I have previously written about the subject of bullying (in school and in the workplace), and I have also written about women supporting each other in the workplace. So now, it's only natural I write about women, stress and suicide in recognition of Suicide Awareness Month.
In this day and age, there is more pressure than ever before being placed on women. From full-time (even part-time) employment, cooking, cleaning, childcare responsibilities, care-giving to elderly parents, the list goes on and on. Women today are expected to do more than ever. If you are fortunate enough to not have to work or to have household help (in the form of a nanny, housekeeper or a partner who evenly splits household responsibilities), this may reduce your stress somewhat. But in reality, most women do not have these options. It's insane. You have to be the "best" parent, the "best" employee, the "best" wife (girlfriend/partner), have the newest model car, be highly educated, thin, attractive... My Lord, how can anyone cope? Women are made to feel inadequate on every level. Just watch all the commercials on TV, they tell you, you will be happier if you drive this brand new car, eat this food, have this gadget, wear these clothes, etc. No wonder women feel it's all too much; you feel like a failure if you can't measure up to these ridiculous standards.
Job problems, excessive stress, crisis, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, child abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual), and a lack of social support are all common risk factors for suicidal behavior. Any one of these things would be terribly overwhelming for a woman to deal with. And then, comes the coping mechanisms: alcohol, too many sweets, smoking, Xanax. I know when I've been stressed to the max, I reach right for the chocolate! (At least it tastes good.) All things that work against you as far as your health is concerned. But what is left when someone feels like these ineffective coping mechanism just don't work anymore?
I worked with a woman who died by suicide. Though I was away on vacation when the call came in, I remember falling to my knees and crying out in utter disbelief. To this very day, I cannot shake it. The call was on a Monday and I had just seen her three days before. She seemed fine to me; we were laughing and joking together. I wonder what was going on with her then? Did anyone see the signs? Was she one of these women under extreme stress?
By all accounts, she seemed to be happy, content, nothing seemed off (at least not to me). I guess you can never truly tell what someone is going through in their life. I know it's true that everyone has a story, and that most people are going through something. It's frowned upon to be negative; you should be a trooper and just plow through. You just cannot know.
I'm sure there are many women who feel that they are not living up to everyone's expectations, always feeling inferior, juggling too many responsibilities and just feeling completely overwhelmed. Sometimes it feels like you are never good enough. Even if you have high self esteem, sometimes it can feel there is always something or someone to come along and try to knock you down. The pressures of society can become too much then comes the hopelessness. And thus begins the downward spiral. I have always had a high regard for myself; however, I have had many obstacles, setbacks, regrets, disappointments, missed opportunities and let-downs. But, I can honestly say that I somehow always managed to go on in one way or another. I think it has helped me that I have sisters, which has helped me deeply understand other women and be more empathetic to other people's struggles. That's all it takes sometimes, a little support, concern, and empathy to help someone get through a bad time and feel that they don't have to end their life. That somehow things will get better; tomorrow may be brighter. Suicide is not the answer.
There are hotlines, programs, lifelines, that can help. Following up with loved ones is just one of the actions that you can take to help others. Also, talk openly with someone, become available, show interest and support, offer hope that alternatives are available. Ultimately suicide isn't anyone's fault, but the commonality of it may be reduced if we encourage more open emotional sharing and normalize feelings of depression that may otherwise by held within and result in suicide]
National Suicide Prevention Life 1-800-273- TALK provides a 24/7 hotline to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
It really saddens me that women feel so much pressure these days. We live in a very "life is hard, just put up with it" society, but that just keeps emotions in and stops people from seeking the help they may desperately need. Which is why I am so adamant about treating others with kindness, empathy and understanding. You never know what anyone is going through; what is going on in their lives. Someone can be having a hard time at their job, have money issues, be unemployed, having issues with their children, siblings, parents (they can be caretakers), marital problems, or be struggling deeply with mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. We should all stand beside one another to help other women out whenever possible. Someday it could be you needing help, and it would be nice to know that someone has your back and truly cares. It can be the difference between saving a life or losing one.
In 2020, as the world turned on its axis, we all held on for dear life. Businesses, non-profits, government organizations, and entrepreneurs all braced for a new normal, not sure what it would mean, what would come next, or if we should be excited or terrified.
At the same time that everything is shifting, being put on hold, or expanding, companies have to evaluate current talent needs, empower their teams to work from home, discover new ways to care for clients from a distance, and navigate new levels of uncertainty in this unfamiliar environment. Through it all, civilians are being encouraged to lean into concepts like "resilience" and "courage" and "commitment," sometimes for the first time.
Let's contrast what the business community is going through this year with the common experience of the military. During basic training, officer candidate school, multiple deployments, combat, and reintegration, veterans become well-versed in resilience, courage, and commitment to survive and thrive in completing their mission. Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.
These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.
More than ever before, today's employers who employ prior military should focus on why and how to retain them and leverage their talents, experience, and character traits to help lead the company — and the employees — to the other side of uncertainty.
What makes veterans valuable employees
Informed employers recognize that someone with a military background brings certain high-value assets into the civilian sector. Notably, veterans were taught, trained, and grounded in certain principles that make them uniquely valuable to their employers, particularly given the current business environment, including:
It's been said that the United States Armed Forces is the greatest leadership institution in the world. The practices, beliefs, values, and dedication of those who serve make them tested leaders even outside of the military. Given the opportunity to lead, a veteran will step forward and assume the role. Asked to respect and support leadership, they comply with that position as well. Leadership is in the veteran's blood and for a company that seeks employees with the confidence and commitment to lead if called upon, a veteran is the ideal choice.
The hope is that all employees are committed to their job and give 100% each day. For someone in the military, this is non-negotiable. The success of the mission, and the lives of everyone around them, depend on their commitment to stay the course and perform their job as trained. When the veteran employee takes on a project, it will be completed. When the veteran employee says there's an unsurmountable obstacle, it is so (not an excuse). When a veteran says they're "all in" on an initiative, they will see it through.
Strategy, planning, and improv
Every mission involves strategy, planning, and then improvisation from multiple individuals. On the battlefield, no plan works perfectly, and the service member's ability to flex, pivot, and adapt makes them valuable later, in the civilian sector. Imagine living in countries where you don't speak the language, working alongside troops who come from places you can't find on a map, and having to communicate what needs to get done to ensure everyone's safety. Veterans learned how to set goals, problem-solve challenges, and successfully get results.
With an all-volunteer military for decades now, every man and woman who wore our nation's uniform raised their hand to do so. They chose to serve their country, their fellow Americans, and their leaders. These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.
When companies seek out leaders who will commit to a bigger mission, can think strategically and creatively, and will serve others, they look to veterans.
Best practices in retention of veteran talent
Retention starts at hiring. The experience set out in the interview stage provides insight about how it will be to work and grow within the team at the company. For employers hiring veterans, this is a critical step.
Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent.
The veteran employee may have had a few — or several — jobs since leaving the military. Or this may be their first civilian work experience. In any case, setting expectations and being clear about goals is vital. Remember, veterans are trained to complete a mission and a goal. When an employer clarifies the mission and shows how the veteran employee's role supports and fulfills that mission, the employee can more confidently and successfully complete their work.
Additionally, regular check-ins are helpful with veteran employees. These employees may not be as comfortable asking for help or revealing their weaknesses. When the employer checks in regularly, and shows genuine interest in their happiness, sense of productivity, and overall job satisfaction, the veteran employee learns to be more comfortable asking for help when needed.
The military is a values-driven culture. Service members are instilled with values of loyalty, integrity, service, duty, and honor, to name a few. When they transition out of the military, veterans still seek a commitment to values in their employers. Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent. Make it clear what your values are, how you live and act on those values, and how the veteran's job will promote and support those values. Even work that is less glamorous can be attractive to a veteran if they understand the greater purpose and mission.
Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.
Finally, leveraging the strengths and goals of any employee is critical, and particularly so with veterans. If you have an employee who is passionate about service, show them ways to give back — through mentoring, community engagement, volunteerism, etc. If your veteran continues to seek leadership roles, find opportunities for them to contribute at higher levels, even informally. When your veteran employee offers to reframe the team's mission to gain better alignment across the sector, give them some runway to experiment. You have a workforce that is trained and passionate about and skilled in adapting and overcoming. Let them do what they do best.