May 23, 2006

The Other Great Depression, and Why You Need to Deal with It

Depression on Wall Street (the mental kind) was featured recently on the front page of the Sunday Business section of the New York Times. The article cited a 2000 study which concluded that 23% of a small sampling of male brokers and traders at the top Wall Street brokerage firms admitted to suffering from clinical depression, in contrast to 7% of the national average. Keeping in mind that this is before the economy and the stock market took a major tumble, before 9-11, before all those investor arbitration cases and the revelations of corporate corruption on a grand scale came to light. It's not difficult to imagine that, in these uncertain times, the percentages could be way higher.

What has this got to do with you and your business? Plenty. Because change on Wall Street affects all business, including those of the entrepreneurial, small business owner and independent professional. The pressure that's on for them is on for us as well, and that can lead to symptoms of depression. And we all know what an unhappy workforce leads to: attrition, absenteeism. poor morale, poor productivity, escalating costs and reduced revenues.

If yours is a large company with an EAP program, help is there for those who reach out for it...and many, feeling ashamed or stigmatized by depression, will never reach out. If yours is a small concern without such resources. what can you do for your employees and for yourself?

1. Acknowledge that there are issues.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as Freud pointed out. Sometimes things simply are not going well. The economy may be "recovering" and at the same time, it isn't what it used to be. Our retirement accounts have lost a third of their worth on average, there is no such thing as job security, and many people continue to be out of work or are underemployed, earning minimum wage in a world where $6.00 will barely cover the cost of a take-out sandwich. Saying that everything's okay and that the dilligent will prosper isn't everyone's reality; we may as well face it and see what we can do here and now.

2. Let your people know that it is not a weakness to seek help but rather a strength, a path to improvement. Be approachable and available to employees and their issues, and cultivate an atmosphere of trust and support in your workplace. Everyone flies off the handle, grieves, feels overwhelmed at one time or another. Don't punish people for being human; help them to find the balance they need in order to do their jobs.

3. Become more self-aware through the process of self-inquiry. You may be having your own crippling thoughts about the future of your business and your career. You needn't allow your thoughts to run you ragged; meet them with some understanding question them. It's hard to be a mentor and set an example if you aren't walking the walk. We've all been waiting for just one open and available CEO to show the rest of us the way; are you the one?

4. Don't be afraid to ask for help yourself.
To become an analyst, therapists must first undergo analysis. Most of the corporate coaches of my acquaintance also work with a coach. If business is really getting you down, you may want to enlist the help of a professional...and don't overlook the help that is always there, in the form of your workforce. If you can be upfront withyour people about your own needs, you'll convey that mindset to your employees...and they may extend you the same courtesy.

5. Finally, understand what depression is. It need not be a crippling disease. It's not something to be ashamed of, to hide or to stuff down. Depression is simply confusion, a temporary block on the road to the truth. When we work with our thoughts, our lives change...and changes in business cannot help but follow.

Here is the best book I've ever read about the nature of depression:
Depression: The Way Out of Your Prison by Dorothy Rowe

And here's the process that hsa helped me many thousands of others worldwide move past the roadblocks of depression:
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie with Stephen Mitchell.

©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.


A Taste of Transformational Inquiry in the Workplace

1. What are some stressful thoughts you are having about your business or your job in relation to the economy? Write them down.
Don't be afraid of inviting "negativity"...if you have already entertained these thoughts, actually dealing with them won't make it worse and might make it a whole lot better.

Some examples of stressful workplace thoughts:

"I won't have enough money."
"We're going down the drain."
"Our workforce (our leadership, our sales team, etc.) is too weak."
"I mustn't let anyone know how I'm really feeling."
"If I express my concerns, I'll lose my position."
"Things will never get better."

2. Hold each of your beliefs against the four questions of self-inquiry:
*Is it true?
*Can you absolutely know that it's true?
*How do you react when you think that thought?
*Who would you be without this thought?

Then, turn the thought around.
What is the opposite? Can this new statement be just as true, or truer? Provide evidence for this, at least three examples. For instance: the opposite of "I won't have enough money" is "I will have enough money." Three ways in which this could be just as true: 1. I cannot know the future. 2. I have enough money in this moment, and it could be that we need to trim expenses so that this continues to be true for me. 3. I can find new ways to generate revenue (list some ideas). Another example of a turnaround: "Our leadership is too weak." "I am too weak." How have I not stepped up to the plate, given my best effort, backed down, avoided, or been out of my integrity on the job? How have I not done what I want the C-suite to do?

3. Don't wait for a crisis.
You can head off certain office problems at the pass by cultivating self-awareness in yourself and your employees. Arrange for a trained facilitator to visit your workplace and train your department, your team, your entire workforce (or even just you) in the fundamentals of Transformational Inquiry

©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick.

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