How to prepare this holiday season for a smashing new year at work

When Christmas and the end of the year approaches, we usually reflect on the past year and think about how we can make the next year even better. Here are some tips that help me prepare for a smashing new year at work.

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Reflect on the past year

Sounds obvious, right? But it is an important step to making the next year even a better one. Take some time and answer the below five questions:

  1. What have I achieved at work this year?what impact have I made on my company, what has improved because of me?
  2. Have I shared my achievements with my boss/team/company? What did they appreciate the most/ Why did I not share?
  3. What goals did I not achieve? Are they still relevant for the next year?
  4. What did I learn?
  5. have I build good relationships at work? Who with?

Having a moment of reflection can help you feel more satisfied with the year you had. We do tend to keep going, especially if we’re high achievers, and never stop to reflect on what we have already accomplished. This can lead to low satisfaction with your work and feeling a lack of accomplishment.

If with the year-end approaching you think that you haven’t done anything meaningful, think of yourself a year ago and go month by month on what you have achieved and how you have improved. You will be surprised how many things have changed and how far you have come. Give yourself pat on the back, relax and celebrate all these amazing achievements.

When thinking about the year ahead, try to make your goals realistic. You don’t need to go through the whole SMART goal framework, but just focus on what feels realistic to achieve. Are you working towards a pay rise? This is a realistic goal, even if you don’t know right now how to ask for it. You can sign up for the waitlist for my ‘Asking for a pay rise made easy’ course next year and we can figure out together the best way for you to ‘pop the question’.

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Relax

Did you know that Christmas can literally give you a heart attack? The study that discovered this has listed the ‘increased emotional stress as one of the reasons behind it. So it is even more important to focus on your wellbeing this time of year.

Furthermore, if you let yourself rest, you will come back to the office more energized and full of energy to tackle the year ahead. Again, yes, this is a staple, everyone tells you to relax, but how do you relax with all that has been going on for the past two years?

As someone who suffers from anxiety, I can absolutely relate. It is hard to relax if you have a billion racing thoughts in the back of your head and very often you’re not even sure what those thoughts are! All you know is that you constantly feel tense.

My recipe for calm is to set boundaries and find a quiet space for yourself. I have been known to often go on 2-3 days holidays all by myself. This has been my alone time to recharge. Since the pandemic started, I wasn’t of course able to do it (especially with the added stress of traveling and millions of tests needed to be done). So this year I have sent myself on a staycation. I have rented an Airbnb 20 min walk from my house to enjoy some alone time, no responsibilities, and an endless supply of ice cream. I have used this time to meditate, do yoga, read, and write (and re-watch the first season of The Witcher). Of course, I could do all this at home, but the added comfort of being completely alone, let me relax properly and be ready to tackle a 3 day Christmas marathon with family and friends.

You don’t need to leave your house if you don’t want to – it is a great option though if interactions with others interfere with your rest. Let me know in the comments, what is your ultimate way to relax.

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Think about the future

If you have reflected on the past, using the 5 questions in this article, you can think about the future in the same pattern:

  1. What is important for me?
  2. What do I want to focus on?
  3. What do I want to achieve?
  4. What do I want to learn?
  5. Who can support me to achieve my goals

Although some of these questions sound very similar, you will quickly discover that reflecting on them will give you various answers and let you expand your thinking.

Let me show you my own example:

  1. What is important for me?

I have learned this year that what is really important for me is the time I get to spend with my loved ones. This may seemingly feel disconnected from my work goals, but it will actually influence how I think and act in my role.

2. What do I want to focus on?

I want to focus on myself and my growth. I want to prepare myself for anything that may come my way in terms of work. The current world situation makes anyone’s job very unstable, so I want to make sure that if I am forced out of mine, I will have plenty of knowledge and experience to use for any new role that may come my way.

3. What do I want to achieve?

I want to create a great work-life balance, where I get to work on projects important to my company while learning new concepts and trying them out and at the same time still have enough energy and time to spend with my loved ones.

4. What do I want to learn?

I want to learn new skills or grow an existing one to help me stay relevant in the job market. My interests revolve around: communication, project management, and coaching. Given what’s important for me, what’s my focus, and what I want to achieve, I will probably choose project management as this fits the best with my goals.

5. Who can support me to achieve my goals?

Getting my boss on my side that project management training would be beneficial to my role, can help me receive free training on a very good level. I might also leverage any connections in the company with our actual Project Managers to learn from them.

I hope the above shows you how I got to the final conclusion to focus on project management next year. Of course, I still need to build my actual company goals into it but I know what my guiding principles are now and for every project, I will deliver going forward, I will be focusing on applying the right project management techniques to make sure I can practice them in real life.

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Let me know in the comments if this helped you prepare for the new year.

How to talk about mental health in the workplace

Mental health has recently become a buzzword that most employees are using to attract and retain staff. Some companies are really invested in the staff wellbeing, some still have a long way to go. In the most recent report, Office for National Statistics reported that 36% of adults felt high anxiety levels. It was exceptionally high in the 16-29-year-old group (40%). These statistics show that talking about mental health at work is becoming increasingly important.

If you want to learn what can be the signs of your work affecting your mental health negatively, make sure you read this post.

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Personal disclaimer

This article is going to be very personal. As an employee who has experienced mental and physical health issues during the pandemic and as a person who wants to improve workspace communication, I feel that it is vital that I speak up about mental health at work and share advice to support those who struggle. If you have any advice you would like to share, please leave it in the comments so we can all learn.

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I am not a mental health professional and if you are experiencing any issues, please follow up with your GP or mental health professional. You can also contact Samaritans, which is a free service.

Why employees don’t talk about their mental health

Mental health stigma can be a barrier for employees who wish to talk openly about their issues. You don’t need to have a diagnosed mental issue, such as depression or anxiety to discuss the impact of your work on mental health. However, there are several reasons why employees hesitate to talk about it:

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  • Fear of losing their job or missing out on a promotion – as an employer you can advocate for the employees that their mental health will not be affecting their position at work
  • Worry over coworkers and their managers judging them – providing training on supporting mental health among employees, can elleviate some misconceptions about mental health issues.
  • Not wanting to be seen as being given special treatment – providing training on diversity, equity and inclusion can further aid creating more understanding workplace and make employees more accustomed to talking about mental health
  • Witnessing harassment or bullying of others who have talked about mental health – this is a tough one to address if this hasn’t been raised on the company forum. However, the company leaders can start sharing their own stories surrounding mental health. Seeing members of the C-suite share their vulnerabilities, can make employees more open to share their own and create an understanding that anyone can experience these issues.

The benefits of talking about mental health in the workplace for your employer

It may sound strange the first time you think about it, but actually talking about mental health at work can benefit your employer. Taking time to resolve issues that staff has as a consequence of the environment we are in now or just their own work can have tremendous benefits:

Your mental health can be affected by your work without you even realizing it, so make sure you support creating an open and honest environment at work.

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Talking about mental health at work can increase productivity and job performance

Being open about your work affecting your mental health can be a signal to your company to review your role and responsibilities. Your company can support you in establishing achievable tasks and regular reviews.

Having a clear plan and goals can help you feel more confident and alleviate some of the anxiety, leading to higher levels of productivity. It can also support your understanding of the impact you are making and your performance on an ongoing basis. Knowing that you are doing indeed a good job, can go a long way for your well-being.

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HOWEVER, if you are a boss, make sure that you are not micromanaging a struggling employee, as this will only have a negative effect on their wellbeing and job performance. Instead, set easy tasks and establish achievable deadlines and empower your employee to deliver these by themselves. Showing that you trust them with their workload (but are available to support them when they need it) can help build a great relationship and improve employees’ performance.

It is hard to get the balance right between letting the employees work on their own and micromanaging, especially when they are struggling with the workload or when their mental health is affected. We will talk in a couple of weeks about how to establish a good boss-employee relationship to make this process smooth.

Talking about mental health at work can improve employee attraction and retention

As we all learn about the importance of mental health, more people pay attention to this when looking for a new role. Having a defined employee mental health strategy and sharing it outside the company as well, can have a great impact on the quality of staff the company will attract. Furthermore, employees that feel supported will be more likely to remain at the company. One of the reasons why employees (especially millennials) leave their job posts is not feeling that they make an impact, therefore feeling more anxious. Because of the high expectations that we have for ourselves, it is easy to miss the great impact that we have. Supporting employees with their mental health includes celebrating their achievements and making them feel seen and appreciated. With these principles at the core of the company’s HR strategy, it is more likely that your staff will be satisfied and remain at the job post.

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But it’s not only that. There are plenty of resources that employers can use to support mental health at the workplace. There are apps that can be offered to employees to support their wellbeing, coaching sessions, or implementation of mental health first-aiders.

Talking about mental health at work can prevent sick days due to anxiety or depression

According to Health and Safety Executive website in 2019/2020, each person suffering from anxiety and depression took on average 21.6 days off. The average for all health issues is 17.6 days. Mental health had the highest average in this statistic and the highest total number of days off 17.9 mln). Time taken off is not only a cost to the employer for the cost of sick days taken but also the cost of delays in projects and required substitutions for the roles (or skipping the work completely).

Addressing mental health issues before they become severe enough for the time off work, can support the employees and reduce the time taken off work. Many employees will not open up about their issues though if the workplace is not actively promoting talking about mental health. You may not be even aware that the time off was taken due to poor mental health as employees will often mention feeling ‘unwell’, without stating mental health as a reason.

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The benefits of talking about mental health in the workplace for you

When we feel supported and empowered to talk about mental health issues in the workplace, we can be more open. Talking directly about the issues we are experiencing can have a direct impact on:

Being able to express your issues and be supported by your boss and the company can help reducing burn out and stress. Having a clear action plan and communication can increase your productivity and actually make you feel better about the work that you are doing. Having regular communication can help you to understand what is required from you to satisfy the basic requirements of the job, how to achieve a good standard, and what is considered an outstanding performance. You might be surprised, that you have been delivering an outstanding performance without realizing it.

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Talking about mental health in the workplace can help you feel more included at work

Being able to openly share how you feel can create deeper bonds between you and your colleagues. Being a part of the wider community and feeling included, can also raise your job satisfaction levels.

We seem to distance ourselves from environments where we don’t feel inclusion when we feel somehow ‘different’. This can be especially apparent in terms of mental health and talking about your struggles.

I have recently been a part of the conversation when a colleague admitted that they were struggling long-term with their well-being and opened up about the issue. I have never felt so understood at work as in that moment, as I have had my personal share of struggles in the last year or so (as most of us had actually). However, when talking about it with colleagues I would downplay it and just focus on the physical aspect of my problems. Now I know that my peers are open to having deeper conversations and I believe it brought us closer as a team.

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Talking about mental health at work can improve your job satisfaction

I have previously shared how your mental health can be affecting your job satisfaction and how to address that, however, I believe that it is important to include this here too.

Making sure that your mental health is addressed at work and re-designing your workload or even your schedule to support this can have tremendous benefits. Building a relationship with your boss and getting regular feedback on your performance, can also help you feel more satisfied at work as you no longer wondering.

I find this to be a really good way to improve both mental health and job satisfaction – having clearly defined duties and understanding what means a basic performance, what means a good one, and what will be considered excellent can alleviate a lot of anxiety.

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How can you start the conversation about mental health in the workplace


If you would like to discuss your struggles with your employer, you can try the below process:

  1. Write down (preferably over a few days) how you feel, what tasks make you anxious, when you are procrastinating the most. Is there something which makes you feel worse? Are you postponing specific tasks? Why? Maybe you are not sure where to start or what is actually required from you? You can treat this as a journalling exercise. This part is only for you to help you understand yourself better.
  2. Spend some time re-reading and thinking about the issues. Write down main points of what you have journaled about. Pick up the patterns and re-phrase them that they can be shared with your employer.
  3. Think about possible solutions. Do you need time off work or would adjusting your workload be sufficient? Do you need a different work pattern or would you prefer to work more as a part of a team instead of on your own. Maybe working from home is affecting your work-life balance? Or do you need better understanding of what are the core duties of your role?
  4. List what you enjoy about your role. Maybe there are certain duties that you would like to do more of?
  5. Let your employer know you have something important to talk to them about, you can mention at this point that this is to discuss your wellbeing at work. You can start with your boss if you have a good relationship, HR or workplace mental health aider.
  6. Give examples of how your mental health impacts your work and vice versa – what elements of your role make you feel anxious or stressed. Use the journalling exercise from step 1.
  7. Provide suggestions on how you can be supported. Giving suggestions to your boss on how to solve problems is always a great idea if you are coming with an issue to them. It also ensures that you get a solution that you actually need and not what they think you might need.
  8. Share with them what you enjoy about the role and state what duties would you like to focus on. This shows them that you actually are enjoying the role, just struggling with some elements of it or the structure. This makes the conversation way more positive.
  9. Ask the person how to proceed from here. Does company already have procedures around supporting employees mental health? Or does it need to be worked out? Ask which elements that you suggested could be implemented immediately so you can start improving straight away.
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What can companies do to support workers communicate more openly about mental health issues

To summarise what can company leaders take away from this article and how can they support their employees:

  • create a culture of inclusion – including mental diversity – provide training on mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion to guide employees towards more understanding of the issues
  • support struggling employees with reviewing their workloads and responsibilities without downgrading their roles
  • provide support but avoid micromanaging – show trust to the employee, but ensure they are supported when they need it
  • have company leaders share their own mental healt stories to empower you employees
  • provide support in terms of resources, such as apps, coaching and mental health first aiders

What would you add to this list?

Is your job having a negative impact on your mental health?

Tell me if this sounds like you:

  • you promise yourself to be productive from next week, but Monday comes and you procrastinate
  • you constantly think about quiting even though you used to love your job
  • you get Sunday scaries – the feelings of anxiety or dread that many of us experience the day before heading back to work after the weekend.
  • You move meetings as you don’t feel ‘ready’ for them or just can’t stand the idea of talking to people
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If you said yes to at least one of the above, it may mean that your mental health is suffering. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, or burnout – it is worth addressing the root cause of the situation, as left alone it may only get worse.

Personal disclaimer

This article is going to be very personal. As an employee who has experienced issues with mental and physical health during the pandemic and as a person who wants to improve workspace communication, I feel that it is important that I speak up about mental health at work and share advice to support those who struggle. If you have any advice you would like to share, please leave it in the comments so we could all learn.

I am not a mental health professional and if you are experiencing any issues, please follow up with your GP or mental health professional. You can also contact Samaritans, which is a free service.

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Should you leave your job?

A lot of career advice I see is that if you are unsatisfied with your role or your workplace, you should leave your post. People talk about ‘toxic’ workplaces and micromanaging bosses.

I have scanned my experiences and realized that my main motives for leaving my jobs were either insufficient salary or I have exhausted opportunities for growth. But I am sure that a few of the places I worked in some people would consider ‘toxic’. I was bullied, I was micromanaged, I was told ‘but this is how it always been done’, or ‘this is a boy’s conversation’.

Yet, I showed up every day to work, hyped up and ready to smash my goals. So how was I different from others who have been through the same?

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I believe that the difference was my communication skills. Growing them has helped me stand up for myself, create an environment where both my micromanaging boss and I were satisfied and create a women-at-work ally out of the boss who used words like ‘boy’s conversation’.

So if you are struggling in your role right now, and you decide to quit, that’s great. You’re probably going to feel better (at least in the short term), get a higher salary, and have a more responsible job. But if your struggles come from how you deal with work and how you communicate, it may be more beneficial to allow yourself to stop and try to learn. I guarantee that you’re going to prosper in any environment you might encounter in the future.

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What are the elements of a ‘healthy’ job?

Over the years I have discovered that there are elements of my role that help me feel fulfilled at work. Even with the worst manager, I would enjoy my work and not feel overwhelmed by it if:

I clearly understand the three levels of my role: what are the must-do-basics; what will mean ‘doing a good job’ and what would mean that I am smashing it.
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It’s easy to explain with an example: in my previous role, I would have a number of admin tasks that would have to be completed weekly. I was managing a fleet of cars and all the admin tasks around assigning cars, interacting with the lease company about drivers, checking licenses, and training new staff had to be completed. If that wouldn’t be done, not only I would be doing a bad job, but I would also be affecting other people’s experiences at work. As a procurement manager, I was also keeping an eye on contract negotiations and ensuring that all contracts were up to date.

As a next level, doing a good job, was when I delivered an exceptional service or saved money through my negotiations. That was not a make or break in the role, but it was an indication of doing it well. I also felt that I am doing a ‘good job’ when I networked with other people within the company and I learned about how their role was connected to mine.

On several occasions, I have come up with an idea of a project that would revolutionize the way our company was operating and successfully pitch that to the business. Doing this and delivering on said projects was my indication of doing something exceptional. My achievements were mentioned during company townhalls and I was congratulated on several occasions by senior leaders.

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On the contrary, I have been in the role which, on paper, was even more amazing. Instead of managing procurement for a single country, I got to manage multiple territories and interact with top leadership on a daily basis. The role required similar skills as the previous one, so I jumped into it with no hesitation.

I have still received great feedback and was praised for my achievements. But soon I started questioning my ability to deliver the objectives and got hit with a hard imposter syndrome. Why? Because I didn’t have an understanding of what is even the basic level of my role. And when will I know that I moved from basic to a good job?

Having an achievable action plan and seing it’s progress during the year
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Achievable is the key here. Last year I have made a great plan for my role. I looked at what other managers are delivering, which was anywhere between 12 and 20-odd projects, and decided to settle on the minimum number, as they have had more years of experience of implementing procurement in their territories.

The end of the year came, and I have completed maybe three with no real savings (which in procurement usually would be a red flag for me). I felt horrible, I honestly considered quitting as it made me feel that I am not good enough for my role. I stressed *a lot* before my annual review. And guess what? I received *a lot* of praise from my boss and the only direction I have heard was to focus more on analysis next year. I clearly didn’t understand what is required.

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Being able to communicate clearly and openly with my boss

This is something I strongly appreciate. If I can come to my boss and share with him not only my success but also any roadblocks or failures and they support me through them and help me resolve them – I feel like there is growth in my role and even though I couldn’t do something yesterday, I can do it tomorrow. So I am definitely progressing in the role. This gives me a sense of achievement and being proud of what I bring to the table.

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Can you change the impact of your job on your mental health?

I strongly believe you can change the impact your job has on your mental health without quitting.

Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do I clearly understand the three levels of my role: what are the must-do-basics; what will mean ‘doing a good job’ and what would mean that I am smashing it?
  • Do I have an achievable action plan and am I seeing it’s progress during the year?
  • Am I being able to communicate clearly and openly with my boss?

If you answered any of these questions ‘no’ – this is a great moment to start working on improving these areas. Learning how to talk at work will help you improve your communication with your boss. That has a direct impact on how you set your goals and objectives for the year, as clear communication will help you understand what is achievable. And last but not least, clear communication can help you and your boss evaluate your role requirements and agree on minimum / good job / exceptional performance standards.

Let me know in the comments if this resonated with you.

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