Guest post by Danielle Norris, Marketing Content Manager, Superhuman Prospecting
According to The National Survey of Drug Use and Health sales is the 11th top profession for depression and mental illness.
And in a recent survey by PayScale, 73% of respondents rated the Sales Account Manager role as “highly stressful,” ranking it second on their full list of stressful careers.
If you’re in sales, you’ve most likely experienced some sort of stress, anxiety, or mental burnout. Considered a “top performer?” Those statistics double as pressure to hit higher goals increases.
Results-based careers often rank at the top of these lists because of the constant pressure, lack of control, or unpredictable and long hours needed to find success. Which makes people performing in these roles more susceptible to experiencing things like anxiety, depression, and just overall mental burnout.
Of course, some stress can be considered beneficial – it works for the same reason incentives, commissions, and bonuses work. It drives activity towards a goal. In fact, many salespeople feel they benefit from a small push, as it enables them to achieve their full potential, securing better results for themselves and their company.
But when the market is down and sales feel scarce, people experience more negative stress-related issues. The fear of “what ifs” and not knowing how to be successful in a changing marketplace takes over, triggering long-term fight or flight type responses and chemical reactions within our bodies.
Add an unstable economy and a global pandemic into the mix and it’s a recipe for more intense mental and other health troubles.
Stress and Mental Health Effects
A report by the Framington Heart Study found stress may take a toll on the brain earlier in our lives, starting as young as 40.
The study, which links stress to long-term health problems, measured levels of certain hormones and chemicals in the participant’s blood. It concluded that those with the highest levels of the stress-related hormone, cortisol, performed more poorly on tests of memory, organization, visual perception, and attention, than those with lower levels.
Naturally, our system limits the amount of cortisol, hormones, and other chemicals our bodies produce. When we experience certain events or changes in mood or fear response, these levels spike and then fall back. Meaning that once our brain has communicated the perceived threat or moment has passed, our adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones return to normal levels.
With continuous stress, the brain feels like it’s still under attack from all the pressure, and our bodies aren’t given the chance to return to normal. Those hormones and chemicals are still being produced at higher levels.
This overexposure is linked to six leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide according to the American Psychological Association. Other symptoms can include heart disease, weight gain, sleep issues, digestive problems, headaches, and memory impairment.
The study also found that cortisol could damage the immune system and suppress the digestive system, the reproductive system, and other growth processes. Even worse, these higher cortisol levels are often found to be associated with physical changes in the brain, seen as precursors to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Stress could be affecting your entire body without you even realizing it.
Headaches, insomnia, irritability (and so much more) – can all be caused by stress, so it’s important to be aware and proactive about your mental health.
Breaking the Negative Cycle
According to The Oxford Handbook of Strategic Sales and Sales Management, sales reps who regularly experience high levels of stress “tend to be less involved in their jobs, less committed to the organization, and to experience lower levels of work and life satisfaction. So, if “stress in sales isn’t optional,” then what can we do as professionals to break the cycle?
Most experts agree that awareness is the number one tool in breaking out of a negative cycle. You may not be able to change your current situation, but you can take steps to manage the impact these events have on your mental health.
Are you constantly tired and overwhelmed?
Have a shorter temper than normal?
Ask yourself, “what is REALLY causing me to feel this way?”
Try to take an honest approach by diving deeper into the root causes.
Jeff Riseley the Founder of the Sales Health Alliance presented a survey to 160 salespeople last year, asking them to select the top 3 workplace events they felt impacted their mental health the most.
The number one result?
Micro-management by leadership with 50% of salespeople listing it as having one of the greatest impacts on their mental health.
Missing target was named second with 40.6% of respondents and working with unmotivated salespeople came in at third.
“Micro-management and missing targets frequently feed into each other. Together they can create a downward spiral that promotes and accelerates declining mental health.” – Sales Health Alliance
When a sales rep misses their target, they experience a decline in mental health. Leadership then has a choice – remedy the underperformance with positive coaching or put more pressure on the sales rep to succeed. While one style is obviously more effective, they both require a slight uptick in micro-management, which was noted in the survey to cause a slight mental health decline.
More Decline = More Missed Targets
Missed Targets = Decline in Mental Health
It becomes a never-ending cycle until the sales leader is forced to let them go for being demotivated or “not a good fit for the role.”
Directing employees to available mental health resources is a positive step, but what else can we do to make sure people feel heard, appreciated, and cared for.
Normalizing Mental Health Conversations
Have you seen the dancing guy? The lone guy dancing at a concert.
One by one, people start to join him. Soon, there is a large group dancing. It’s a movement. It’s now socially validated. People join because they won’t stand out and they won’t be ridiculed.
It takes major guts to be a first-follower. It’s an under appreciated role. In the breakdown of lone guy dancing, we understand that the first-follower transforms the entire situation. Turning a lone guy into a leader.
We can learn from this and apply the same concepts to make our world a better place by starting these necessary conversations.
Most people are affected by mental health issues at some point in their lifetime (one way or another), which means almost every workplace will have workers that experience these issues.
A 2019 study from Mental Health America (formally the National Mental Health Association) concluded:
- 55% of people were afraid to take a day off to attend to their mental health.
- 69% of people felt it was safer to remain silent about their workplace stress.
Although we are making progress, these numbers show how far we are from normalizing mental health conversations in the workplace. Studies show their managers that a direct correlation exists between an employee’s motivation, confidence, and pride.
The direct manager is often the employees’ direct connection with the company, their actions can either help to alleviate workplace circumstances or fuel more mental health challenges in the cycle mentioned earlier.
Direct managers can easily find themselves 1-on-1 with employees, offering the perfect opportunity to check-in and see how things are going. They often have the best relationships with the employees and can provide the safe space needed for the conversation.
Take a look at your team. What can you do to support and encourage those who are struggling? And on the other hand, what can you do to cheer on your team that is performing well?
It’s okay to feel a little vulnerable when speaking about mental health. Just remember, it’s not about having answers, but letting people know you are there to support them.
Building a Better Sales Community
Back to the lone guy dancing.
Think about the support he received. Just like the first-follower believed in the lone guy dancing, we need to believe in and support the people & communities around us who are starting these important conversations. Because the more you see a topic brought up, the safer it becomes.
Maybe you don’t have a safe space at work. Maybe you aren’t surrounding yourself with the right people. You need a safe space to connect that goes beyond the workplace and your home.
If you are active online, you should consider joining an online community where you can discuss topical interests with like-minded peers. These communities, think-tanks, or niched spaces exist for people to make deeper more meaningful connections and relationships.
It is important to remember you are not alone. If you are having trouble finding a community you feel safe in, check out some of my favorites listed below.
These communities often offer a safer environment to share and connect, especially about the struggles with the sales profession and mental health in general.
To start the conversation, I posted questions in these communities and to their community leaders, asking them to share their thoughts on mental health in the workplace and how they recharge or avoid extra stress and mental burnout. Here are some of the answer
Talking Mental Health in the Workplace
Kristen Shields – I think mental health conversations have gotten better in the workplace but it all comes down to your manager/management team. Unfortunately, I think we’ve all had those managers that look at any kind of emotion as a weakness. Sales is an ‘emotional’ job with extreme highs and lows. It’s so important to be able to be real and relate to others without fear of your job or retaliation. A good support system of other entrepreneurs and family systems helps tremendously!
Chaniqua (Nikki) Ivey – “It is so important to talk about burnout and make sure your sales reps know their value extends beyond their numbers. Cold calling and emailing can be difficult and is often lonely. Make sure you are giving your team the support they need to succeed.”
Amy Hrehovcik – The Paradigm is shifting on the mental health conversation.
If you want to ensure that competitive advantage for yourself and your team, the time to begin focusing on your mental health is NOW.
Chris Hatfield– “What happens if you say the wrong thing?
What happens if you don’t know the answer?
These are 2 questions that often stop us from supporting others with their mental health. It’s perfectly normal to think this. But the truth is, what most people want is for you just to listen.
We put a needless expectation on ourselves of thinking we always need the answers. You won’t always have the answers and that’s OK. But you can let that person know you’ll support them in finding them. Sometimes there isn’t an answer, you just need to hold space for that person.”
Catherine Robles – Many folks use work as an outlet or distraction when they live alone at home which can also lead to experiencing more mental burnout.
Sales by nature is a profession where mental health is at stake every single day. Rejections, quotas, everything about it adds stress to our day-to-day. We need to talk more about it and remove the “negative” label with it.
Scott Alan – I time block self-care with a level of importance equal to key sales calls and meetings with leaders. I am able to be honest with myself and often look ahead to an event that I know will be challenging and build in balance time before it. Each choice we make either pushes us more into balance or more out of balance. For me, when I have allowed that balance to shift too far off-center, depression, and feelings of “less than” flow easily through my mind. I need to work hard to guard the thoughts that enter my mind and have to process the negative energy quickly and effectively. If anyone who is reading this is struggling, I’m here to help you.
Shawn Lacagnina – Everyone is “stressed”, “exhausted”, “anxious” … about something in today’s environment. Covid. Economy. LockDowns. Job. Family. Politics. Virtual. There is enough to go around. Add personal issues to the mix and recent events in DC are really not a surprise, not to mention a disagreement that erupts at work or Walmart! Sales professionals are typically Drivers & Influencers on the DISC profile. When stressed, they can quickly become seen as demanding, intimidating, bossy, or even rude. The sales pro is simply trying to execute as quickly as possible so they can move on to the next item on the list. Communication skills become taken for granted with little regard for the other person’s stress level. And the cycle continues.
Changing Your Mindset & Behaviors
Jeff Bajorek – “It’s tough to take real vacations right now because travel is so restricted. Staycations are only so valuable because your distractions are still everywhere around you. Try sending your tech on vacation.
Put your phone, your laptop, etc in a duffle bag and ask a friend or a neighbor to hold onto it for the weekend. You have no choice but to disconnect, and you’ll probably reconnect with some things that make you feel good because you’re home without the distractions of work!”
Daniel Perruzzo –“I think it’s paramount to talk about mental health, especially in today’s climate. The stressors are dinging us from all directions. We are talking life and death in some cases; compounded with the stress to perform, produce and put on a brave face at work, it can be crippling.
My advice for maximum success during these times (in and out of the office) is to own your mind, get a fresh perspective, and never stop moving forward.”
Larry Long Jr.– “Taking care of your mind, body, and soul is paramount and key to success – especially in today’s climate. Our sales community is filled with constant go-getters and the pressures can add up fast. We must remember to practice self-care and give ourselves the self-compassion we deserve. Take care of yourself first.”
Vince Fowler – As a society, we need to normalize asking for help. I recharge with very specific practices. Full disclosure, I was diagnosed with PTSD due to my military deployment to Somalia and some good ole childhood traumas. I’ve worked very diligently to figure out what works for me;
- Daily Exercise
- Meditation & Breathing exercises
- Proper nutrition helps
- Getting help from a psych team and being an active participant
- Play. Doesn’t matter what or how, just play… especially without a scoreboard
Jen Ferguson – “You have to control your mindset to find success in sales. Keep yourself off the emotional roller by practicing healthy daily habits and focusing on the things in your control.
It is important to remember that you are not alone. Join a sales community or find tools and resources that can help you cope. Everyone is different, so figure out what works the best for you and stay consistent.”
Mike Simmons – Things that help me with mindset – sleep (although I don’t get enough of it), time in the gym, and audible books, music, and golf. The key is knowing which tool to apply at the right time. Sometimes you just need to take a nap – do it. The rest will do you good.