Less running metaphors and more leadership, please.

If working in your team is ”like a marathon”, you’re not doing it right.

This summer, when I became a part of Substack Grow, I set a goal of 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year. It may have been a lofty goal at the time, but here we are, rapidly closing in on it.

After publishing regularly during the fall, answering your emails, exchanging ideas, and saying hi to new and old friends, I’ve realized just how much stronger we are together.

With that realization comes a new goal: I want to grow this to 1,000 subscribers by the end of October. It’s within reach, but I need your help getting there.

Usually, I get physically nauseous when I have to ask people for help, so I tend to hide my request that you share this email all the way at the bottom, buried beneath so many words that most of you probably never see it.

If you enjoy or get value from FullStack HR, please help me reach 1,000 subscribers by the end of October by doing any of the following:

  • Forward this email to friends and ask them to subscribe;

  • Share it on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook with a short explanation;

  • Share it within your existing community or company Slacks.

Reaching that milestone shouldn't be hard. If we each contribute 0.25 new subscribers to the newsletter, we'll be there in no time! I’m sure you probably know at least one-fourth of someone that might be interested…

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Happy Thursday 👋!

My mission for FullStack HR – staying on top of what's happening within the leadership and HR space – remains unchanged. I still have this (perhaps naïve) idea that we all can create better workplaces together.

If you’ve been with me for a while now, you've probably noticed a pattern emerging where I mainly write two types of articles – bullish articles on the future of HR (technology) and pieces looking more deeply into a buzzword or saying.

Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary people – take a guess what type of article you’re getting today.

Yep, it's one from the latter category, focusing on a line that gets thrown around with good intentions. It's even often used to promote well-being in the workplace. It's a metaphor that you should take it slow and steady as opposed to running at a fast pace in short bursts (towards an imaginary wall).

I am, of course, talking about the oft-repeated maxim, "It's a marathon, not a sprint."

It implies we should not burn all our fuel at the same time, and I do understand why people throw it around so much. Mental well-being is an important topic, and its current trends are not heading in the right direction. In a recent study in Sweden, almost half of the surveyed people aged 19-49 said they suffer from anxiety and symptoms of burnout.

Last year, a Deloitte study found troublingly similar insights in a global survey with over 20,000 participants. Over 40% of respondents said they feel stressed or anxious most of their time at work.

Up to 80% of people will struggle with their mental health at some point in their lives.

I could probably go on and on with these studies, but you get my main point – mental health issues in the workplace are, unfortunately, very much real.

So, then, shouldn't the "It's a marathon, not a sprint" idea be a good thing then?

Yes – but also no.

If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know that it is a challenging endeavor. How challenging depends, of course, on your ambition and fitness level, but 26.2 miles / 42.2 kilometers still take their toll on you. After 18-20 miles / 28-30 kilometers, you’ll usually hit the infamous marathon wall. You bonk into it, discovering that your glycogen depots are empty. All you want to do is stop running (and a lot of people do). They either withdraw or, as most do, they start walking.

I know what you’re thinking: “OK, Mr. Seems-like-you-have-run-marathons-and-now-want-to-brag-about-it, what's the point of all this? Sure, I have ran marathons, but that's not why I'm writing this. I'm writing about the phrase because language matters.

When we say "It's a marathon, not a sprint" we mean well. We have good intentions, but we imply that you should keep running, which will end with you hitting that wall. It will just take a bit longer.

And that inevitability doesn't support mental well-being in the workplace, does it?

One big problem in organizations is that we don't provide a good cheat sheet for what your pace should be or, even worse, we constantly scream at you to run faster while also pointing in a completely different direction from where you were heading.

Surprisingly, sprints might actually be better for us as long as we rest up afterward. Sprint hard for a limited time and then rest – simple, right? I wish it were that easy to solve the issues we have with mental well-being, but it's obviously not.

But one way to get to a solution should be to drop the running analogies altogether and instead focus on other initiatives.

Like what?

Well, for example, having regular one-on-ones with our employees and daring to ask the hard questions about mental well-being or simply put, being decent human being and manager. After all, 60% of employees have never ever had that type of conversation with their managers, and a whopping 50% say they would give a reason other than their mental health if they had an issue. I mean, come on.

Is this the support we offer?

We need to do better.

Perhaps it's also time we ensure that our teams are appropriately staffed so their workload is more evenly balanced between people. People who are sick or need to care for someone close to them should be able to do so without coming back to an enormous backlog.

Shouldn’t we amp up our leaders, helping them perform their day-to-day tasks better by establishing clear visions and goals so they can act autonomously, with their team's well-being in mind?

Or maybe we should just stick with the "It's a marathon, not a sprint" mentality and make nice-looking LinkedIn posts on the 10th of October and then ignore mental health issues in the workplace the other 364 days of the year.