanation of the issue from your perspective. If you can’t do that, work on defusing more of the toxicity of your anger before putting pen to paper. Often this can reduce anger levels and you won’t even need to send it! In fact, I would encourage you not to send the letter. If you are convinced you want to, or need to send it, go ahead and write it, then put it aside for two weeks, and review it again. You’ll probably be glad you didn’t send it.


Keeping it in perspective

None of us are perfect and, perhaps more importantly, we can never know what personal or professional issues the other person is dealing with on a given day. Remember, we only know our story, not their full story or context (even if we think we do). We may never know why someone behaved badly or why a situation turned to custard in a heartbeat. All we can do is control our reaction — and perhaps listen to what the anger is telling us.


(Want to learn more about managing your emotions? Check out my latest book: “Your Life, Your Way: A practical guide to getting your s**t together”)


How To Get Happy! Move From “Quo” To “Go”

How many cartoons have we seen that feature an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other? It’s a well-worn trope, but it’s a useful one.


Change of any type often initiates an internal battle. Think of this as a battle between the devil and the angel on your shoulders. Call the devil “Quo” (advocating the status quo) and the angel “Go” (advocating change).

Quo is going to try to discourage you from facing your reality; she wants you to

carry on doing what you’ve been doing. Now, if you stop for just a minute and really think about where you are, you might just admit that “what you’ve been doing” isn’t working. But Quo knows if that happens, you might just do something about it, so she’s going to remind you of every reason, excuse, and justification for staying stick.  Expect Quo to dredge up all your well-worn reasons for not acting and whisper them in your ear.

Quo’s objective is to “keep you safe” in the familiar, even if the familiar sucks. Quo wants to prevent you from taking the more challenging road. Quo is probably mocking what you’re reading in this blog right now. Am I right?

You need to actively engage “Go” in the conversation. For every excuse Quo comes up with to keep you stuck, ask Go for two ways to get unstuck. She’ll know.


Listen to Go

If something in your life isn’t working, or you’re aware of changes you need to make, don’t wait for something to break. Don’t wait for things to magically change. Don’t wait for someone else to change or someone else to see the error of their ways. (That’s what Quo wants you to do.)

If something in your life isn’t working, it’s time for action. (That’s what Go is whispering into your ear.)

I understand: Stasis is comfortable. Even if you are miserable, it’s the miser you know. The status quo is known – even if it’s terrible – and there is comfort in that situation’s predictability. There’s a fine line between complacency and contentment.

Don’t get complacent.

Maintaining the status quo, putting on a brave face, smiling for the camera when you want to weep, is no way to live, and it is robbing you of the love, joy, accomplishment, and happiness you deserve.

But it’s not just about you. Go wants you to get your own sh*t together, and not just for your own benefit. That allows us to help and support others to do the same.

I have lost count of the people I’ve come across who are brimming with talent and ability, but who constantly thwart that potential by getting in their own way and the way of others, simply because they don’t have their sh*t together. All the luck, ability, talent, opportunity, or advantage in the world can so easily come to nothing if we don’t learn how to get a handle on our emotions, develop our cognitive and emotional intelligence, and foster our mental resilience to deal constructively with the inevitable highs and lows of life.


It’s time to unleash your potential, whatever that looks like for you. Be open, be honest – with yourself and others. And remember, “Fortune favours the brave.”

(Want more? To win the battle of Go vs. Quo, check out my latest book, Your Life Your Way.)

How To Break Old Habits And Be Happy

I often speak and write about feeling stuck, and that’s because feeling stuck is all too often the main driver of a person feeling unhappy. And one of the drivers of being stuck in the same place is habit.

We often view habit as related to a physical action such as drinking, smoking, gambling etc etc. But habit is also built into our everyday lives – from our early morning routines to the way in which we speak to people.

We are what we do (even if you don’t like it!). We are especially what we do repeatedly. We are our habits. That sentiment has been expressed, in various ways, by everyone from Aristotle to Gandhi to Stephen Covey. And yet, most of us continue to stay stuck in our habits, seemingly unable to move forward.

I’m here to tell you: You can move. You can change your habits.

Let’s start by looking at how habits are formed and reinforced. I’m a fan of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. (I recommend it to my clients and readers.) He offers an elegantly simple explanation of habits. He describes a habit loop:

1. The trigger is the event that starts the habit. It’s the cue to your brain to go into automatic pilot and let a behaviour unfold.
2. The routine is the behaviour itself.
3. The reward is the benefit associated with the behaviour. That benefit helps your brain remember the “habit loop” in the future. This is how your brain decides whether this particular loop is worth remembering.