Boys, Girls & taking care of business…

A useful thing to note is that while I’m writing a blog surrounding my life as ‘The Bipolar Businessman’ the chaps are not the only ones suffering in this area of mental health…

Both males and females are equally at risk of issues surrounding mental health, depression and anxiety and it’s important that we’re aware of anyone within our businesses that may potentially show cause for concern.

I started this blog originally because around only 19% of men who actually have a mental health disorder, come forward to try and seek help or advice, and still fewer of that 19% actually put their name to it, so most remain anonymous. The shocking thing is, that the female statistic is only around 29% which means in both the male and female categories we’re still seeing that around 70-80% of people with a mental health issue will not seek help or maybe don’t even know how to.

A staggering 45% of mental health issues surrounding depression and anxiety are actually caused or develop because of people’s working environments and work lifestyles, that means nearly half of the mental health issues in the UK to date could potentially be remedied if companies were to employ steps to make a change!

The statistic in 2009 was that 1 in 6 workers is experiencing depression, anxiety or stress at a cost of approximately £26 billion to the UK economy, or around £1,035 per employee (a statistic from the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2007).

This means that mental health at work is a pretty significant problem, yet we still, as a nation, take this stiff upper lip/elephant in the room approach, meaning that the costs spiral for individuals and businesses.

My focus as an individual is to create awareness of the issues, share my story (to give an indication of where others might have come from, or what they might be dealing with) and to help companies both large and small to remedy the issues, at least to a degree, in implementing changes & policies that aid their staff development long term.

A study by Mind indicated the following divisions to consider are: What the Government can do, what your average employer should do, what your large scale employer should do and what the Owners/Managers of SME’s should do and in these four groups there are some areas to focus on below:

The Government should:

• explore financial incentives to encourage employers to prioritise mental health awareness and support at work – such as a feedback incentive loop where insurance premiums would be lower if employers had good mental health training for management in place

• keep the current tax-exempt status of employee assistance programmes (EAPs) as welfare counselling to encourage employers to provide EAPs, which act as support and prevention services for mental ill health

• research and evaluate extending tax reliefs or reductions for a range of employer-funded interventions that promote mental wellbeing, and ensure exemptions are applied and publicised consistently by HMRC and other agencies engaging with employers, such as Business Link

• explore how to improve GPs’ use of the fit note – for example, by increasing the amount and quality of compulsory occupational medicine training available at medical school and as ‘refresher’ modules and by working with the Royal College of GPs to raise awareness of best practice

• along with organisations such as Mind etc. consider the specific needs of different sizes and sectors of business and ensure recommendations and resources are tailored to a range of needs

• ensure sustainable provision of occupational health support for small and medium-sized employers (SMEs) at local level – for example, by implementing the NHS Wellbeing Task and Finish Group’s recommendation for NHS occupational health to provide spill-over services for local businesses.

All employers should:

• build relationships with local GPs or charities in order to improve their awareness of workplace environments and appropriate adjustments, by inviting GPs and charities into their business or visiting GP surgeries/charity offices

• make it their policy to talk with staff before they see a GP in order to explore possible workplace adjustments to discuss at their GP appointment

• incorporate safeguarding mental wellbeing into change-management processes and during other challenging periods – for example, through training from the leadership level down, proactively offering additional support to staff, or simply leading by example – as appropriate to the business; safety net support such as occupational health and EAPs should also be built in where possible

• take steps to create an open, supportive workplace environment and facilitate disclosure of mental ill health – for example, by raising awareness of mental health among staff, introducing mental health champions or buddy systems, or ensuring regular ‘temperature checks’ are built into management practice to open up dialogue – as appropriate for their business

• have a communications policy for staff absent through ill health which balances semi-regular contact to provide reassurance while not placing pressure on staff to return to work prematurely; where possible, frequency of contact should be discussed, tailored and agreed with individual employees.

• move from a default performance management approach to a more flexible ‘well conversation’ model, which focuses on employees’ capacity rather than incapacity, to avoid adversarial situations from developing, and provides a case-by-case response to each employee’s strengths and needs

• introduce and promote an EAP – SMEs can explore pooling resources in a local area to share the costs, supported by groups such as local Chambers of Commerce. At a minimum, employers should be aware of and able to signpost employees to appropriate sources of independent and confidential advice, such as the Mind infoline, local Mind or Citizens Advice Bureau.

Large employers should:

• prioritise employee mental health as a boardroom issue – on a par with physical health; this should include regular monitoring of progress or issues by senior leadership, reporting back to the board

• include details of proactive management of psychological health in their public reporting data, in line with Business in the Community’s public reporting guidelines

• ensure supporting mental well-being is embedded in management practice by facilitating regular supervision and appraisal, in line with the best practice outlined in Mind’s employers’ guide (2010)

• introduce, where possible, comprehensive, mandatory mental health awareness and management training for line managers and embed this into learning and development plans, using models like Business in the Community’s ‘Managing emotional well-being – Building team resilience’

• ensure line managers are central to absence management and trained to work in partnership with human resources, occupational health or legal colleagues, to provide a person-centred, rather than procedure-led, risk-based approach

• train line managers in making referrals to their EAP and evaluate their occupational health provision to ensure it plays an integral role in prevention and proactive absence management.

Owner/managers of SMEs should:

• promote positive mental health with staff, keep levels of employee health and well-being under regular review and report this to investors, lenders and/or partners as appropriate

• ensure they demonstrate positive management behaviours, hold regular reviews with staff to explore issues or development needs, and follow the simple steps to good management of mental well-being outlined in the Mind and FSB guide

Now if you’re NOT employing some of the elements of the above I hope that this indicator will provide some detail as to the types of things that you should be looking at across your business, regardless of size and scale.

Some of these elements since the reports from the above were established have been put into play, specifically on a government front and we’re becoming better supported by the current government and the Royal families Foundation, lead by Princes William & Harry to highlight potential stigma and implement change.

A colleague of mind Chris Cummings, through an initiative I’m involved with called Minds@Work, has asked me to speak at an event that he runs called Well-Being at Work

There will be one event in Edinburgh on the 26th April 2016 and another in London on the 19th October 2016, so do take a look at the link above for details on that, because it will act as a useful opportunity for you to explore what we’re talking about.

If you’d like to get involved in either of those events either from a sponsorship perspective, simply attending with your colleagues, or even rolling your sleeves up and helping to set up bits and pieces on the day, then please do contact Chris direct on chris.cummings@wellbeingatworkevent.com

Fundamentally we can all be doing something, it’s just about that one thing you might be able to do to improve a persons day to day lifestyle, especially if we look bag at that staggering 45% statistic at the top of this post.

What could you be doing to highlight/remedy the issues within your business?

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The Sunday Spot – 27th March

Every Sunday I will drop the businessman in me and put down a piece of fiction… This could be something you enjoy yourself for a bit of escapism, or just read the kids before bed…

Darklands – Journey for Freedom (One of The Questor Chronicles – by Thomas Duncan Bell)

Chapter 2

A Newfound Friend

With the death of their father still filling their hearts with torment and fear they had to stop. It had grown too dark for them to continue travelling by the light of the moon and Samuel had decided it was time to find shelter. This came in the form of a makeshift tent, made from the bristling crooked branches of fallen trees, held together with vine and shrub, from the matted undergrowth around where the boys stood. Samuel did the best he could, but the awkward form of his creation was barely wind tight as the boys, exhausted, scared and beaten by the elements, had settled down to spend the night.

Once again the brothers woke to find themselves in what felt like a strange yet familiar place. The area was vibrant with colour; a cacophony of pinks, yellows, crimson and lilac lead their eyes astray, while the shrill sounds of the forest were alive in their ears, as the boys set about foraging for food. Their father had taught them to feed themselves in the woodland as part of their training, so they were not un-experienced when it came to seeking out sustenance when provisions were sparse; though it seemed very different without the voice of their father to guide them. William had clambered nimbly up a small tree and began picking fruit, while Samuel pulled up mushrooms and gently broke up bits of fallen tree bark to find grubs, a simple but effective substitute for protein. Together the brothers gathered dried wood and grass for kindling, carefully arranging it in the circular centre of some mossy rocks they’d arranged, before Samuel, striking a small piece of flint against his shimmering knife blade, expertly managed to induce a fire. William took his brothers knife and began to segment the fruit into smaller pieces; then the boys mixed it with the mushrooms, berries and grubs that Samuel had gathered, wrapped it tight in to packets of woven leaves and then used these as parcels, to shield their breakfast as they placed it upon the fire to simmer.

After a short term in the glistening heat, a fruity scent filled the air and the soft aroma of the earthy mushroom made the boys mouths water at the thought of the meal to ensue. After very swiftly finishing, each, their entire portion, the two brothers were unsure of what to do next; they were alone for the first time in their lives, with no home and no one to aid them.  “Where do you think those men took our mother and the people of our village?” said William; hoping that his older brother would be able to provide the answer. “I don’t know little brother. They took everyone in those cages away to the north maybe even as far as the Darklands.” Samuel replied.

The Darklands were a place of myth and legend to humble people, like those of the brother’s village. This was a place of adventure and destruction alike, where many a fierce warrior who set forth on the road into the foul realm beyond the northern blockades, never returned.

“What are we going to do?” William chimed on, again hoping that Samuel would be able to offer some sort of solution. “What if they harm them?” he continued. “We must aid them” Samuel started. “We will follow the carriage tracks in the earth as far as we can and continue onward from there” he said, rising to his feet. “But what if it’s dangerous?” said his younger brother, trying hard for his sentence not to sound too wobbly as he delivered it. “We have each other William. We must stick together and keep our courage about us. We will find mother and the villagers and what’s more we’ll free them, no matter who or what stands in our way!” William; renewed by Samuel’s spirit, got to his feet, picked up a few rounded stones from the campfire side and put them in his pocket. Then, clutching his sling tight in one hand, the other one white as he stood with fist clenched, in a state of pure readiness, he took one long look at his brother and the two began to stride forth with conviction into the brush. Without truly knowing what they were facing, the boys knew only one thing; they must protect the people that they cared about. Their mother and the villagers must be set free and the brothers felt in their hearts, that their journey had begun.

They began to find their way through the trees, to the winding road that led on from the north side of the village. After a while of walking through prickling undergrowth and densely packed branches at the bases of the trees of the wood, they found what they were searching for. Along the road as they drew closer, the boys could make out that the wagons had left tracks inset deep into the earth along its centre and they began to follow these slowly, constantly aware of anything around them that might seem odd or out of the ordinary. The tracks of the wagons had soon enough begun to draw faint as the road became partially cobbled and the boys saw a bridge stretching forth across a winding river. Neither of them had been this far away from home before, but they knew that they must continue onward if they were ever to find their kinsmen or their mother again.

When they reached the bridge the tracks had finally disappeared completely, as if someone had just washed them away and the pair decided that the men must have continued onwards over the bridge as the path drew far north into the distance, so they decided to cross. All of a sudden and no sooner had Samuel set one foot onto the structure, a strange little ‘gnome like’ figure sprung up, out of a small trapdoor at its centre. The boys stayed where they were, dead still, though both seemed visibly nervous at the unexpected appearance of the queer being, now standing before them. Without considering his father’s sword laced tight across his back, Samuel slowly began to draw his dagger from its sheathe, while William, still clutching his sling tight, slid his other hand down,  drawing a stone cautiously from his pocket and adding it to the weapons pouch, ready to loose.

The figure was about two feet tall, with orange scaly skin much like that of a snake or lizard. He had bright purple eyes that shone skittishly in the daylight and skipped around like marbles as they enter a fray. He also wore a smile that stretched from what must have been cheek to cheek and curled up slightly at each side giving the boys the impression that this creature was not necessarily to be trusted. He wore what appeared to be a black merchant’s cap with a tassel at its centre and a short grey dressing gown with a thick brown suede belt around his podgy little waistline. The ‘gnome like’ figure was carrying in one hand what seemed like the skeleton of a fish, which he used to awkwardly comb bristly tufts of hair that crept from beneath his cap at either side and attached to his belt was a pale leather sheathe containing a small blade, not much bigger than Samuels knife, yet looked more like a sword in the company of the odd little man. “Hello smello’s!” he cried, as his eyes roved around, seemingly scanning as much of the boys as he could manage. “You can put those away, there’s no need to be afraid of old Bindlebob!” he continued. “Who are you?” asked Samuel, still clutching his knife tight with one hand. “I told you silly. My name is Bindlebob!” replied the creature. “And what are you doing here?” said William, trembling slightly with nerves at the thought that this new presence might be a foe. “No need to be scared little one, I am the keeper of the bridge, the bridge riddler! People can only pass this way to the north with my permission!” “May we have your permission?” asked Samuel steadily trying to hold his nerve. “Nope! Sorry, can’t let you go unless you answer a riddle!” replied Bindlebob, almost confused that they hadn’t grasped the concept sooner. “Those are the rules you know!” “What kind of riddle?” asked William. “Well, the riddled kind of course!” said Bindlebob, skipping from one foot to the other in a sort or merry jig, clearly excited by the prospect of his game to commence. “Are you ready to begin? I haven’t done this in such a long time.” “Well if we must, then we must.” said Samuel, putting his knife away carefully back into its’ sheathe, which seemed to relax his brother. “Very well” said Bindlebob, “here we go!” “What goes up, seldom comes down, wear’s lots of green and in the winter brown?” he chanted. “That’s an easy one!” said Samuel, slightly puzzled as to why the riddle hadn’t been harder. “What is it then clever clogs?” cackled Bindlebob, visibly un-nerved that Samuel might actually have the answer. “Well it’s a tree of course!” announced Samuel with a smile. “What!” cried Bindlebob. “How did you guess? How did you guess?” “May we go now little man?” asked William. “No you may not; and I’m not a little man, I’m a hobgoblin and no one ever guesses my riddles, best two out of three!” Samuel, still glowing slightly from his previously swift triumph over the first riddle, was feeling rather confident. “Go on.” he said, winking at his brother. “Very well then, but you’ll be sorry, this one is much harder.” said Bindlebob. “In water I sink, on dry land I rest, in structure or shelter, my kind are the best.” “That’s a stone!” said William without hesitation, excited at the idea he’d managed to match his brother by guessing this one. “What?!” screeched Bindlebob again, still hopelessly shocked that his riddles seemed like nothing more than a joke to the two boys. “Even the little one gets it now” he muttered to himself as his scaly face began to turn a sort of beetroot colour, a mixture of both anger and embarrassment. Before the brothers could utter another word he began again. “You will never guess this one!” he shouted, almost with a squeak. “Very well” said Samuel, beginning to enjoy and to humour the strange creatures company. “What is blue, sometimes black, reigns over all, in house or shack?”

The boys pondered this for a while as it was certainly a little more tricky than the previous riddles. “Can’t get this one can they, cheeky pipsqueaks aren’t they!” Bindlebob grunted to himself gleefully. But before he could continue, his face dropped as William, once more, began to speak. “Is it the sky?” said the youngest of the brothers.  Bindlebob’s frustration seemed at this point to grow out of control; he began to prance up and down the bridge, restlessly repeating himself over and over again. “How does the little one know? How does the little one know?” he wailed. Then, without any warning he stopped. As if something had popped into his mind, striking him as suddenly as a lightning bolt to the brain. He turned slowly to face the boys, his little purple face slowly fading back to its original sunburst orange complexion. “You guessed all of my riddles.” he began. “When I first became a bridge riddler, my master said to me that if a day should come where one might guess all of my riddles, then I must aid them in whatever way they so desire. I swore then to uphold this oath and that means I must help you, in whatever way I can, as you are the cleverest I’ve met! You’re on a quest I feel?” “Yes we are” replied Samuel, but it is a perilous one and we are not sure if we will ever return this way again. “An oath is and oath my young master and I will do all I can to aid in your journey.” “Very well” said Samuel, “we know what it is to honour something that one believes in. You may travel with us.” “And where is it you are travelling to young warriors?” said Bindlebob, briskly taking off his hat and combing his hair again with the fish skeleton, before replacing the hat carefully, as if endeavouring to make himself a little more presentable for the journey ahead.

“I am Samuel and this, my younger brother William. Last night our father was murdered by men in black armour. They took our mother and many of our villagers, burning our home and our village to the ground. These men were travelling north. We must find our mother and the villagers to set them free, this is our quest.” announced Samuel. “They passed this way, young warriors” said Bindlebob, “too many for old Bindlebob to ask riddles, so I stayed all safe under my bridge. But I will help you! Though the road ahead is full of danger, we must remain careful and never ‘ever’ wonder too far from the path.” He said ‘matter of factly’. Then, without further ado, the small hobgoblin placed the unusual fish comb into his pocket, set his hat at a jaunty angle, as if to make himself look a little menacing, but to no avail, and the three travellers set off together across the bridge and onward down the road to the north.

The two brothers were happy to have found a new friend, and although he kept it well hidden from the boys, Bindlebob was glad to have found some friends too.

Cows & causes…

A lot of company directors ask me how they can best get involved with a mental health charity…

I’m asked regularly what companies can do if they don’t just have money to give, and the answer is so much simpler that just handing over cash.

Charities within any sector, as within mental health, rely on long term finance to continue the distribution of their services to local community.

The biggest issue with raising money to run is that you’ve got to constantly spend money and market the business in order to drive higher returns for the benefit of the charity.

My mentality is slightly different. If, as business professionals with skills, we can impart knowledge and sustainable plans with these charities then we can help them to broaden their development and remain more sustainable in functioning long term.

What we forget so easily is that charities are sometimes exclusively made up of volunteers and those that aren’t may still not have a wide range of skills within their teams in order to innovate, because they’re usually tasked with making the day to day moves they need to survive as a not for profit.

Therefore the answer as to what we can do to aid these charities is to get involved and use our time to train staff in commercial planning, or marketing, sales etc. give them the tools by using what your company or you do well and impart your years of knowledge in fields where you feel comfortable and can add value.

What the charities gain from us doing this is the ability to run their operation more nimbly. To develop skills as working individuals and to use those skills to enhance every element of how they run as a unit. In training charities in commercial thinking, we show them how they may be able to better partner with businesses locally in raising money and awareness, without any cost to increase the resource; we might be able to show them how they can sell clothing to those who run events on their behalf, thus generating revenue when fund raisers are out canvassing.

There are so many things that commercial businesses can offer to charities and it’s only down to your imagination as a business as to how you could be involved! So don’t just give money, think outside the box!

As an example I recently became involved in an event called the Surrey Hills Cow Parade, the premise being based on companies across Surrey buying a giant, life size, plastic cow, for around £3500+ donation and that cow is then designated to an artist to paint, sculpt around etc. on the companies behalf; following which, the cow is auctioned off and the money given to the companies chosen charity.

Now as my company is an SME we don’t have lots of money to invest in these types of activities, however we’re always really keen to be involved if we can because they’re fun and you meet lots of new people…

In this instance what I did was sign my company up as an artist, because my company specialising in printed, embroidered and bespoke clothing, so I thought that a fabric based cow could be quite interesting.

Now, along comes Guildford’s major shopping centre and says that they’re keen to work with a local company, and because my colleagues and I are all former University of Surrey students in one vein or another, as well as running a company based around clothing and textiles, they’d like us to design the cow for their addition to the event!

Brilliant news, so, what I did was call up the local college of technology; with whom I’d been looking to run an outreach project for students interested in fashion, and I said, I’ve got a challenge. Why don’t we have a competition among the graphic design and fashion students to compete for the chance to design this cow for the shopping centre and then we’ll choose a range of the students designs and we’ll all get together with my staff and the students and we’ll design this cow and present the finished article back to the shopping centre for display.

So that’s what we did! What I also did up front, if a little bit cheeky, was suggest, when I found out the shopping centre were interested in us as an artist, I suggested my charity Oakleaf Enterprise who are a local mental health charity in Guildford, who run vocational training to those with mental health issues all over Surrey, as the designated charity.

And the shopping centre have now come back and said that they’d definitely like us to be their designers, they love the current student design concepts so far and they want to work on a professional brief for the students to follow, while donating their money to Oakleaf my charity… so all in all we’ve got a great looking project on the go that brings together local students, a student led limited company, a local charity and large local company. What’s also very exciting is that the students will see their designs go from concept through to finished product sitting in a huge shopping centre.

In addition all of the cows in the parade will have a tracking device and be situated in locations all over Surrey, so you’ll be able to have a sort of geo-cache challenge through an app on your phone to find them all with the kids at the weekend, which again brings families from all over the county and beyond together, both on and offline.

I guess my point is, that in spending a bit of time thinking about what you could be doing to better support your local charities, you could discover the value in something that you do day to day… And if it’s simple, why not get involved…

 

The Sunday Spot – 20th March…

Every Sunday I will drop the businessman in me and put down a piece of fiction… This could be something you enjoy yourself for a bit of escapism, or just read the kids before bed…

This Sunday we begin:

Darklands – Journey for Freedom (One of The Questor Chronicles – by Thomas Duncan Bell)

Chapter 1

An Un-Expected Sorrow

Amongst the woodland plains of Southern Earthengale, Samuel woke to the smell of fear on the air. Charcoal ash and luminescent flames rose eerily from a clearing in the distance, whist the ground around him thundered; rumbling to the rhythm of horses hooves that swept along a dirt scattered forest path somewhere nearby. His younger brother William had slept silently in the brush to his left, but as the earth began to tremble, he too was cast from his slumber only to endure the reality of what was to come.

Without hesitation, Samuel struck out to gain hold of his brother, clutching him tight by the wrist of his worn woollen sweater and dragging him almost effortlessly, deeper into the pale mottled undergrowth away from the cobbled road that ran through the centre of the forest.

The two brothers had been fishing no more than a mile from their village since the early hours of the morning and having grown hungry they’d found their way to a blueberry patch where they set about supplementing their stomachs. Shortly after taking their fill the boys had sat down to relax in the softened moss beneath the blueberry bushes, whilst the dappled sun rained through the trees creating gentle shadows that skipped in the breeze. Thus they came to sleep.

Samuel was the older of the two and cut a slim figure with his matted dirty blonde hair, which stood almost at attention at least an inch or two over his regular height. He wore a fitted leather jerkin over a cream coloured cloth vest, almost giving him a gallant sort of appearance, if it hadn’t been for his murky brown trousers that rode just a little bit high above his ankles. His belt was a simple leather strip with a wooden buckle and a coin pouch he filled with oddly shaped stone figures he’d moulded with some sort of crafting tool over time. He also had a short knife in a darkened sheath; the sheath was made from a boar’s tusk and had been given to him by his father as a gift after his first hunt. Samuel’s flesh was pale, giving him an almost gaunt appearance, but his green eyes were keen with a soul of their own; the soul of a spirit within, that shone as emeralds do in the bright of the day. This was the spirit of a boy destined for something greater than even he could imagine.

William was the youngest by a couple of years; he wore similar trousers to his older brother, almost jodhpur like, but on the opposite front, his were ever so slightly too long, meaning that he was constantly catching them on his heels. His thick, baggy woollen sweater was a sort of grimy blue and was held tight around him with an oversized blackened belt that had clearly been meant for someone twice his size. He’d also never been on a hunt so did not have a knife like his older brother, however, he did have something else attached to his belt; almost like a folded, lost strip of leather, with a thickened pocket at its centre, it was a sling, the weapon of the youth of his village. A sling would be used before their coming of age to train their senses and their eye as the boys grew to become young men, “to feel the wind as you poise to swing and the elements that affect your hand as you loose a stone upon your target; these are the foundations of a warrior”, they were told.

As they knelt side by side, deathly still; keenly listening for signs of movement beyond the tree line, the silence was shattered by the shrill cry of more horses and the clacking of the riders armour while it twisted and buckled as they rode. The boy’s hearts beat faster and faster, blood pulsing through their bodies, barely able to breathe for the fear that they would not be passed un-noticed. They retained their state until the final rider was no longer audible and once again the silence of the forest was restored, as the hooves that had been so close echoed at a distance and away into nothing more than memory. Still aware of any potential threat that may be lurking nearby, Samuel drew his brother close and the boys retained all sound for what seemed like an age. After some time, William was the first to speak, “I’m worried Samuel, were those riders heading toward our village? What about father and the others?” he said. “I don’t know William, but we must find our way back and aid them if we can” replied Samuel. And without further conversation the boys were gone, drifting through the trees on the keenest of hidden trails and back to their home; their footsteps as silent and soft, as autumnal leaves in the wind.

The boys steadily broke from their run as the trees of the forest fell away to reveal the outskirts of what had previously been their proud village. Stood before them was a wall of flames and the crumbling brittle structures of what had once been people’s houses. The smell of death slid thick through the air and their lungs hurt to breathe in the heat that surrounded them, as they moved forth into the centre of the village.

Most of the buildings had already been destroyed when they reached the central square, with none but the bell tower and the crooked frame of their home on the edge of the square standing firm; but for how long? Both structures were covered in speckled blackening ash, as thick grey smoke poured out of the tiniest crevices in window frames and doors, then up into what was now swiftly becoming a sprawling night sky. The moon shone bright and almost full above their heads, illuminating the majority of their surroundings. In the distance they could make out the thick ‘stock like’ figures of men in black armour, loading the people of the village into a heavy set wagon topped with what could best be described as a wired, wooden cage. The faces of the men and the villagers were too far away for the boys to make out, but they knew any attempt to save their people would be futile. The blackened figures seemed too large, even in the distance, for the brothers to match them in battle and besides, they were vastly outnumbered and without any real weapons to serve them.

Samuel drew William into hiding behind a warped, craning sycamore tree at the edge of the clearing, where their now decimated village had once stood firm. There they remained, as still as the bestial bark upon its branches, until the wagon and the armoured figures had parted from their gaze. When they were quite sure they were alone, the anxious pair crept gently back to the centre of the village into the path of destruction that lay before them, edging towards the remnants where there home had once stood. There was little to be seen amongst the ash and rubble at their feet, a few clay bowls and the charred remains of what was once their dining table; the walls of the building were nothing but fallen stones offering a grim outline that merely gave anyone looking on a glimpse of what used to be. In one corner William saw that his short bow had fallen from the wall it had previously clung to; though despite being a little darker than before, it remained relatively unpunished by the elements that had befallen the rest of the house. William shouldered the bow and his quiver that lay beside it, before returning to his brother’s side. Samuel had found nothing much left of use within the remains, though he had picked up a small leather satchel which he clutched tight in his right hand as the boys left the building.

As the soft wind of the evening let slip a gentle clang from the broken bell that still swung from the now gothic ridden bell tower, Samuel found his eyes drawn to the well near the squares centre. Standing there, upright, as if from a story of old, Samuel saw a familiar sword driven fast into the earth. He knew this sword! He knew this sword because he’d felt it, he’d held it in the past; he had wielded the sword aloft like a knight; like a King. At the centre of its intricate golden hilt was in-set the most beautifully crafted ruby, basking in the light set down by the stars, with the swords blade, a solid ‘silver like’ steel, glinting at him as if not wanting to be left alone. Despite its familiarity and the beauty of its features, Samuel could not stop his stomach from sinking or his heart from throbbing as if it was in his mouth. His eyes began to rove around as they drew away from the sword and he came closer to the large, yet silent frame of a man clad in bright red armour, crumpled alongside it and soaked in blood.

Samuel never heard the screams of his brother, who threw himself upon the body and began to shake it as if trying to rouse the lifeless figure; he could not hear the sound of the wood, crackling, spitting and then disappearing into the deepest crimson that rose all around them; and he could not hear the sound of the creatures that watched on, blissfully unaware of their ignorance during routine wanderings. His throat was dry as if full of dust and his palms damp with beaded sweat, as the word “father” brushed silently past his thin lips. Suddenly, without thought or sorrow something flashed throughout Samuels mind. It was his most base of instincts, he knew he must act, but he could barely gather his senses, he felt weak, numb. He knew that the area and the village were no longer safe and that he must protect William. A sickening sense of fear and responsibility, coupled with adrenaline washed over Samuel; he did not know what it meant, but he had never felt it before. This feeling began to grow and to grow inside of him, until it became so vast that he began to drown in it. The adrenaline had taken over his body and was racing through his burning veins as he grasped his brother’s hand, pulling him to his feet. With William in tow he swept up the sword from the earth by his father’s body, pulling the sheath free from the armour of the heavy figure before he and Samuel began to run.

The fear was gone and he knew what he must do, pounding through the village; through burning embers and wall after wall of wispy, sickening smoke and dust he thrust himself, with William by his side. At this point Samuel could hear his father’s words echo in his mind, “There is nothing to fear in this world Samuel, but your fear itself. The only thing that allows evil to triumph over the good and the true is for men of honour and courage to do nothing. One day you will be a man Samuel, and I will be a proud father to know you hold courage in your heart and all fear at the gates of your soul”. As a single tear ran solemnly down his cheek at the thought of his father, he turned briefly to take one final look back across the debris to the body at its centre; still motionless in the chaos and Samuel remembered that the most important thing of all was to survive. Almost without thinking he drew his brother forth, swept him up under his arm so his feet were barely touching the floor; then, as swiftly as they’d entered the burning village, the brothers ran, deeper and deeper into the hazy green shadow of the forest night.

Get rid of the ROBOTS…

At the moment I’m doing a lot of research into how to change the stigma within a workplace…

What really frustrates me is that there’s loads of information out there that tells businesses why they should be looking at the better mental health of their staff, they stick on-line all sorts of graphs and figures that state how your company can be more productive, you can make more money etc. etc.

What they don’t tell you is that you should be focussed on the change because it’s the right thing to do, because your employees aren’t statistics, that equate to revenues, or returns on investment, they’re human beings, they’ve got families and daily pressures just like you do, they just don’t have your money, your dividends, you’re share of a successful company…

The average person in work today, with a normal job, a normal wage, only has approximately 1 months worth of savings, making even more people than ever before, that much closer to living on the streets… Now that’s anxiety!!

Now my companies monthly revenues fluctuate, probably more so than most my size, but because I am open with my staff about the company growth, as well as talking to them more about their issues with kids, wives, lifestyle, health, they’re more attached to the way we drive as a unit.

Now this is OK for an SME where the MD can have a eye on the individual, and I’m also a guy who cares deeply about people and that comes naturally to me, probably because of my sketchy history, however, I’m also aware of the fact that some MD’s will not feel as comfortable dealing with these types of issues…

In addition, as we look at bigger and bigger businesses it’s important to understand our limits and know that a multi million £ organisation can’t afford for the CEO to spend an hour with everyone one a week trying to understand about everyone…

But is is important we try to find where we set the happy medium!

Mind, the mental health charity did a business study, they asked a range of questions based around taking care of staff and the responses were as follows:

  • More than one in five (21%) of staff said that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them…
  • 14% of staff said that they had resigned and 42% had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them…
  • 30% of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’
  • 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff well-being but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance…

So, what’s to be done… I believe it’s simple…

I recently set up this blog just to vent about my mental health issues within business, within a week I had over 10,000 people across the UK and Internationally following me…

I have had proactive CEO’s and MD’s getting in touch who do feel confident in approaching the topic and are implementing change for the better, allowing their staff more access to things like free confidential counselling, a non-invasive opt in process that’s simple to set up…

I’ve had individuals getting in touch telling me that they felt it was like reading their own blog and that they’d never known what was really wrong with them until now; thanking me and telling me that they’re going to seek help, learn more and go to their doctor so check on their blood pressure and other likely causes of every day anxieties to define an appropriate route forward…

I’ve had People working with government asking me to come and define ways to support other SME’s like mine to understand what they can do to brave the storm…

The secret is clearly the story… I feel that we can do a number of things to start to rectify how you can approach this topic within your business without then need to send out a white paper, or try and make people fill out an awkward questionnaire while they’re watched over by Debbie in HR…

  1. Get a speaker in! Go and find someone who’s making waves in the Mental Health world and draft them in for an afternoon to tell an inspirational story about their battle through the darkness… You may be able to find someone who directly relates to your industry or to a role within your business, so much the better… What you’ll find is that people are much more ready to relate to an individual… As humans we don’t want to be asked loaded questions by people who may or may not have their own issues, only to feel like we’re being judged and graded; working for any company trying to feed our families is hard enough, without the added pressure of wondering whether you’re boss thinks because you’re a bit ‘mad’ now he may need to get someone new in to fill the role… What a speaker does is lightens the load, they set your staff free and although they may not immediately stick their hand up and call out their problems, you can offer them support mechanisms off the back of that appearance and you’re definitely more likely to see an uptake than lose an employee.
  2. Think about your culture! How do you run your business at the moment? Are you as an individual accessible to people? You may have thousands of employees you may have 4. If you have 4, are you accessible to them, do you care? If you have thousands, are you accessible to your top Directors, do their teams have access to them? What does accessible mean? Accessible means, how do you interact? If you can’t speak to someone then you can’t evolve in the sense of a relationship with that individual… Team building may seem a bit old had so lets chuck that in the bin and go skiing for god sake, break you business down into segments, you can’t eat an elephant in one go so find things that people are passionate about and stop making every day about work… Your staff across the board will be vastly more productive if their lives at work allow them to fulfil their potential as individuals as well as blow off a bit of steam and perhaps do some of those things they don’t get to do at home… Remember, on one end of the spectrum you may have junior staff from a background that means they never got to ski, you may have a married chap who spends the weekends looking after his kids and doesn’t get time to take 2 hours our for a few games of pool… Give your people time, and they’ll give you their spirit.
  3. Surprise people! Why don’t you surprise the staff by putting your head on the block? There are a number of ways to be more open in your business, but a good one could be something like a video diary… Set up your own video diary or on-line blog that’s run through your company intranet or mailed to your staff once a week, where they can see the reality of what you go through… I can guarantee if I saw my boss in the reality of the day to day grind, I’d definitely feel more empowered to open up about how I feel… Then you give them the resources to follow up on that, with free confidential counselling in the office; a massage therapist in a room a couple of times a week where you can go and have an informal natter and a back massage… there are any number of ways to evolve as a team and I promise you it always comes back to being human.

I asked someone I have a lot of respect for what they thought of the blog and I gave them some of the feedback I’d received from people all over the UK… he sat there and looked at me, drawing on one example specifically and he said, can’t you see Thomas, you’ve saved a life…

I don’t say this to blow my own trumpet, I say it because that single solitary sentence really made me sit up and listen…

I felt a resounding pride at that moment, that’s not the way I’d even considered what I was doing…

But lets image, if every FTSE 500 company CEO got up on Monday morning and instead of considering “How much do I have to spend to rectify this mental health thing?” they started thinking, “What can I do to save more lives today?” then wouldn’t our country and our economy be heading in beautiful new direction!

As Bruce Almighty would say – #BETHEMIRACLE

 

Back to business…

I never wanted to run my own business to be quite honest.

I set up my own business because I got stitched up by a scorned MD after my first full time role.

In 2005/06, while working for a telemarketing company in my first full-time role, earning a plethora of money for someone else, I was offered a job by one of our clients. The client had asked me if I’d consider coming on board with them and running a team of 12 staff in a sales department…

I didn’t have any kind of contract at my telemarketing company, no NDA, nothing, so I thought it would just be a case of handing in notice (though no contracted notice was agreed) and moving on to a new adventure…

Unfortunately for me, when I was offered the role, I asked a couple of the other guys I worked with if they wanted to come with me and they thought it sounded great. Then I got a call from the sales manager one day asking if he could come, and as I thought he was a great guy I said I’d make a few calls to find out, he then ran back to the MD and she started pulling in everyone on a 1-2-1 basis to scare them out of leaving…

She then called me and told me that she’d called the new company and told them I had a contract and that she’d sue the pants off them if they employed me, sure enough when I checked on this, she’d done just that and no amount of convincing made them believe otherwise… She tried to get me to come back but to be honest I don’t suffer fools gladly and if you’re dishonest as far as I’m concerned you can go and jump… Life’s too short…

So, I found a job working as a consultant, set myself up as self employed and off I went!

Within 30 days I was Head of Inside Sales for a Business Intelligence company centred out of Germany and I was flying back and forth training their incumbent teams and notching sales up for the UK MD out of and office in Surrey.

That was the beginning…

I didn’t really have many fears back then, I’d been through some ropey relationships and was never really sure what to do with myself on that side of the coin, but I certainly wasn’t feeling the really nasty bits…

The nasty bits came later.

At the moment my biggest anxieties probably surround people who are dishonest or don’t pay on time… I think it’s because when I meet new people I’m really open and honest about the fact that we’re looking to work with like minded businesses, but I think that this generally leads to people trying to take advantage, as you may have seen in my recent blog ‘Show me the money…’

I don’t know what it is that makes me anxious about this, others don’t tend to feel the same, they seem to be able to go with the flow, but it’s probably because I don’t earn what I feel comfortable with at the moment and I feel like because I’m re-investing everything I have in trying to maintain fast growth within my businesses, that my partner Anna shields most of the burden sometimes… That really grates on me, though one of the businesses we run together pays for most of our lifestyle, I still want my primary day to day business to yield more fruit and give us more of a comfortable run…

Unfortunately an image of affluence will get you the business, but if you drop guard people get wary and think there’s a reason not to invest in your services, so you’re always chasing your tail…

In writing this blog I want to do two things, I want to try and find solutions to some of these day to day issues and I want to find others with the same issues, that will definitely give me some semblance of calm.

In addition I’ve just been asked by fairly big player in the mental health space, to devise with him a programme for SME’s to understand more about how they can better support staff within their business who may suffer from anxieties, depression, or other mental health disorders. So I’m soon to be running around the country giving motivational talks and training surrounding this area…

What would be good is to hear from businesses, small, medium, large, or from people within businesses, CEO’s, Board Directors etc. to understand more about what they’d like to see in terms of answers…

We’re in an era right now where mental health is becoming very much the forefront of everyone’s thinking and it’s OK to ask questions… I am happy to consult with people or give advice on what to look for in people and it would be good to get a gauge for what concerns are out there in the business ether, that people want to see a response to…

You can contact me direct via email to thomas@team-tops.co.uk which is probable my most memorable email address and let me know your thoughts, in the mean time I will keep you abreast of new things happening around the UK and Internationally surrounding mental health in business…

My blog will remain eclectic, because it’s as much about touching the individual and helping people in business, so it’s important to understand that there will be an equal measure of business and personal topics, because mental health is something very personal, and frankly no one wants to talk about it, so it makes it more important that I put it down…

Don’t try and muddle through alone, reach out…

Mum’s the word…

I spoke before in a slightly graphic context about some of what I experienced from my father growing up and about how my condition has developed, off the back of some level of disjointedness in my upbringing.

That aside I think I should probably give some insight into the other half of my parental network… my Mum.

My Mum has always been someone who puts others before herself, even to this day she’d sacrifice her happiness to ensure that we didn’t feel an ounce of sadness and when thinking back it would be an easy thing for anyone to blindly ask the question why not leave sooner? Why not take the kids and run away somewhere…

The ignorance of my father smacks in this question, because if anyone truly understood the degree of animosity that we saw on a daily basis, or the level of potential psychotic tendency in that man, you’d understand that to live every day in fear, fear of even potential death as we have seen in his eyes; you’d know it was not as easy as packing a bag and running off to our Nan’s…

Back then there was no escape… My father was a man of such unbridled rage and adrenaline, that he’d hunt you across the country if your leaving meant that he might lose control of a situation…

In fact, at one stage after my parents has split and I was around 14 lets say, my father was sent to prison for 9 months, because he’s travelled in the middle of the night to see an old flame, who’d split up with him and told him not to come over… He drove from Milton Keynes to Birmingham found another man in her house, threw him into the streets, destroyed her house and threatened to cut her throat with an apple peeler… that was after he battered her senseless…

So you have some degree of understanding as to what we were dealing with here.

I genuinely believe in reading some of what I put down in this blog and in understanding more about how my condition has developed, that my Mum probably feels in some way guilty that she could not get away earlier, that she wishes that she could have saved us from that environment when we were younger… But she couldn’t…

I want my Mum to know that she should feel no single semblance of guilt, nor do I or will I ever hold her in any way responsible for anything we grew up with, other than the good bits! And I also want to say that through all of this my Mum was my constant, my calm, the smile and the cuddles, that’s what I remember or her during my childhood…

No one could have taken us from that place.

If it wasn’t for my Mother I’d be a very dark individual… My Mother taught me my compassion, she gave my heart warmth, taught me to love and to feel again after the years of anger… The only reason, I am alive today is because in every instance of feeling death in my mind, I found her…

I think about her every day, all the time, I wonder what she’s thinking, I wonder what she’s up to, I work myself into the ground so that one day I can stand up and say, ‘you see what I did Mum!’

In my mind nothing I achieve is ever enough, but there will come a day when it is…

When we talk of our mothers there should be only wonder, there should be only warmth and their eyes and their smiles…

If you do end up reading this Mum, then I say again that you don’t have to feel one ounce of guilt for anything that ever happened, everything I am today came about because that’s just the way that one went…

It was your strength and your courage and your love and your calm that kept worse things from happening, that kept his focus diverted, it was you who saved us by giving us a new home, by teaching us the value of life, the value of our deeper family unit, a unit that now exists so strong you never have to worry about us again.

My worst days are when I worry you won’t be there. When I won’t be able to call you or to see you when I want to… When the girls have each other and I hide away on my own in reflection of how much I’ll always love you.

There will come a time I am a father and the remaining weakness must leave me. And I promise you that when that day comes that you will know, my children will never feel an ounce of what I felt from him…

Half of my body is darkness and half on my body is light…

You are that light and it’s that light I will take forward for my children to thrive on. They won’t know of my darkness or the suffering, they will only see you in me and they will establish themselves as young Bell’s in the wind, on a cloud, in a field, and of calm…

I wanted to end with something poetic here, but when you google poems for your Mum they’re mostly crap, so I’ll write one for you that we can hold on to together…

“In standing on that ledge, on corner darkened earth, as I look upon abyss, as I wonder what I’m worth,

There’s a soul that fills me deep, as I float in absent space, as I fall towards the rock, and a warmth across my face,

And a hope that leads me well, as I wonder what I do, as I’m thankful that I live, knowing that the soul was you,

So I fly and fly again, on the verge of things to come, I evolve in every moment, and that’s down down to you, my Mum.”

Don’t ever feel guilty, I love you more than anything in the world!

 

 

Fear & Loathing in las duvets…

 

I’m not really one for this ‘man flu’ rubbish to be honest… My mentality for the common cold, sniffles, sneezes and all that follow the definitive UK illness, is that it’s down to your mentality as an individual…

Those who take days off with a light cold are likely those that you don’t want to be left on a desert island with and I’m definitely not one of those.

I grew up in a household, with mum as a teacher, where you needed some pretty healthy theatrics to get a day at home, following which, at the age of 18 I went to train to become and actor where we were up and about from 7am-6pm; and if we pulled the sick card there, there was ‘no mercy’ and you were treated like satan’s first born. The show must go on. However, when you’re training generics you needn’t worry, as there are plenty more to stand in and they’ll merrily tread on the others.

That said, maintaining a positive mental state if you’re really ill, regardless of disorder or no, is not an easy one, so I’ve tried to piece together some semblance of what might make the difference.

As I’ve currently just been really ill (definitely not the man flu variety, a comment which is getting pretty boring now) I’ve been in a lot of pain, finding it difficult to move; not aided by the fact that lying down or trying to rest, further creates issues as it does if you’re generally a lazy bugger…

I’ve also had a pretty nasty raw chesty cough which feels somewhat like someone’s popped a wire brush down your neck and dragged it back and forth several times…

So my core ingredients, Berocca, legendary in my eyes, generally covers your bases in terms of what you need day to day, 2 tablets in 1 pint of water once a day is a good starting point… Then chicken stock, I have found that it’s hard to eat solids during the early stages of this type of things so chicken stock is a good way to start your body getting what it needs until you start to feel more naturally inclined to more substantial nutrition; I later add rice which again you can basically drink and then chicken…

Now, that’s enough of that, this isn’t Delia Smiths blog!

The main issue outside all the mother hen remedies is the mental! Now, I use Berocca rather than tablets or medication, because this helps to stimulate my energy levels even when feeling really beaten, but the biggest issue I think I face when ill, is that anxiety surrounding all the people I’m letting down, it literally feels like you jump from hero to complete failure in one foul swoop…

I look at my responsibilities, all the people I promised to email back, the new emails coming in and the ensuing backlog. I feel guilty in the designation of workload, when my staff and colleagues have their own cross to bear day to day and I don’t want to ‘half arse’ the responses and commitments I have in process.

I find myself questioning everything I’ve built… How am I benefitting the world by making & supplying clothing? Sure I want to focus on ethical and sustainable manufacturing, but will I actually make a big difference? Am I wasting my time? Should I be doing something more useful to humanity? Probably…

Is the fact that I run a business purely driven out of my own greed, my own want for status? No… just a want to build something sustainable…

Is there something in me that craves more of the world than money?

Yes…

I’ve always been a fast thinker, if there’s a sport that involves adrenaline then I will pick it up fast, whether that be motorbikes, quads, skis and beyond I can turn my hand to anything that requires will and focus. I don’t feel fear in the same way as I believe most do, I get over accentuated levels of adrenaline and this adrenaline is what throws most people off guard, or makes them freeze in a bad scenario, not here…

I saved two lives the day after qualifying as a rescue diver preventing these junior divers being lost in currents surrounding the Cambodian coast; I’ve stood under landslide zones in Morocco, clearing the road of rubble to get traffic flow going while others sat in their vehicles still in the midst of further slides, too afraid to leave the cars; I managed to escape being knocked off a cliff by a taxi driving the wrong way round a blind corner on a one way road in Croatia with only inchs in terms of margin for error and I had a fully grown adult tiger bound into the road literally 2-3 metres in front of my motorbike in India, (not in a wildlife enclosure might I add, in the wild) where I managed to stay on the bike; but in every instance my head was clear, I was lucid, I was scared, but I had such a powerful yearning to preserve life that I felt focussed and channelled in those moments. Some of the most valuable of my life…

(The above may sound like embellishments but I can assure you they’re reality, my partner is the quickest to call ‘bullshit’ when I’m blowing my own trumpet and she was on the boat when I saved the divers, in our vehicle in Morocco, on the back of the quad bike in Croatia and on the motorbike behind me in India as we were travelling on bikes alone together.)

The biggest issue in our ether is our own self-worth… I will always endeavour to do the best I can at whatever I do, that’s just me as an individual, but if someone offered to buy my company tomorrow and free me from the hamster wheel and the bullshit politics you have to put up with to maintain it, then what would I do…? I think I’d probably take a step back and find a way to help people, to spend my day to day saving lives instead of questioning mine… I made the mistake of investing everything into what now has me trapped, if you’re at that point where you decide to go one way or the other, do get in touch and chat to me.

The rescue diver, mountain rescue, the ski patrol, those under paid, unsung heroes are the guys who get to look at people in the eye and know the true value in their lives… The US Search & Rescue motto is ‘So Others May Live’ and I think that sounds just about right when you consider how little time we have on this earth…

Now, please don’t sue me for false advertising, I also thought this post was going to be about what’s up when you’re ill, I guess this just goes to show that maybe our weaknesses might just offer that little bit of clarity…

Show me the money…

It’s fair to say that as human beings we all suffer from some degree of anxiety in our lives, this could be anything from first date nerves, to dentist appointments and beyond…

That said, I think when tackling issues surrounding mental health, anxiety is a term that most can relate to when trying to get their head around the emotive tendencies of someone with a disorder of some kind…

Where I have always found anxiety at it’s worst in terms of running my own businesses, is money!

Now, we’ve generally got two types of relationships customer wise with our businesses.

One is where we run pro-forma invoicing for new clients, thus alleviating anxiety by covering our bases with an up front payment…

And the other surrounds setting payment terms; this is where, depending on the gravitas of your organisation, you can rake other companies across the coals with varying degrees of intensity, in order for you to maintain status, cash flow and ultimately a healthy, non anxiety driven lifestyle…

The latter is where my frustration hits!

A companies liquidity lives and dies on the strength of their accounts department and the common mission within an accounts team is to chase money in where possible and avoid paying anyone where possible.

Some will tell you that the above is not true, but lets face it, that’s because we’re British and we don’t talk about things like this… That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen…

On regular occasion we have clients ducking payments and we’re constantly trying to work with bigger businesses, while aiming to avoid keeping credit terms lengthy. Thus is the epitaph of the SME!

The difficult bit is trying to remain calm… For example, if a customer decided not to pay you until they fancy doing so, what are your legal rights? And is there any point in having any at all?

I recently had a cafe/ice cream parlour, who funnily enough were across the street from my office building and we produced a whole range of uniforms for them for a nominal amount around the £550 mark…

Now, we invoiced them last year on the 21st December and we did them a favour as a local business, by giving them 30 day payment terms and producing all the uniforms quickly and efficiently to ensure their brand tone of voice was presentable to their consumer base.

We are now here on the 11th March, still waiting for the nominal fee and after numerous emails and multiple promises to pay ‘next week, then the week after, then the week after etc.’ we’ve lost our patience, to a degree, in terms of whether to maintain a polite standpoint or not…

A couple of weeks ago we put the pressure on and were promised payment by the end of February, then upon chasing my Financial Controller spoke to the owner of the business who was abusive and hung up…

Stalemate!

So, I get a text 5 minutes afterwards from the owner, telling me how nasty my staff are (bearing in mind my Financial Controller is also my fiancé, who runs her own Accounts and Bookkeeping company) and I fully understand how she actions late payment processes, because I’ve hired a plethora of accountants in the past to avoid working too closely with my partner, only to have a poor level of service and reverting back to her definitive knowledge in the field.

I call the business owner and he repeats his derogatory points about my future wife, to which I remain calm and reply, “it’s fair to say that if my Financial Controller seems to be more emotive at this stage, it’s only down to the fact that we’re rocketing into the 90 day realms for a nominal payment for goods delivered within a week of being ordered and now your taking liberties”…

Lets remind ourselves at this point, of the fact that this business is literally across the street, so I can see them from my window… And that had this small order been from another town, I’d have charged him 100% up front as his first order to build the initial trust.

I decide to take a wonder…

Businessmen, who bully women and avoid payment for prompt and professional services, it’s safe to say I’m not a fan of. But I also know that they like to avoid anyone getting wind of their potential lack in credibility…

Now, I didn’t (regardless of my mental health concerns) run into his establishment chanting ‘Show me the money!’ – I casually wondered up to the counter, asked when he might be arriving and upon being told that he would be there soon, decided that I’d buy a bottle of Coca Cola (none of the crap, wannabe Coca Cola, only the good stuff might I add) and wait for him…

The staff member asked if he could help and what the issue was about, so I told him that I technically still owned the clothing he was wearing to serve me in, because I haven’t been paid for my services and I’d like to deal with this issue. He promptly offered me the Coke for free and I graciously accepted. (Good staff are hard to find after all, so I didn’t want him to be made to feel uncomfortable!)

5 minutes later I receive a call from the owner promising payment by the end of the week and I accept his apologies, regardless of his ‘dog ate my homework’ type excuses an went back to my office and back on with my business…

Now, Friday comes and today I’m sue payment, but I don’t get any contact from the businessman to let me know either way, instead, he texts my Financial Controller at about 7.30am and tells her that we will pay on the 15th, another 4 days away. Very blunt, very direct, very matter of fact!

So what would you do?

Well, bearing in mind this is less like the 4-5 previous empty promises and more like a statement of intent that we have to accept regardless, I lose my patience at the further extension, because what happens on the 15th, will it then be the end of that week, the end of the month, new financial year? Who knows?!

I call my legal team, we have the same lawyer which is unsurprising as he’s just round the corner so I’m offered some generic information to avoid conflict of interest.

I then send an email with the invoice again stating that I will allow for payment on the 15th, however, should he default on this I will backdate an 8% surcharge on the gross for late payment on any months he’s overdue by. I also state that I will print a copy of the email and invoice and have them delivered by hand, should the email magically get trapped in the old mythical spam filter, to ensure he has a copy and understands the final terms.

Am I allowed to use the word ‘ball ache’ in a blog?!

The simple outcome is that who knows whether that payment will come in? My company won’t fail or prevail off the back of £500, however the principle of courtesy still remains.

I find it difficult to respect any business small, medium or large, who let other down when they have an agreed term in place and it’s still less fair to do someone a favour, only to have them spit in your face.

The bigger the company gets, the less likely your paid on time and the quicker they are to jump on you should you be struggling with cash flow.

What I don’t understand is, why can’t we all just respect each other as business professionals? If you do a job I pay you, if I do a job you pay me, and if we all pay on time then everyone has a lovely successful business without the anxiety and wasted time. In addition we wouldn’t waste hours and hours asking legal professionals where we stand, paying out extra money taking people to court, or in the case of someone with a mental health disorder feeling sick at the lack of good karma others seem to want to employ.

It may be worth you noting my blog on the Theory of Ethics at this point…

Our system is designed to fail; the weight is with the big boys and every company regardless of size, knows that you don’t really want to spend more money and time taking them to small claims court to recover lost revenues.

Caveman style, we’d wonder over, club in hand and ensure that we got the bit of dinosaur meat we deserve… Some businesses even operate like that…

The point is, where do we draw the line, I hate this feeling and this lack of respect for fellow human beings. is this something that could be government lead? Is this a dip in our legal system that could eventually be remedied? I suspect not, because the big boys sit pretty and the little dodgy guys aren’t fussed which route you take because it’s as easy to flip your assets to a new limited entity and write off the old debts as it is to 90mph on the motorway provided there’s no camera, and everyone in between will turn a blind eye as long as it’s not them under the wheel tread…

Maybe this just comes down to another happy Friday, or maybe this is something we need to consider in terms of how we reformat our societal structure to better support the small businesses and the ethically adapt?

Jury’s out for now… I’ll let you know on the 15th! Now I’m off to chase the others…

 

 

 

 

The eating disorder…

Now, when I first heard I may have an eating disorder I have to say I was sceptical, the idea was almost laughable…

I’ve done martial arts on and off since the age of 4 years old, so I’ve always been slim; my anxiety also means I have a fast metabolism and it takes approximately 2 sit ups a year to maintain a good looking six pack! Get in!

Unfortunately, while the abs may come easy, the mind is slimming also when you’re not looking after yourself…

I run a number of businesses surrounding clothing/textile production, uniform supply and pet products for dogs and it’s fair to say that I live most off my life off the back of coffee and positive mental attitude.

For years I’ve convinced myself that running from meeting to meeting made me a champion among businessmen; how many meetings can I cram into one day, whilst still maintaining a positive close rate in terms of sales? I’ve asked myself that question on numerous occasions…

What I realise now is that my efforts were un-constructive at best; what I’d actually been doing was running my body (and most importantly my mind) into the ground…

There have been times when I’ve collapsed from lack of food; I’ve suffered migraines, stomach cramps and at one point I had an ambulance called to a hotel client of mine, where the paramedics had to come and assess me, because I had such high anxiety levels that I ended up on the floor of the hotel reception, telling the receptionist that I thought I was having a heart attack…

In fact, that situation was not more than 2 years ago so this issue is rife in my day to day! None the less, I’m trying to move beyond that now, because what I did actually have, was in fact an eating disorder!

Now I wasn’t throwing up after meals or doing any of the regular things you might attribute to this stigma, however, in trying to push through the hunger I was actually damaging my mental state quite severely, because when you don’t have the relative nutrition you need to function, your body needs to supplement this…

Some people use things like pre-biotics to level this out, however, Scientists at Oxford University have actually found that these pre-biotics can in fact generate bacteria which affects both emotional processing and stress hormone levels in even their healthy volunteers, you can read more on this topic through the following articles:

Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/gut-bacteria-prebiotics-and-the-link-between-helping-stress-anxiety-and-depression-9964530.html

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/04/gut-bacteria-mental-healt_n_6391014.html

I actually still have the mind-set that eating during the day is wasting my time and I feel a level of anxiety if I’m eating and not responding to emails, no idea why, but I’m working on that and on taking the time to savour my meals, while eating the right types of foods.

We owe it to ourselves as individuals to take a moment out, to allow our bodies and our minds to rest and enjoy what we eat day to day. For so long I didn’t realise how this issue was so detrimental to my evolution as an individual, especially as a man, not really wishing to accept I might have an ‘eating disorder’…  

When we get to the science of it, which is the type of logic someone with my mentality gets; food = nutrition, nutrition = stimulation and that stimulation allows us to become more than we could imagine if we let it; but we can’t expect to better ourselves if we don’t manage the process.

The average scientist may not like how simple I set this out, however, the fundamentals are there and with stimulation comes the ideal “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of LIFE.” – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty