I am taking a short leave of absence from work this week and next due to my anxiety and stress. One of the first things I think of as a tool at my disposal for stress management is to head directly to my local float center. If you are unfamiliar, floating is a practice where you enter a tank in a private room where you can totally shut out the outside world through sensory deprivation and float in a shallow pool of heavily salted water, kept at a temperature that feels neutral to the skin. This means that over time in the tank, and with practice over multiple sessions, you can conjure a meditative state that feels like an out-of-body experience, like there is no barrier between you and the environment you inhabit. If you have never tried it, I would find a place and check it out immediately.
But I digress. The point is that the way my float shop does business really should be a model for every customer-service-providing business. Case in point: I booked a last minute appointment for Tuesday morning on Sunday night. As it turns out, I got a call Monday morning saying that the city was doing some paving work in front of the shop Tuesday and they were giving me the option of canceling or rescheduling my appointment at no cost. I ultimately chose to keep my appointment, knowing that my relaxing experience may be diminished, but I am OK with the effects the shop described and really need the float for physical, as well as emotional reasons. The point is, the shop was MORE THAN WILLING to cancel appointments, up to and including closing the shop if need be, to make sure they were providing the best experience for their customers. Imagine if all businesses ran like that!
I really think this should be a no-brainer. In the sense that my employer is the customer for what services I provide as an employee, the same calculation very well should hold. I took this leave as an admission of my being stressed to the point that I was no longer functioning in my job. I had repeatedly brought this up to my supervisor, but was not heard. My boundaries and ethics suggest that I should not be paid hourly for hours of subpar attention or quality of work that is below the established standards I have set for myself. The problem here is that I do not live in a world that would accept such an arrangement. Nor do I make enough money in an hourly wage to be able to afford giving up hours, especially if that meant changes to the availability of my insurance benefits, which in America are a huge priority. We have conditioned people that their “best” is not really ever expected as long as they show up and put in hours. Sure, you have to be doing the job reasonably well or, over time, you may be dismissed, but there is no incentive to be more deeply engaged or more dedicated to your work as craft.
If we are going to heal people who are currently languishing in mental health limbo, we need our workplaces to accommodate, to be more flexible, and to listen to and respect their employees. I personally do not believe that the answer is more holidays or meeting-free Fridays. The answer is to call up each of your employees and ask them what they need as far as support in order to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. If needed, come up with a list of suggested alternatives, but also be flexible in case a new great idea shows up. Be willing to stand up FOR your employees, not just TO them. Change your view of the roles and relationships between the entity that is the business and the people you employ. Allow them to treat your business like the customer of their labor. After all, you are paying for their services, right?
Any business would be unable to survive without their employees, so we should all be working together for the benefit of all, employee and business. When those leaders at the top of the food chain believe that they are untouchable and that their employees are replaceable, there is unnecessary friction in everything the business does. We need to be on the same page, rowing in the same direction with mutual respect and willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. This is ESPECIALLY true for leaders. Identify the ways you can SERVE your staff, help make them better and they will help you. Or don’t, and see what happens. There will be a reckoning and its coming fast.