Yes, I’m fine, how are you? Said all men everywhere…

That drive to impress, that always on and always willing to please nature in a lot of us, hides a sleeping giant of an issue we ‘just’ brush under the carpet and pass off as part of the job. And yet, these days, more men are suffering from anxiety, mental & physical health issues brought…

An image of Andrew Minton smiling whilst out on his bike.

As a 45 year old male, who’s owned a business, sold it, worked my ass off, missed enjoyment of holidays, sapped weekends due to work commitments and downright overworked in general, it’s hard to come to the realisation that my mental health has suffered over the past 10-15 years.

That drive to impress, that always on and always willing to please nature in a lot of us, hides a sleeping giant of an issue we ‘just’ brush under the carpet and pass off as part of the job. And yet, these days, more men are suffering from anxiety, mental & physical health issues brought on by the stresses of work and workload. Cases of complete and utter breakdowns causing dramatic shifts in emotional responses and irrational behaviours are paramount. More people than ever before are evaluating their career choices and lifestyle decisions brought on by mental health related issues and we definitely need to talk more openly about it. 

Maybe it’s due to us having gone through a global pandemic, but maybe it’s due to many of us having the actual time to reflect on what’s more important in our lives than ‘the grind’. This lack of human connection and isolation has led us all to re-evaluate what we really want to do for the rest of our days and what makes us truly happy?

Stop, I want to get off!

Hi I’m Andrew, and I’m a recovering workaholic!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been driven to learn new things, to innovate, play and find ways of bridging cool ideas of tech and design and smashing them together in a bid to make something new. Staying up till 3-4am in the hope of cracking that cool thing I’ve been itching to figure out. All in the pursuit of solving it myself as the daytime tasks, roles and responsibilities as a head of department (at the time) at a respected agency, didn’t seem to afford the time (my own doing I’d say) to play. 

Forgetting to widen the lens, and get out of my own way took its toll eventually. 

When you’re the sales person, lead creative, senior developer, account handler and project manager, you won’t be seeing the end of the day till 12 – 2am most days. How does this sort of ‘just’ happen? How often are we over stretched and no one notices?

One in two people leave creative jobs for new challenges due to mental health and stress. Let that sink in.

We often hide our innermost fears around disappointing colleagues or bosses and just accept the challenge with limited understanding of the consequences of always saying yes out of fear you’ll never be asked again. If all of this or even some of this rings true with many of you reading this, we need to talk more about it, fact.

Are we pressured to please for the wrong reasons? Is there a better way of sharing our fears around deliverables, tasks, skill gaps or impostor syndrome, anxieties and exhaustion from that ‘always on’ treadmill mentality of expectation from modern businesses.

The, “I can do this”, male bravado rears its head more often than we’d like to admit these days. That macho drive to be the one to stay up late and get shit done, to be showered with praise for pulling an all nighter?? What other industry permits this kind of activity without a sense check on safety, mental wellbeing and legality? The all-nighter is synonymous with creative agency pitching, free pitching I might add, but does it always have to be this way? There have been so many all nighters on speculative pitches that I recall where we were at risk of endangering our own safety from my perspective… Not good by any stretch.

The stats make pretty damning reading:

  • 98% of respondents are not paid for the overtime they work
  • 85% have to work ‘crunch’ – periods of intensive overtime before deadlines
  • 60% have to work over 10 hours overtime a week during crunch — some as many as 25 to 30 hours per week
  • 60% feel that they work too much
  • 65% say that working crunch has impacted their health

Who checks in on the managers? 

When you’re in the position of managing a team, you’re responsible for the well being, duty of care and workload of creative and technical individuals. But with all these flat structured businesses communicating their new way of working, who checks in on the managers? At Virgin, Richard Branson adopted the approach that everyone was responsible for their own time and annual leave. i.e. You can take as much time off as you want, as long as you get your work done…..

What do you suppose happened in that scenario? Everyone flies to a far off island for 6 weeks and chills, safe in the knowledge they crammed all their work into a few weeks and nailed it? No! We’re mostly procrastinators in the creative sector… waiting for our muse to arrive at the very last moment and inspire us over the line at the 11th hour. So, no, we mostly ‘just keep grinding’.  The real outcome isn’t fully understood, but research points to managers and employees taking less time off as they feared the consequences of leaving work incomplete.

Six pros and Cons to an unlimited holiday policy.

The work will always be there when you return, so why worry? Because more often than not, your job is at stake if work isn’t delivered. Don’t deliver and that toxic disappointment follows you around. If you’re the last line of defence, the buck stopper, or in a position of authority, when on god’s green earth is it the right time to take annual leave? I often found myself banking upwards of 50 days of untaken leave annually due to working weekends, late nights missed holidays due to illnesses in the team and no knowledge or replacement to step in to pick up the slack. All this leads to a downwards spiral of many things; Health, Relationships, Family, Social interaction or lack thereof and the belief within yourself that you’re shit at what you do.

This attitude will only prolong the myth that [crunch] aids productivity, when in fact all it does is crucify morale.

Is Burnout Inevitable in the Creative Industries?

How do you ask for help and no one’s home?

Symptoms of a fast growing agency? Or lack of insight into what’s really going on within the ranks of operation managers to even realise there are bigger problems than actual billable work to think about. As an individual, I take pride in being a problem solver, with a can do attitude and a people pleaser to boot! The fact that I’m a man is irrelevant here, but the raising of the subject and conversations around the wellbeing of 50% of the human population who have shy emotion syndrome means we really do need to get in touch with our emotional side more. It’s hard to fathom that I didn’t check in on myself when I was checking in on others regularly. Asking yourself for help feels wrong and more often than not the warning signs are too little too late.. Bottle of wine several times a week, anyone? The pandemic saw a lot of us Brits embrace that 3 month holiday mindset a bit too much I’m sure, up till 3am thinking the Mac or PC has the answer to all the creative, technical and personnel challenges I faced on a daily basis. To admit now, that I needed help seems stupid. I absolutely needed an intervention to take the problems away and ‘sack it all off’ for 6 months doing naff all! 

Stress manifests itself in many different ways, the brain fog, excessive consumption of substances to quieten the mind, irrational and aggressive snappy behaviour towards others while a polite response would easily have been adopted and welcomed.. But no. Crisis mode arrived and all hell broke loose. Leaving the house at 6am to get an early train and be the first person in the office to get some quiet time and get work done, before the chaos and business of that day had started. Copious amounts of coffee fuelling my upright existence, screening calls, putting phone on silent, skipping meetings, making downright stupid excuses as to why you weren’t able to attend meetings at the last minute. Towards the end of my tenure at the agency, I resorted to  switching off all emails completely and ended up having an out of office message that stated I only look at my emails early morning from 8:30/9:30am and 4pm respectively to allow me time to actually do my job. 

An extreme reaction at the time, but something I’ve started to adopt today.. So win win on that front haha! There is order out of chaos after all.

I just need to…..

Now that’s a never ending phrase that sticks with me.. When you feel that your work is never done, you bring it home and utter those words… I just need to…

I’ve often found myself reeling off this excuse to get back and solve that ‘one thing’ that’s bugging me that I didn’t get to in the day, or over stretched on meetings meant I never had time to ‘lean in’ to that piece of the puzzle that needed to be solved. Wanting to be the one with all the answers is tiring, and that’s what ultimately broke me.

Sack it all off and let’s go ride our bikes! 

Throughout all of this time, there have been three saving graces surrounding me that have helped turn the table on how I and now a thriving team approach a balance of work and play at my new venture Yellow Sub. What started as a way to switch off and defrag the day, has grown into a love of the outdoors and the pursuit of the next challenge. Riding a bike does many things for your body and soul. It nourishes you with endorphins, provides some much needed stimulus away from a pc or mac, gives you a different tribe to run with.. Those that may not be in the creative sector who look from the outside in and question why the hell you’d choose to put yourself through that every week have a point!

I left the agency in October 2019 and since then have been building back to me. Regular solo and group rides to new locations that spark interest, to familiar places with a sense of fun and on the edge of danger through downhill mountain biking. There’s something about riding blind (experiencing a new trail for the first time, without having ridden it before) which makes you feel alive, on edge and entering a sort of survival mode with a safety net. This thrill seeking aspect to riding bikes coupled with the sense of wonder for nature, our green spaces and the well being of us all has changed the way I see exercise. It was never about getting physically fit, I’m 45 eat like a pig and still a 10.5st string bean, so no arguments there. But what getting on a bike does is challenge your own self. I found myself in the early stages of finding myself again fighting against the doubtful demons in my own head.. You can’t do this, your shit! These hills are too steep, it’s too far, you’ll never make it. Don’t look up to the top, you’ll give up and start pushing!!  But I cracked those demons! I fought those hills and can confidently say I smashed it.

Getting out of your own way…

There’s so much to unpack around this subject and we’re not going to be able to cover it all here, but my takeaways from my experiences around ‘burn out’ and getting back to me will hopefully resonate with people.

1. Mindset

Mindset is everything. Mentally preparing yourself for a physical challenge and building the muscle memory to cope with what the outdoors can throw at you, transfers neatly into daily work practices. Mindset and clear goals with accountability among peers, provides an externalised plan to which you are now beholden to the eyes and ears of your peers! It works. Not disappointing your work colleagues and business partners holds a certain level of responsibility and support network to get shit done.

2. Family & Friends

The second saving grace is family. That seeming nag to down tools and function in a normal relationship can not be underestimated. No matter how much those grating voices shout with negativity, it’s not them, it’s you. Listen to the signs and the reality check being presented to you. Turn off, tune in and veg out, our bodies need it.

3. Time

Thirdly is time, recognising there are no overnight solutions or fixes to these kinds of things. It’s a process, and 24 months on, there are still spells where the mood dips, the doubt sets in and the mind fights itself to win you into sinking into the couch and wishing it all just went away. Well sorry doubt, you lose, because time really does heal. Surround yourself with people that bring you positivity, face the fear of something new even though your mind is tricking you into sacking it off again, and take little steps not big leaps towards switching off. Over time, these emotions begin to fade and you recognise the triggers before they manifest themselves. Time heals when you’re having fun :P

Not a sausage factory.

Look after your people and they will ultimately look after you. I truly believe this and it’s something I’ve tried to adhere to wherever I go. If you work for or own a business where the progression, well being and development of your team is taken seriously, the rest will take care of itself. In building a team during a pandemic, you find what people are truly made of and also what they truly need to succeed. Being part of a business that has B Corp status means we’re accountable to our people and the planet before profit. That includes management and directors. It means we’re now taking the well being and mental health of ourselves and our staff above all other concerns. Our people define us, they are Yellow Sub. Each and every one of our team has opted to lean in and live life yellow, to fly the banner of opportunity and advocate for our approach to new recruits and we’re loving it. Re-imagining how businesses operate and attract talent is at the heart of our very existence. It’s a process, not perfect, but we’re iterating through regular feedback from our staff and crew, learning and implementing means to improve our business journey as a whole.

Embrace discomfort!

So… to conclude, I’m fine. Ask again? Yes, I really am fine. I exercise 3-4 times a week, walk my dog and breathe in that fresh Welsh air every morning and evening, find plenty of time to play and create, check myself daily for what I need mentally and physically

My anxiety levels have dropped significantly but they never go away. It’s simply about identifying when and what triggers the onset of an anxious feeling or wave of worry that comes over you. Recognising it is the first step. Finding what works for you to reduce and overcome those feelings, is an individual journey and there are no hard and fast rules. Depending on the day job, a good thing to do is the polar opposite in terms of tasks to what you do for a living.. If you write a lot or are faced with an excess amount of screen time, get outside, go talk to actual people, treat yourself to a low energy walk and enjoy the outdoors… [do the opposite on the spectrum to gain perspective]. If you’ve been speaking with people on phones most of the day. Down tools, read a book, meditate or listen to music with your eyes closed. Shut off the parts of the brain that have been overactive all this time, be like a Dolphin :P find your flow and get back to you.

Thanks for reading this ramble, it’s not often we share our innermost fears with the world. This Men’s Health Week is about ‘talking’ and ‘sharing’ our experiences with others to help spread the message and spark further conversations. We’re not invincible, we’re human, so I look forward to getting back to me as well as reading about the new and hopefully improved, more balanced and mindful you.

Andrew Minton

Creative, Director, Human

Further Reading:

Investing in grass roots creative industries.

A 23 yr old contemplating leaving the creative industry

2023 Outlook on Creative Sector

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