Control as a self-preservation mechanism

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In this series of columns we're asking HR professionals to help get the conversation going on HR's own mental health by sharing their personal experiences

As a typical ‘type A’ personality I thrive in pressured situations and like it most when I’m constantly on the go. I’m also a self-confessed control freak. However, when it starts to chip away at your mental wellbeing, you’ve got a problem.

I find that as HR professionals we advise on effective ways to work and manage wellbeing, but we’re not great at following that best practice ourselves. For me it got to a point where I was trying to do everything, be everywhere and support everyone, but that’s not sustainable.

If I could be involved in every little thing then it would keep me sane. Or so I thought. In fact doing that had the opposite effect. I wasn’t being effective with my time because I wasn’t allowing myself the mental space to process my thoughts. All that does is block your ability to think creatively. It also can’t have been easy on my team. I won’t have been empowering them to step up and take ownership of work, which conflicts with what I want them to be able to do.

The trouble with needing to have control is that it’s really hard to give it up. It’s not about having a lack of trust in others – I’ve got a really supportive and engaged team who are more than capable. Perhaps it’s more to do with the constant sense of urgency that is a type A trait. I would often multitask to be more ‘productive’, or schedule work in tightly because I feel a sense of achievement when I’m able to beat the clock. Or I would take on another project that I didn’t really have time for because I wanted to be involved.

But that bad habit of ‘it would be quicker if I just did it myself’ is misguided. Moving into a more strategic role, I realised I needed to change these habits if I wanted to put my best self forward.

What I’ve come to realise is that having a sense of control is my way of coping in stressful situations. At work I was functioning fine on the outside but I was working too hard, stretching myself too thin and it had an impact on my personal life. I would be so drained that by the weekend I would have no energy to do the things I love.

Naturally I would always overbook my free time too. It all became a bit overwhelming. I had to make the conscious decision to have some down time in my evenings and at the weekend, rather than running from one social engagement to another.

The toughest but by far the best thing I’ve learned is how to delegate. It means I can give more stretching work to my team, which gives them the chance to develop. It gives me a fantastic opportunity to take a high-level view that has opened up my perspective. I have far fewer sleepless nights because I’m not constantly ticking over every issue in my head. I can make more time for exercise, which is so important to me for both my physical and mental health.

In HR people are always looking to you for the answers, but that doesn’t mean you always have them or indeed should have them. Although this is something I’ve always had a level of self-awareness about, I’ve actively worked on it for the past 18 months. My instinct will be to try to take the reins when things get tough or busy. But what I try to do now is take a step back and get some perspective. Is it urgent and is it important? If the answer is 'no' it can wait or be delegated. It’s a continuous learning process for me, but it’s working.

Parysa Hosseini-Sech is head of human resources at Onecom

Further reading

Is HR neglecting its own mental health?

Dealing with a personal breakdown: One HRD's story

It's not weak to struggle with mental health, by Gary Cookson, founder and director of EPIC HR

Is HR consultancy the answer to the work/life balance challenge?, by Emily Perry, head of HR at The Shore Grou

HR's mental health: Letting people in is hard but necessary, by Annette Andrews, chief people officer at Lloyd's of London

Turning suffering into success, by Paul Carter, senior policy consultant at Civil Service Employee Policy

Would you be interested in sharing your experiences to help support other HR professionals? Please do get in touch with HR magazine if so on: jenny.roper@markallengroup.com

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