Over the last 15 years, research into workplace mental health has yielded some eye-opening statistics:
- It is estimated that anxiety and depression cost the global economy $1 trillion USD per year in lost productivity (1).
- One in five Canadians experience a mental health problem or illness each year. This equates to 500,000 employees unable to work every week due to mental health problems or illnesses (2).
- 70% of Canadians are concerned about the psychological health and safety in their workplace (3).
Though this research has encouraged companies to start looking at Mental Health, knowing where they should start is a much bigger problem.
The answer is stigma.
The majority of people today, still do not feel comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace. For example, 77% of Canadians are reluctant to talk about Mental Health issues in the workplace (CMA).
Stigma is still suppressing open communication, transparency and vulnerability between employee and employer. In turn, companies have trouble knowing where to start.
One Potential Starting Point
The hypothesis here, is that these vulnerable conversations become even harder for salespeople. Their career advancement is closely tied to performance, which makes discussing personal mental health struggles extremely challenging.
The aim of this post and survey research is to give sales teams and organizations a starting point. To create more awareness around the negative events that happen while working in sales and their impact on sales rep mental health.
As part of our survey, we had over 160 anonymous salespeople respond. Respondents were presented with 16 possible trigger events/sales activities. They were then asked to select the top 3 events, they felt impacted their mental health the most.
These trigger events ranged from cold calling to missing target and were included in the survey based on conversations with other salespeople, LinkedIn group comments and personal stories shared with The Sales Health Alliance.
Here are the results and here is your starting point.
Out of all possible options, micro-management by leadership was the most popular response, with 50% of salespeople listing it as having one of the greatest impacts on their mental health.
Missing target came in a close second with 40.6% of respondents listing it in their Top 3.
It is worth pausing to note how intertwined these two negative events are within sales. How little we know about their impact on each other in causing mental health decline.
Micro-management and missing target frequently feed into each other. Together they can create a downward spiral that promotes and accelerates declining mental health.
Whether the scenario starts with a sales rep missing target or micro-management by leadership – the results are the same.
For example, here is an all too common scenario that unfolds within sales:
A sales rep misses target and for 40.6% of reps (indicated in the survey), their mental health will decline.
To solve the problem, sales leadership is alerted. Now whether the sales leader’s intentions are to remedy under-performance with positive coaching or put pressure on the sales rep, micro-management typically increases.
As we have learned from the survey results, for 50% of salespeople this would mean their mental health would likely decline again.This makes it increasingly harder to perform at a high level and achieve their new target.
So – the sales rep misses target again, sinking their mental health and motivation even further.
Desperate for results, the sales leader places the sales rep on a Performance Improvement Program (PIP). This again increases micro-management, decreases sales rep mental health and creates a hopeless chance at success.
Finally, the sales rep misses their target for a third time. The sales leader is forced to let them go for being “demotivated” or a “not right for sales.”
Mental Well-being Drives Sales Performance
Studies have proven that declining mental health correlates heavily with decreased productivity and increased levels of employee presenteeism and absenteeism. We talk more about this and the mental health spectrum in an earlier post here, but it’s no surprise the sales rep in our example had trouble hitting their targets.
When a sales rep misses target, this should not be treated as a negative experience. This is as an opportunity to discuss any mental health struggles the sales rep might be having first. Then provide coaching second.
There is also plenty of research supporting this shift in mindset.
According to the World Health Organization – for every $1 USD put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 USD in improved health and productivity. Within sales this would apply to properly treating salespeople who miss target and avoiding destructive management styles.
If you find your sales team consistently missing target, experiencing retention issues or being demotivated – our survey results suggest re-evaluating how the sales team is being managed.
A future post will dive into this issue further, but as a sales leader start by asking yourself:
“Do I trust my sales team to hit target?”
If the answer is “No” – there is a good chance you’re micro-managing your sales team to some degree. It’s time to stop, because it’s only making it harder for the sales reps to perform.
Other Interesting Findings
Now lets look at some other interesting findings from the survey.
Firstly, “Facing rejection or the client telling me “no” surprisingly had the lowest response rate. Only 3.1% of salespeople identified this as having a leading impact on their mental health.
This is a good sign because rejection is often thought of as the hardest part about working in sales. However according to the data, it seems like most salespeople have learned how to brush off the “no’s” they experience effectively.
You can see the full breakdown of trigger events and the response percentage in the table below.
Pick your Top 3 – What sales related events negatively impact your Mental Health the most?
|Type of Event||Percentage of Responses|
|Micro-Management By Leadership||50%|
|Working With Demotivated Salespeople||22.5%|
|Meeting Daily Metrics||21.3%|
|Compensation or Role Responsibility Changes||17.5%|
|A Deal Falls Through Last Minute||16.9%|
|Restarting Back at “0”||16.9%|
|Inter-Sales Team Politics||16.9%|
|Deal Getting Pushed Back||12.5%|
|Dealing With Upset Client||12.5%|
|Meeting With Manager To Review Performance||6.9%|
|Rejection or Client telling me “no”||3.1%|
Secondly, another interesting finding is the type of sales role matters. Though micro-management and missing target were always the leading responses, the impact of the other mental health trigger events above varied from role to role.
For example, a sales rep focused on business development responded differently than a sales rep primarily focused on account management. The same is true for an individual contributor vs sales leader. Someone working inbound leads vs outbound leads sales. And inside sales vs outside sales.
This data is not shown above, however over the coming weeks we will create more content around these areas. In addition, these posts will include best practices around how you can navigate these events in a mentally healthy way.
As outlined at the start of this post – this is your starting point.
The first step towards improving mental health in sales is developing more awareness. Awareness around what contributes to declining mental health at the individual and team level.
From there, we as salespeople can start having better discussions. We can start sharing best practices to develop a healthier and more productive sales community.
If this post has been helpful, checkout some of our other resources to help you thrive under pressure in sales.
About The Author
Jeff Riseley is currently the Founder of the Sales Health Alliance and Mental Health Advocate. With over a decade of sales experience – Jeff understands the importance of Mental Health in achieving peak sales performance.
Jeff combines his sales (Sales Knowledge Institute) and Mental Health expertise to improve sales performance through a mix of sales mentorship and mental health best practices. His strategies have helped sales teams improve their sales process, while helping them become more motivated, resilient and better equipped to tackle stressful events within sales.
He is currently delivering these strategies through on-site workshops, coaching and speaking engagements. To explore working with Jeff contact him at [email protected]