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The keys to ensuring good mental health

Written by: Toni Hall is director of Penna Public Sector Executive Interim
Published on: 13 May 2021

I had a call this morning with an interim manager who was obviously feeling very low. It’s been four months since they were on assignment, and the phone hasn’t rung with a new role for a few weeks. Previous interim roles they had been called about fell through at the last minute. They had also received no feedback about a couple of roles they had interviewed for. It doesn’t take long for this dejection to fester in the mind when there is too much time to think! Inevitably this can affect our networks’ mental health.

An executive recruiter’s role has many strands. Filling vacancies is the tip of the iceberg. We are a professional friend, a career coach, a mentor, and a therapist too. It’s the biggest privilege of the role. We would have these conversations frequently even before the pandemic hit. But it’s been noticeable over the surreal year we have all had, how many conversations have focused on helping people to maintain a semblance of sanity.

You don’t need to be an interim manager to know that lengthy gaps between employment can be challenging for our mental health. The feelings of ‘is it me?’ can rise to the surface. Numerous rejections after interviews following a flourishing career can compound feelings of worthlessness. Add in other factors such as worries about not being able to pay the mortgage and loneliness, or a sense of not belonging, and the mental health spiral gathers speed…

At Penna we felt it was important to offer our interim network the opportunity to attend and participate in a mental health webinar (the first of a series) in partnership with the Inclusion Initiative. A heavily subscribed session, we asked them what makes them feel stressed or the things that affect their mental health.

Trying to secure their next assignment, and the gaps between roles was top of the list. Being expected to be on their ‘A game’ constantly – no ‘off days’ allowed because they are perceived as highly paid and every minute of that day rate is expected to count. Working with individuals who manage by ‘presenteeism’ rather than results added to stress. Some reported a major strain is a client having unrealistic time expectations or a lack of understanding of the complexity of the challenge afoot in the timescale expected. Interviewing for numerous roles and not being appointed, or getting no feedback at all has added to feelings of worthlessness. This list is not exhaustive, but it has all impacted on an interim manager’s mental health.

We used the session to then discuss what tips our network could share with each other.

Exercise, going out for walks, and taking breaks was top of the list. When on assignment, setting out a clear – deliverable – plan and managing that with their client was another popular solution.

Many found it was important during lengthy assignment gaps to keep a structure to their weeks. Getting dressed properly; setting to-do lists each day, or a set of goals for the week and sticking to them; and participating in webinars or attending conferences or learning sessions (pre-pandemic) was advised as a way of still feeling part of something. During the pandemic, setting up virtual coffee mornings with a trusted peer, and planning in meetings with head-hunters to keep abreast of the market can be invaluable. Undertaking a course or professional qualification that you’ve never had the time for was another, to keep up with professional development and remain up to date with current trends. Asking for advice on a CV refresh also helped some, or asking a trusted recruiter for interview training. One person suggested writing down all of your achievements from your recent past, to remind yourself of how you’ve thrived before.

All this contributes to ensuring a sense of purpose, maintaining a sense of wellbeing, and keeping mental health in check.

After ten years as an executive interim recruiter, the one tip I have always strongly advised for those between assignments is to keep a structured week. I’ve seen for myself what a huge difference it can make to someone’s sense of wellbeing. And to also remember that if you do all the right things; keeping in touch with your network, knocking on doors, being visible, and working with the right recruitment businesses, things always get better.

Executive interims do incredible work on assignment, on the frontline of many key services. Our door is open to all in our network for a confidential conversation about anything that’s on your mind.

If you are an interim manager and need support, feel free to contact us.

Toni Hall is director of Penna Public Sector Executive Interim