Don’t let this be you next Christmas

It’s become tradition that the post right before Christmas touches on issues that transcend PR and strike at the core of who we’re striving to become.

So I’m going to tell you about my friend John. He’s relaxing this holiday season, laying around, watching movies with his kids, not doing any work at all. In fact, he’s been lounging like this since Thanksgiving.

Sounds great, right? Wrong. This story is actually kind of a downer. But the lesson is so powerful, John and I want to share it with you so you won’t find yourself in his situation at some future holiday season.

John was the victim of an insidious cycle of success that afflicts all disciplines, but especially PR people. He started out as an expert doer. And then he got promoted to management. His teams kept succeeding. Then his role expanded to include new business development. So in addition to managing his teams to success, he was responsible to fly around and round up new projects and revenue to sustain them.

John started to feel the strain of the increased work. Our talks together were increasingly weighted toward coping with the stress and all-consuming nature of his responsibilities.

He tried to delegate more. He tried to collaborate with other teams better. But then his bosses rewarded his increased efficiency with even more work. He tried to share his concerns, but his bosses just thanked him for shouldering the load and praised him for being a team player. And then they went back to dealing with other employees, the ones who weren’t actually getting stuff done.

Yes, John should have put his foot down. Yes, he should have calmly and firmly negotiated a change or threatened to leave. But he likes living close to his wife’s family, and his employer is really the only option of its size in that region. So he didn’t.

And the workload increased. His sleep decreased. The stress mounted. His hope dwindled. And then, last month, he started having chest pains. Sure, his stomach had been hurting for months. But this was finally serious enough to send him to the doctor.

The good news was that he wasn’t having a heart attack. The bad news is that the stress had caused severe acid reflux and ulcers that were eating away at his esophagus and stomach, and caused serious bowel distress.

The reason John had lost weight this year? It wasn’t because he was too busy to eat, like we thought. His damaged GI tract wasn’t absorbing nutrients from the food that went straight through him. The doctor told him he must immediately remove all stress from his life or the damage would become permanent.

So right before Thanksgiving, John called his boss into his office and told him he was leaving and not coming back until he was healthy. His boss fully supported him and said they would explain it as medical leave. And then they parceled out all of John’s work to other managers.

Fortunately, he’s resting this holiday. But it would have been a lot better to end the insidious cycle sooner before he suffered so much.

If John’s story is resonating with you . . . if you’re in a role where your only reward for achieving more results with fewer resources is more work . . . if you’ve been so focused on being a “team player” that you’re ruining your mental and physical health . . . then go in after the break and have the hard conversation John eventually did.

But do it before you have holes in your stomach. Or worse.

This article was originally published on December 23, 2019

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