There Is No Need To Be A Psychologist, But You Do Need To Know What To Do

I hate to admit this, but I’m out of my depth. My boss expects me to handle my team on all levels, but two of them are so stressed I’m worried they may burn out. I haven’t told my boss because I respect their privacy and they haven’t actually told me how they feel. I can just see it. I want to help but I don’t know how.

I hear this more and more. There is an increasing trend in middle management being expected to be some kind of pseudo-psychologist and this is never a good idea. You need to leave psychology to the psychologists. But, as a responsible boss, you do need tools to help people at first and if things are bad, know who to refer them to.

Let’s take an extreme case study I was involved with recently. It is extreme, but has useful lessons for us all.

Wendy (name changed) called me in a dreadful panic. ‘I was carrying out appraisals, it was the end of the day and my last team member came into my office and sat down. She looked a bit down and I thought that was because she hadn’t been doing her job properly and she knew we had to talk about it.

But before I could say anything she started to tell me that she wanted to end her life. She was calm and went into detail about the different ways she had considered suicide. She swore me to secrecy. I knew this was wrong but I went into a panic. We don’t have an HR department and I had no one to talk to. So, I told her I would help her all I could. I sat with her during her shifts, helping her with her work, in fact I was doing her job for her. This has been going on for some weeks. But the other day I noticed that she seemed to act as if she had pulled the wool over my eyes. I feel terrible saying this, but I think she tricked me because she knew she was underperforming.

What should I do?

Wendy and I talked this through for half a day and we revealed underlying problems that could be worked on. There were two main issues. One was to help her manage this situation and the other was for her to recognise her own behaviour patterns so that this would never happen again. After all the resulting situation was untenable for her and her whole team.

The first point to make is that if anyone tells you they are considering ending their life, you are not qualified to judge if they are telling the truth or otherwise. You must give this person your full attention immediately. Talk to them, ask them if they have seen a doctor or psychologist, if not calmly suggest you think this is a good idea. Show them that you care and avoid saying things that could make them feel guilty, such as think how your family will feel, this sort of comment can make matters worse.

You must elevate this to someone more senior and focus on getting help.

If you haven’t got an HR department, I also advise contacting an external HR company, so that you follow correct procedures. With increasing mental health problems in workplace, all companies employing people should think through how these situations should be handled.

As far as working with Wendy about how she handled the situation, this is for next week’s Your Brain is Boss bulletin. If you’re not yet recieveing this fortnightly bulletin of neuroscience and business psychology tips and insights to enable you to increase productivity (whilst reducing stress), avoid conflict and improve communication – sign up below.


The Film: Inside Out

And Why It’s OK To Not Feel OK All The Time
Today the film Inside Out will be in our cinemas here in the UK.  An animated story of 5 emotions in the brain of a young teenager – Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Joy, all on a journey of conflict, challenges and success.
Why is this film important to me?  It’s completely in my area of expertise and I can’t wait to see how the makers of the film portray emotion. 
For years I have been talking about emotion and for years many have thought this is a pink fluffy topic that has no place in the real business world.  This is completely wrong.  Emotions influence all aspects of our behaviour most of the time, including business decisions, what we buy and why we are loyal to one brand and not another.

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Diaries Jammed Full Are Killing Us

Take a Deep Breath

A lady boarding the bus in front of you shows the bus driver a map and asks “Can you tell me if you are going to this place please?”
He thinks about it and kindly gives a full answer.
“OK, then can we have two tickets please?  Can I pay with a credit card?”
The driver says yes but the card doesn’t work.
“Sorry, let’s try this other one” as she fumbles in her purse.
This time it works.
“Can you tell us when to get off?”
“Sure” says the driver, smiling.
You are waiting behind these irritating people.  The bus is now late, which means you will miss the start of your meeting.
How do you feel?  Angry?  Agitated?  What if this happens on the next bus?  It’s enough to make you walk straight to a taxi rank, regardless of the additional expense.

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Is Money Always a Motivator for Working?

It would appear not.

Recently I was speaking to a father who has a daughter with special needs.  She has a long list of both physical and mental challenges.
The father is a professional man who works in the City of London.  He is hard working and loyal to the firm.  He confided that he earns quite well but knows he could get better pay if he changed jobs.  This would be very handy as the costs of supporting his daughter are very high as she needs special equipment at home and in the car, special clothing and shoes, which she of course grows out of regularly and various support such as help in looking after her and extra activities to encourage development.  Holidays were not on the agenda.
My first reaction was to ask why he doesn’t move to a different firm who would pay him more? 
He looked at me with wide eyes and said that time off to be there for his daughter when needed was more important to him than money and his present firm understood this. 
What would you do?

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Are You a Flamboyant Ticker or a Triumphant Crosser Outer?

Time Management At It’s Best, One List or Two?

Whether we like to admit it or not, when we have too much to do we are overwhelmed.  When we are overwhelmed we become inefficient, agitated, short tempered and quite frankly a pain to know.
Why?  Because it’s stressful.  When cortisol the stress hormone is over stimulated havoc breaks loose. 
The big three that cause a huge surge of cortisol are bereavement, divorce and moving house.  But believe it or not, this kind of stress is not the health risk we think, because no matter how bad we feel, we will recover on some level.
Equally, cortisol secretion in the short term is great because it keeps us alert, sharp and we can think on our feet.  If however, it goes on for too long that’s when things go badly wrong.  Typically this happens at work when tasks are not finished.  It’s the undone to-do list that eats away at us like a nasty little finger constantly prodding and poking robbing us of our sanity.

Continue reading “Are You a Flamboyant Ticker or a Triumphant Crosser Outer?”

Is it Dangerous to Hero Worship?

Are you a hero?


Do you dream of being a hero?  Do you fancy the idea of saving someone one day?  Do you want people to say “wow there he/she goes, I wish I could be like him/her.”
It’s strange isn’t it, but we’re all capable of being a hero if the opportunity presented itself.  Imagine your child falling in a river, would you jump in to save them?  Most people would without thinking about it, it’s simply a reaction to wanting something more than anything else at that moment.
The traits we admire in heroes are often the traits we have in ourselves.  So if we are all capable of heroic acts, why do we put some people on a pedestal?  And why is this a bad idea?

The Suicide Card

The Ultimate Employee Threat

It was not exactly what I expected when I gave my first appraisal to a member of staff.  As a customer-facing receptionist she was turning business away with her utterly miserable facial expressions.  No matter what I did to cheer her up, she could never raise even a glimmer of a smile.  There was only one thing for it – we needed to have an official chat.
This was new to me, so I did my research on the best way to do this and asked her to come into my office.  With guidelines in hand I started the discussion.  I thought our conversation was going fairly well until like a bolt of lightening she said “I want to commit suicide.”  Horrified and in my naivety, I tried to get her to tell me what was wrong.  She continued with the ways in which she was considering ending her life. 

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Age is no barrier to having fun

“We started the society because it’s hard for older ladies to meet new people.”


Whilst in a restaurant in London this week I saw a table of ladies swathed in purple clothes wearing red hats over beautiful white hair.  Some of the hats were functionally warm, others were various shapes of a trilby and one rather flamboyant lady wore a red flower and feather in her hair. 
They were giggling like schoolgirls and totally oblivious to people watching them.  They didn’t give two hoots; they were having fun.
Curiosity got the better of me, so I approached and asked who they were.

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Consider carefully before you call yourself a carer

Or does it matter?


I have been talking to quite a few medical specialists lately and they all have one thing in common.  They feel genuinely sad that people call themselves carers before anything else.   They hear time and time again, “I’m a carer now you know” or “yes I’m a fulltime carer” or simply “I’m the carer.” 
If we are caring for someone, what’s wrong with being called the carer?  And why are the medics sad? 

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People are not their illness

There is so much more

An older lady entered a new doctor’s office.   Six months previously she had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  She was efficient and organised with her ​​lists of medication, medical events during recent months and more ……..  her CV.
She handed over the papers and the doctor looked shocked.  He glanced at the CV whilst putting it to one side saying “I will look at this later, let’s talk about your medication”.

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