More than a third of surveyed field sales reps feel that work pressure negatively affects their mental health. We look at some causal factors, impact on business and what a culture that supports mental health requires.
What do we mean by ‘mental health’?
Mental health involves our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It’s influenced by various factors that affect our thinking, mood and behaviour. Mental health problems range from chronic conditions to situational or temporary states of mind that influence how we cope with stress, relate to others and make decisions.
We live in an era where experts talk about a global anxiety epidemic, but it’s important to emphasise that mental health issues vary in severity. Any pressured environment – especially one with deadlines and sales targets – can affect someone’s mood negatively, at least to some extent and for some period.
It’s also worth distinguishing positive stress from anxiety that negatively impacts mental health. The term eustress refers to ‘good stress’ that helps us stay motivated and goal orientated, providing us with a sense of purpose and happiness. However, when that spills over and starts to cause mental health symptoms, it needs proper management.
How could poor mental health among field sales professionals affect your business?
Our surveys among field sales reps in the UK and South Africa found that 35% of participants believe the pressure of their job negatively affects their mental health. A further 30% are unsure and can’t say for sure they’re not feeling that impact.
In South Africa, more than 40% of all workplace-related illnesses occur due to work-related stress. Workplace consultants Peldon Rose identify workplace related stress as an “increasingly significant issue within the UK’s workforce” that affects “employee happiness, wellbeing and productivity”.
In the UK, nearly half of all workers (48%) say they have taken a day off work for their mental health. A total of 12.5 million working days were lost in 2017 due to stress, at a cost of £6.5 billion to the UK economy. Most employees, across generations, highlight mental wellness as a more important concern to focus on than equality, sustainability and diversity.
How do we change sales culture to support mental health?
Of course, employees can obtain medical and other advice on how best to manage their mental health. But if the workplace itself is a major contributor to stress and anxiety, is it not wise for business leaders to take initiative and rethink conditions that lead to stress and burnout?
Renata Schoeman, psychiatrist and University of Stellenbosch associate professor in leadership, emphasises that managers have a major role to play in the well-being of their teams. “It’s critical to educate employees about mental health resources to avoid burnout, mental breakdowns and reduce suicide risk,” she says.
Don’t worry, though, you’re not expected to be both a sales manager and mental health expert! At Skynamo, for instance, we make use of an employee wellness programme available to our employees and their dependants with the help of CWS. And there are simple ways that managers can facilitate team wellness.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, ManpowerGroup’s Chief Talent Scientist, discussed the best ways to create a culture that supports mental health with Alan Kohll for a Forbes article on the subject. It comes down, he says, to ensuring that “people experience their jobs in a meaningful and purposeful way”.
This ties in with ClearCompany Co-Founder André Lavoie’s conclusion that a lack of clarity of goals and expectations leave employees confused and overwhelmed. He suggests greater transparency that will allow for clearer communication, as the solution. This allows managers to get the delicate balance between guidance and autonomy right. “If your team experiences support and independence, that you trust them to do what they ought to do while not leaving them without direction or feedback, they will generally be happier at work, which will reduce the risk of mental health problems,” says Chamorro-Premuzic.
What does this mean on a practical level?
It comes down to acquiring the right resources to create transparency within teams. You need tools that enhance communication so that goals and outcomes can be communicated in a clear, uncomplicated way between employees and managers.
Skynamo’s field sales app is an example of a resource that’s able to create transparency and transform the way managers and employees interact and operate. It’s an example of how technology can be used to relieve work stress through improved communication and automated processes.
“I no longer bug my reps with ‘negative’ questions”
“All our interactions were about me checking up on them, whether they were doing their jobs out there. I empathise with the challenging nature of a rep’s work and it felt like these ‘negative’ questions added to that pressure and created a feeling of distrust between us. Skynamo enabled me to be more involved in the field with my reps. I can help them navigate difficulties out there, coaching them from the back office while they visit customers. We retain our reps better, because we make their lives easier.” – Christoff Sonnekus, Sales Manager at Triangle Lubricants
Greater transparency improves rep manager relationships
“I’m able to pick up on shortfalls in execution or efficiency before reps communicate it to me. Reps are sometimes hesitant to admit to their managers that they are unsure about things. But I’m now able to initiate these conversations and help them get back on track again. I can be much more proactive as a sales manager and lead the difficult discussions, which is to my reps’ benefit. Skynamo brings more transparency to our sales team and company.” – Jannic Zietsman, Sales Manager at Lionel’s Vet Supplies
More transparency and greater trust within the sales team
“There is a greater willingness among staff to confide in management about things they are uncertain about or when unforeseen circumstances come about. The transparency brought about by Skynamo encourages everyone in the sales team to be more open and honest with each other and makes it easier for management to be more forthcoming, because of the trust that exists between them. Staff enjoy the freedom to tell us when they need to run personal errands, and we are able to take note of it in real-time and adjust schedules accordingly.” – Steve, Sales Director at Atlas Oil
What are the first steps you might need to take to change your sales culture to better support mental health?