Alignment Performance Results

The Battle for the Brain

Posted on 09/17/2019 in Culture/Team Alignment, Featured Articles by Jack Speer

The Battle for the Brain

If you want to improve life and profitability in the workplace, take a look at the mental health of your organization. 

The battle for the brain in the workplace today may by more important than production, sales, and marketing.  According to the World Health Organization, the impact of mental health is way underestimated in the workplace.

You can prove this today in your workplace by looking around you to see how many projects are either moving along at a snail’s place or are on the endangered list because team members are flailing in the deep waters of depression and unresolved emotional issues.  Personal emotional issues most often become public.  They erupt at the most inconvenient times. The underlying factor of why teams turn toxic and go off the rails is often unresolved emotional issues of individual team members that erupt in team interactions.

We don’t look at the mental and emotional health of our organizations because we can’t measure it like cashflow or sales. 

It’s not difficult to measure physical health.  They put you on a scale and weigh you, take your pulse, do a few tests, and you get the report back in a few days.  Of course there are many cases that are complex and take a whole team of physicians working together to come up with a diagnosis.

It’s almost impossible to measure mental health.    I certainly can’t.  If someone asks me today how mentally and emotionally healthy I am, I’d have to ask, “Compared to what and who?”  We believe in therapists, and recommend them to our clients, but I’ve been frustrated over the years, because no one has a mental health measurement.  I don’t know how mentally healthy I am compared to those around me.

Yet your emotional health could be the most important factor in how things will turn out for you in life and the workplace.  It impacts your physical health, your relationships with others, your general ability to perform, as well as your income and your career advancement.

The following are facts about mental health that could save your career, personal life, and your business:

  1. Emotional Issues are ever-present in humans–they don’t go away, we must manage them. BJ Gallagher explains the ancient Buddhist concept of the monkey mind:  “Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly.” They demand from us incessantly.This truth makes me both more sympathetic to team members, but now always more willing to hold us all accountable.  When someone tells me they haven’t been able to function because of fear or depression, I’ve learned to let them lean on me for encouragement.  At the same time, I try to remind them that all of us share the “monkey mind.”  We’re all working to cope and function.
  2. Understand Why People Have Mental Issues. It’s not always a pathology. There are deeply rooted biological and historical reasons for our weird, negative thought patterns.  In man’s distant past, in tribal settings, the world was an ever-dangerous place.The emotions we think of as negative–fear, paranoia, aggression, and wariness–were then the tools of survival.  There really were marauding enemies just outside the door, ready to attack.  There were lions hiding in the tall grass waiting to pounce.  These emotions forced our ancestors to focus on the danger around them, and literally allowed them to survive another day.Today we feel those frightening emotions with the same intensity as our ancestors felt. We live in a dangerous world where these emotions still serve us in being proactive to minimize danger and risk.  At the same time, even when dangers are less immediate, our minds react as if there were a lion lurking in the high grass.  Our emotions overreact to the dangers at hand and tell us things are worse than they obviously are.  That is the fundamental reason we find ourselves in constant turmoil.
  3. You Can’t Medicate Your Way to Mental Health. 10% of Americans take antidepressants.  The numbers are quite similar in Britain, Australia and Europe.  Antidepressants are increasingly being prescribed in China.  After aspirin and other pain killers, antidepressants are our most consumed medication.  Many find antidepressants helpful, that by taking them they function better at home and in the workplace.At the same time, some mental professionals believe that if you can get the right prescription in the right dosage, people can live happy, joyous, and free lives.  This is patently not true.  Medications are no substitute for learning new mental health tools.
  4. Save your Career and Company with Better Emotional Health.   Toxic teams and internal conflict are often caused by team members on the edge of their own emotional cliff.  People are so engulfed in their own issues that conflict, feelings of disrespect, and irrational behavior threaten a team’s ability to function.  Because my mind wants to protect me, it will over-react in times when I feel greater stress and I will react in exaggerated ways.

What can I do when emotions are running so high on my team that it has become dysfunctional?  Your being a rational voice to sort through what’s going on is going to be the key.  Now is the time for you to step up as a leader.  Here are some steps to take:

  1. Ask yourself, “What is my part in what is going on?”  If you are member of the team, you may not have a direct link to angry emotional outbursts or irrational behaviors, but ask yourself, “Where am I in the mix?”
  2. Create an agenda item for the next meeting, “How are you feeling about this project?” on the project update agenda.  Let’s sort out what’s happening.
  3. Provide everyone an opportunity to have a session with an executive coach.
  4. Schedule a team alignment session.  It will be the best investment you ever made.

Sagging emotional health in an organization is the most costly thing that organizations confront.  Get senior management onboard that emotional health is something an organization must always manage.  An organization that manages the mental and emotional health of it’s employees will enable a healthy culture to emerge.

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