Volume 106: Taking Care of Yourself

Hello All! Roy’s Director of Operations, Kalman Kreitman, checking in for this edition of our newsletter. I wanted to give Roy a break, and there’s a topic I wanted to talk about with an industry that typically doesn’t do a good job of it: taking care of yourself.

The Challenge:
The corrugated men and women we work with every day tend to be some of the toughest, best people out there. Y’all work longer hours than most, mostly on your feet or in a machine, to meet tough customer deadlines, to keep machines running, and to put out fires when they happen. Box plants are also not typically the coolest or most well-ventilated places either, which puts additional strain that y’all somehow fight through.

Bottom line: most of y’all are tougher than I could ever dream of being, which means you’re showing up to work, even on days you probably shouldn’t, you’re staying longer than you probably should, and you’re ignoring personal issues as they arise in order to get the job done. While admirable, that’s not a very healthy thing to sustain. So, let’s talk about three areas that we all need to take better care of ourselves.

Working Through Illness:
Now, COVID has had at least a little impact on this: facilities and companies have had to become a lot stricter and more sensitive to people coming to work sick and toughing it out, because the risk to coworkers is high. So, at least for now, a lot of people have had to stay home and get better before they can return to the facility.

This is a good thing!

Yes, you might lose a little money now if you’re out of sick time, but staying home, resting, drinking fluids, and getting healthy in a couple of days, instead of dragging the illness out because you didn’t take care of yourself, is just about always the right choice. You might think the facility just can’t run without you, but you’re wrong.

As a manager, sick employees are going to make mistakes at a higher rate, because their brains just can’t fully focus the way a healthy brain can. They’re going to get other employees sick, meaning even more juggling of schedules to cover people out or not working as effectively. It’s just long-term good business sense to not let sick people work until they’re healthy.

Working Too Long/Not Getting Enough Sleep:
In the same way that being ill can impact a person’s ability to work, sleep deprivation is just as much of a challenge for manufacturing environments, especially when something has gone wrong and all hands are on deck.

According to the team of doctors and experts at SleepFoundation.org, sleep deprivation is defined as “getting less than the needed amounts of sleep”, which they list as seven to nine hours per night for adults. So, I would ask, how many of you reading this get seven to nine hours of sleep every night? I certainly don’t.

The short-term results of sleep deprivation are staggering, though, and include slowed thinking, reduced attention span, worsened memory, poor decision-making, lack of energy, and mood changes. Put very simply, you cannot be as effective at work, or at anything else, if you aren’t getting enough sleep. If you’re a manager or an owner demanding hours that don’t allow people to rest and get enough sleep, you’re making your team less effective, which will cost you money.

On top of those immediate symptoms, there are terrifying potential long-term consequences to sleep deprivation and sleep deficiency, which include, but are not limited to, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, immunodeficiency, pain, and mental health challenges (let’s put a pin in this for just a second). Research would also indicate that people that are sleep deficient tend to consume more calories and carbohydrates, which is one of the reasons they tie sleep deprivation to obesity, as well.

Bottom line: you must, must, must take care of yourself and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. You are a danger to yourself and everyone around you until you do.

Ignoring Mental Illness (Warning: Discussion of Mental Illness and Suicide Ahead):
Finally, we have arrived at the elephant in the room. The topic everyone wants to sweep under the rug and ignore: Mental Health.

Let me make it even more uncomfortable: According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), in 2020, Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States (and that’s not COVID inflated, that ranking is pretty normal). Since corrugated is male-dominated, it’s relevant that men died by suicide 3.6 times more often than women in 2020. Since there are so many veterans in corrugated, it’s relevant that the suicide rate was 1.5 times higher for Vets than non-Veteran adults in 2020.

The AFSP estimated that 90 percent of those that died by suicide in 2020 had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death. And that is why it is so important for us to talk about mental health, even though it makes so many uncomfortable.

I know a lot of you are of the “I don’t care about your feelings” generation and group, but it’s also relevant that the highest suicide rates occur in the 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 age ranges. Look around, that’s where a lot of this industry lands. Not caring about your own feelings, or other people’s, is causing massive, and preventable, death. (AFSP did a poll that suggested that 93 percent of people believe suicide to be preventable.)

But there is good news: two in three people surveyed by the AFSP say that COVID has made them more empathetic to people struggling with mental health challenges, and half of people said they are more open to talking about mental health since COVID hit.

Hopefully, this means we can start to remove the stigma that surrounds mental health discussion. Those that suffer from depression, anxiety, or any of the many other mental health challenges that people face are not “weak” or any of that nonsense. They are sick, and they need help in the same way one does for a physical ailment like a broken bone, an autoimmune disorder, or cancer.

As an employer or manager, it’s often hard to know where the line is on how appropriate it is to address some of these mental health topics, and as a result, many just stay away from them entirely. Some genuinely don’t care and say it’s up to everyone to take care of themselves. But, even if you don’t care about your people’s well-being, let’s look at this: it’s estimated that suicide deaths and attempts in 2015 (the most recent year I could find data for) cost $69 Billion in work-loss and medical costs. That’s a lot of preventable expense, and again, people’s lives are on the line. We must find a way to have these discussions.

The point of all of this? Get help if you need it.

No one should have to feel ashamed or scared to ask for help. Find a trained medical professional. From my limited experience, most of them are available for remote sessions at this point, but talk to someone.

If you’re not ready to talk to a medical professional, talk to a friend, a family member, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) and talk to a volunteer, or hell, give the Oberg and Associates office a call and talk to me (I am not a mental health professional by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have two ears). We’re all in this together.

Bottom line: even if the mental health challenges we’re facing aren’t at the level that they’re leading to thoughts of suicide, depression and anxiety come with familiar symptoms like slowed thinking, lack of energy, and trouble concentrating and making decisions. So, again, even if the desire to see those around us do well and be healthy isn’t there, these sound like they might affect the quality of our work and our lives, so we should probably address them.

As I said, we’re all in this together.

I’m reminded of the warning that flight attendants give when they’re going over the safety features of the plane pre-flight: to always put your own mask on before helping others in the event the cabin loses pressure. Many parents struggle with this concept, as they want to get their kid protected first, but the reality is that if you pass out because you didn’t get your mask on, you can’t help your kid at all.

Taking care of yourself for work is very much the same. Whether it’s taking it a little easier when you’re physically ill and giving yourself a chance to heal, making sure you get enough sleep, or taking the, sometimes tough, steps to care for your mental health, you can’t help anyone else effectively until you’ve helped yourself. So, take care of yourself first, and you’d be surprised by what else you can accomplish.

As an employer or manager, making sure your people are taking care of themselves first is just the smart, and human, thing to do. Employees that are able to take care of themselves are able to keep up the productivity needed for the company to be successful at a much higher rate.

Thanks for allowing me to be a little part of your day and take care.

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