- JJ Rorie
Mental Health in Product Management
Mental health is a topic that is, thankfully, being spoken of more openly these days. Especially in roles like product management and technology where there is a lot of complexity, visibility, and pressure, it is really important to openly discuss issues around mental health.
In this important episode, special guests Graham Reed and Jacquelyn Guderley, founders of the Product Mind Community join to talk about why it was important for them to create a safe space for product professionals to come together, share, listen, and support each other.
people, mental health, product, product managers, community, pressures, management, resources, bit, individual, journey, role, support, business, point, struggles, environment, feel, share, life
Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources. To help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all at product voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.
Hello, and welcome to product voices. Mental health is a topic that is thankfully being spoken of more openly these days, especially in roles like Product Management Technology, where there's a lot of complexity, visibility and pressure, it's really important to openly discuss issues around mental health. We've touched on this a couple of times on product voices. And so I'm absolutely thrilled to have my guests here today who are actively creating a space for product managers to support each other around mental health. Graham Reid leads product operations at cobalt, Jacqueline good early is Product Manager at ovo energy in in early 2022. They connected over shared passions for mental health and product management. And they created the product mind community, a safe space for product professionals to come together, share, listen and support each other Graham, Jack's thank you so much for joining me.
Thank you for having us
Thank you for having us.
Yeah, I'm looking forward to the conversation. So Jacs, I'll send this to you first, and then Graham, you can chip in, as well. But tell me more about what led you to creating this community.
So yes, so I, I have a mental health journey of my own right. And it's something that kind of I think of spanning over a 10 year period, from when I first got depressed, and I've been depressed a number of times, since then, we've fixed times with total. And that's kind of, you know, vague look, more or less at the same each time struggling to function in lots of different ways. But I think as part of that mental health journey, and I'm sure we'll talk about it a bit more in a bit, is this kind of, you know, the lessons I've learned and the self awareness that I've developed, and the things that I do to try and keep myself well. And one of those lessons that I've learned is that, you know, sometimes the greatest help you can you can give yourself the greatest support is having a supportive community around you. And that can be in any realm. And, you know, it really, it really does depend. But when we look at kind of the impact of mental health and and how that intersects with work, there's a very clear, there's very clear crossover and one affects the other. And so kind of I was a new product manager, and I've had my mental health affect my work in the past. And so it just seemed like a really good opportunity to provide support to a specific group of people. A community where people get what it's like to be in that in that in that position. And that's that really is crucial and supports that understanding, mutual understanding, and how people connect around that and support each other. And that's really why when I met Greg, I thought the product my community was just fantastic idea.
Yeah, I love it. And Graham, what about you what led you to wanting to partner with Jack's on building this community?
Well, very similar to jokes, you know, I've, I've got a mental health journey, myself as well, I've been I've suffered with depression for virtually 12 years now. In fact, it it really did kick off and start when my first daughter was born, and through a few quite serious dips, you know, between then and now. You know, each time I hit that low point, you know, I improved a little bit, I recognized more signs of how I got there. And I've started to learn more lessons. And so, you know, in my personal life, you know, I've had the struggles with with depression, diverge on on a couple of a couple of instances of, of suicidal thoughts and issues and things like that. And it really was about that journey kind of back up again. And you know, that learning those lessons and suddenly as genXers just said, what those lessons were, you know, in that time and for me, one of the biggest lessons that I learned was about not trying to focus on how have How have I got back here again, especially the second third, fourth time, I hit that low point we're not focusing anymore about how I got here. You know, I am I suffered with depression, I almost certainly will do for the rest of my life, it's very much under control, it has been for quite a long time now. And for me, I spot the signs of me myself dipping back into that, but I don't beat myself up about it, I accept that these things will happen, I accept, I will probably, you know, get back in again, something will trigger me off typically, for me, it's big change in my life, it's big changes that happen. And focusing on that journey back up again, you know, not really, as I said, not stressing about how I got here but stressing out but you know, I'm focusing on, you know, what's my, my journey back? So how does that for me, you know, rollover into into my professional life in a product manager, or in almost the same number of years, I've been a product manager, live and breathe product management, software product management. And it does, it does trip over it does, it does trickle over from that personal life, into their professional life, it's certainly affected my work over the years, at different times, I've not been able to complete projects, I've not been able to focus on the work, I've not done the best work I can do, it has put a strain on on my work, you know, at times the places that I've worked, when I've been at kind of my lowest points. And so now, you know, over the last few years, we'll have really been very much on a on a steady, medium, and, and back on top of things, you know, really wanted me to then start to share a lot more of my own understanding my learnings, at the start of the year, just randomly connected with with Jackson, we, we understood this shared passion, we really knew we wanted to do something about him, but with no resources to to do anything, you know, properly. You know, we we wanted to just talk to people, we wanted to share our thoughts, our learnings, and do that in a way that was free, that was open to everybody, everybody, product managers in terms of product managers, wherever they'd be aspiring product managers all the way up to, you know, experience where we experience leaders in the in the field, and just maker which provide a community for people to be able to talk and it really just started to grow from there.
I really love this, I love the fact that you both are, are comfortable and open with your own history, because I think that's going to be so important for others to not feel alone. And then of course, building the community. And I want to I want to follow up on something and just ask your your opinion. And so either either one of you who may have a perspective on this can can chime in. I mentioned earlier, as I was introducing the episode that we talked about mental health a little bit more these days, which is wonderful. But I don't know that it's translated yet into a different culture or you know, tangible things in the workplace that can improve the situation and environment for mental health. I don't know that it's talked about from an employer's perspective in the right way. And I don't know that any environments or cultures have really changed enough. Have you seen that? So while there may be some discussion about it around in the community, and in the in the product management technology world, is it? Is it translating to different workplaces? Or is are we still having a long way to go to get to that point?
I'll start with that Graham, feel free to jump in. But I think it very much depends on where you work. You know, if we think about kind of the history of mental health and how we've talked about it in society, it's only really, you know, even 10 years ago, we wouldn't be having this conversation, Graham and I would probably be too nervous to even share. So if you think really, the changes that have come about in our conversation have happened in the grand scheme of things in the very recent history, and there's gonna be a bit of I think it's gonna be a bit of time, it's gonna take a bit of time, before you know, every single workplace can catch up with that, because, you know, I think we'd all love to kind of expect workplaces to have these really open cultures where everybody can come and share and talk about things. But the reality is that those environments that we work in are having to learn and adapt as well. And so I, you know, I really think it's easy to kind of think otherwise and think, why aren't things changing quicker, but I think, you know, a little bit of understanding and patience with the environments that we work in, is really crucial to kind of, you know, continuing continuing this journey. And then equally one of the things that I think is that really feeds into that culture is implement the chicken and egg thing of it is that the more people share, the more people feel able to share, but because at the moment, there's still some stigma around and there's still fear of judgment, people are a little bit apprehensive. And so while I think, you know, I think the change has to come from the top and I've think that companies have to make them give the environment whether employees, the employees feel confident to share. So, and only then can we kind of see a bit more of a change. But I really, you know, I do think the change has been brilliant, I really do. If I think about my workplace ovo, when I joined, they sent me a wellbeing action plan. And that was assessed questions where I could share, you know, my triggers and what what stress might look like for me what my mental health, what signs there might be if my mental health wasn't in such a great place, and I felt really quite comfortable sharing in that environment. So I think we're seeing more of that. And you know, I am, I'm really, really hopeful for the future, there will be better, there'll be better environments for, for everybody to share.
I love that story of what ovo did. And I think that's a fair a fair perspective of it is changing. And, you know, we can be patient and then almost manifest it. If if you know, more people are open to share, then that that creates the culture. So I love that perspective. Thank you for, for sharing that. I want to I want to turn to a different question. And Grandma, I'll throw this one to you. What do you think it is about product management specifically, that's different, you know, when it comes to, you know, managing mental health or having, you know, having issues, if you will, around mental health?
I think I mean, it's a, it's a great question. It really, really is. And I think that if we step back a little bit, and actually something that I touched on a little bit earlier, which was that there's, there's different aspects to our lives that some of us, many of us, we compartmentalize in some way, shape, or form, we have our home and personal life, we have our social life. And then we also have our work life as well. And many people that those lines are blurred, many people keep them separate. But the fact is, is that all of them will have some form of stresses in them, or anxieties or issues for want of a better word. And if we start off with we've we've home life, you know, in our personal lives, there's always something you know, that's going on, it might not be a condition amount will be a mental health condition, but there's always something going on at home. And this we see, you know, sitting here in 2022, you know, there's so many, so much going on, you know, there's so much talk around mental health, and well being, it's a great, actually great leap from what Jacqueline's just been talking about, you know, in the, the, there is a lot there, you know, it's very, almost trendy to be talking about, you know, dare I say it's very, very common to be talked about in your social lives. So then we move into the work life, okay. And in any work life, there's stresses and strains, there's pressures, good or bad employees, so employers can can cause a whole number of, of different pressures on to an individual worker. And so that, you know, that is a layer on top of that. And then we've got a third one for product managers, no product managers, product management, is a fairly unique role. Okay, eight has some very, very unique pressures to it, which are always on top of the pressures of just working in IT for any employee working for a company at all. You know, as a product manager, we are that center of a software business, you know, there is always that demands upon the product managers from other areas of the business to be delivering, or that we've not hit a target, we've not released something on time, or there's a bug or there's a problem here. And then similarly, as well, you know, from inside that technical division, there is the complaints that were putting too much pressure on the engineers, the designers haven't had enough time the QA team are finding too many bugs there's, there's so much going on. And so there is there's it's very difficult for product managers to potentially reach out to other people, especially if you're in a smaller type of business whereby maybe you're the only product manager or you're part of a very small team. There's you know, there's lots of pressures there from all across the business and very few people to be able to, to talk to about how you're feeling there's very few outlets for you to be able to do to talk and discuss and run ideas through because you're constantly being bombarded. You know, from all those different directions. It's one want one take take take all of the time. And I'm not that's not to take the product manager role down at all or talk about any business in particular, but it's just a natural way that that businesses that that role is kind of set up. And so what you have then is you have this this kind of three, three layers of I have a three layer cake for one of the better words, you know, you have your home life, and then you have the general work life. And then you have product management on top of that, and there's very few roles that are, you know, would be put into a into a very similar type of, of position.
And so all of that mix together then creates something very, very difficult for for product managers to kind of work with. How do they have an outlet? How do they bounce ideas off other people? How do they talk about how they're feeling. And interestingly, as a slight aside, I completely outside of the community, I ran a survey a couple of years ago, to ask workers and it was just at the start of the pandemic. So there's a slight tinge with the pandemic on it. But I asked workers, it was a survey, how they were feeling, you know, what areas of mental health and well being that they were feeling, you know, overwhelmed with or what, you know, were they feeling depressed, anxious, lonely, etc, etc, etc, etc. Lots of results came back. But very interestingly, overwhelmingly, it was middle managers, people have a first line management type position that were highest by a country mile. In terms of how they were feeling, you know, a lot worse than others, they were feeling much more anxious, they were feeling much more depressed or feeling much more costs or bootstraps spectrum of different term mental health issues or conditions. More so than than low level workers, you know, they're those entry level type people, the people at the bottom rungs of the ladder, and also the mid middle later stage management and CEOs and executive teams and people like that it was those those first line managers that were feeling most under pressure. And through some analysis with that, it was really understanding that, again, they had very few people to be able to talk to, but they were putting in taken a lot of those pressures off of their subordinates, the people in their teams. So in a very, very similar way, you know, to product managers, they sit at that point whereby they are having to make decisions, and they are having to take these demands, and they are having to negotiate with people all across the business consistently. So it is a very, very pressurized and complex role to do. And the pressures that it puts on an individual's mental health care, you know, can easily be overwhelming.
And just to just to jump in there and add to Graham's point, he's done a great job of kind of outlining the very specific nature of the product role. And you can imagine that, you know, being quite unique, rather, there aren't that many other roles, or people working other roles that would understand those exact pressures. And I sometimes think of the community a little bit like finding a really great therapist. So when I, when I first had depression, I tried to few therapists and didn't really help me too much. And then I found a therapist, who then was my therapist on an ongoing basis. And the thing she did for me, that helped me out of the struggles that I was in and on a recovery journey was she made me feel understood for the first time, you know, she made me feel like everything I was going through was understandable. In some ways it was normal. And kind of just, you know, I didn't have to feel wrong or bad, or like, you know, that there was something I'd done wrong anymore. And I kind of feel like that's what you get from our community, in any community where you're able to share with people who truly, truly understand what you're going through. And, you know, and I think that's the real, you know, the benefit of having these kind of smaller groups of people with quite unique and specialized interest and skill sets and experiences, but I really hope that that's kind of the benefit that that real feeling of like a deeper level of understanding, which can then kind of give you the confidence and perspective to, you know, pull yourself out of any, any kind of issues or challenges that you're going through.
Yeah, really important. And, you know, we, in product management, we're such an output driven function, whether or not we want to admit it, right. And a lot of times we, the people around us and the organizations we work for are, you know, they, they care only about what we do for the, for the company, and again, that's being a little bit dramatic for effect, but but at the end of the day, you know, do they do they care about us, or they care about what we do? And you know, again, on a fundamental level, they organizations and teammates and, you know, we've got to care about each other, not only because it's the right thing to do as humans, but frankly, it's it's good for business as well. And so let me let me take that and ask the next question. Maybe Maybe Jax, I'll I'll have you answer this first. Speaking Have all of that and all of the kind of great analysis of what makes product management, especially stressful, what needs to change, what are some things that we can do in product management to make it better to make it a better environment,
the, there's probably a number of ways that you could look at this problem, and kind of looking at changing environments, or some of the things that Graham talked through, you know, and I think companies have to really take ownership and understand the impact of those, that culture that those behaviors and how that can affect people. Because, as you say, you know, it's, it's, there's that there's a person behind the roll, you know, we see this kind of machines churning out stuff, but there is always a person behind the roll. And I think, you know, it comes back to that empathy, and that understanding that compassion, and also realizing that, you know, your workforce is never going to perform well, if they have mental health isn't in a good place, and we're not well supported. But I also like to think of, kind of how we can manage our own environment, kind of being aware of the things that we can change that are in our control, and doing our best to look after ourselves as product managers. Because there are, you know, there are things with a fixed product management that makes it difficult, but there are things that are unique and common to all humans, that we that we can do. So things like, you know, making sure you schedule in time to not have meetings, for example, that's, that's an element, you know, some control that we might have over our diaries, or having that person that you share with at work, and that you can go to or, you know, the product man community. And, and kind of, you know, being brave enough, because sometimes you do have to be brave to share with your manager when things are difficult. And, you know, I did a workshop with my team, where we looked at some of the common problems that we were going through, and then some of the actions that we could take to lessen the pressure on ourselves. And I think that's a really good exercise to do, as well. And that's not to say that, I do not believe that, you know, the mental health, if someone has a mental health issue, I don't believe that we can entirely locate that in the, in the individual, it is almost what it is always a product of our circumstance, you know, social and environmental factors. But I think self awareness, and kind of making adjustments and looking after ourselves as best we can, in our environment, in our product environments is really, really key.
Yeah, and I'd follow that up as well. I mean, what Jax has just said is absolutely spot on is, there's two real things that have to change that. And it's top down and bottom up, you know, firstly, there's a, there is a call to for having a top down change, you know, at businesses, you know, the recognition for anybody to, you know, to have mentors, we talked to we, you know, we touched upon earlier about, it's great to, oh, it's fine to be able to talk about, you know, an individual's mental health within social circles, you know, it's, it's a very common thing these days, but in the workplace, somewhat still a taboo and is changing. But, you know, there's a long way to go with that. And that change, that cultural shift really does need to be brought from, from top down, it's not a grassroots thing that can change, it's not something that, you know, is going to be led by few brave individuals, but they will help absolutely, you know, there has to be a fundamental shift and change and understanding from from top down from businesses large and small, to be able to, you know, recognize the individuals. And really, we're not talking just about product managers, now, we're talking the whole landscape, you know, there has to be that recognition. And it's not just a case of, you know, well will, will will provide mental health courses will provide, you know, mental health step ends, you know, anything else like that, you know, it's a, it's a cultural thing, it has to be, you know, that those sorts of things have to change. And then secondly, it is a, it is a personal thing as well, it is, you know, recognizing things, not your own limitations, like I said early, you know, recognizing that, you know, some days you will not feel great, and that's perfectly okay. You know, and focus on how do you move forward, not look backwards, know, the situations and the pressure points that, you know, that really do trigger you and put really pull you down? And how do you to change and avoid those, as Jacqueline said, how do we, you know, schedule our days that work best for for for us individually, as well as obviously, you know, work in what worlds, you know, what the business needs, as well in that in that fact. But it's, you know, I think there's those two, there's two fundamental shifts that do need to happen in that second one, which is that that personal shift, you know, people do have the capacity to be able to do that, but they will also need to, you know, help and support and it may well be our community can can help a bit with that. You know, professionals can help with that your colleagues, you'll Brains, people at work that you, you know, are comfortable to speak to, you know, everybody will have a different journey. I don't think Jacqueline or myself or any, any point in the community are saying that there's 111 thing that fits everybody one way and one set of actions that fits everybody. Everybody's different, everybody's unique, and everybody will find their own unique way to armor themselves to spot those own individual signs and what's their own, you know, making their own individual path out of whatever that they might may find themselves in.
And, you know, that's, that's great points. And what I want to add is that, that's not to say that any of this is easy, necessarily, right? I think it's very, I don't want people listening to this think, oh, you know, judges and grand display sworn in and be able to talk about things and none of it. That's, that's not our point of view. And it's not easy. And I just want to say, you know, so I have this 1010 year mental health journey. And it's only really recently, over the past couple of years that I felt confident or comfortable enough and secure enough in, in kind of making space for my needs at work and being a bit more open when I'm struggling and all that stuff. So I, you know, I don't want anyone to feel like they should feel like they should be more open and straightaway jumping into endless conversations. And it might well, it may well be a process, and that is absolutely fine. But if you can start to just start testing the boundaries a little bit and think, okay, would it be helpful to have a conversation with my manager about this, when I'm struggling, it makes me feel really vulnerable. But perhaps I could try it. And I think, you know, there's that you need that kind of self compassion and empathy as well in this process. Because it, it's not easy, it really isn't as much as I would love to say, it's easy. It is a journey and a process.
Yeah, and because it's not easy. And everyone is different, and their journey is different. I think that's, you know, why a community like the product mind, community is so important to have, you know, resources and to have the support when you need them, even if you don't know what you need, right? Especially if someone's just getting comfortable with maybe sharing their journey, to have something like the product might be available to them and kind of meet them where they are. And so speaking of that, I want to finish the conversation by learning more about the community and resources that you've built. So tell us a little bit more about the product, Vine community and some of the resources that folks can benefit from in the community?
Sure, as of right now, we are about 180 members from all across the world. I think actually, last time I checked, we're on six of seven continents. So if anybody's listening from South America, and you want to join fantastic, that makes us global. And as I think as I kind of reiterated earlier, you know, the community is made up of people from all walks of life, all types of companies, big and small. And for product managers, you know, at various stages in their career, which is I think, absolutely fantastic, you know, we've got plenty of aspiring product managers perspective of product managers that have only just got into the role or a couple of years into while still finding their feet a little bit, which, you know, is some of the most stressful times, particularly for going into a well established business already, you know, to adjust to a way of work and a way of thinking while also learning how to be a product manager as well is you know, I mean I remember those days many many years ago, and I learned it all on job but you know, I just fell into the role. And it remember, you know, having very little support to be able to move, you know, move forward on anything and so being able to provide advice and guidance to particularly people have that, you know, that experience level is you know, is a great thing all the way up to you know, experienced product leaders and directors or VPs of and, and individuals like that because everybody's the same everybody will deal with you know, mental health very differently. Doesn't matter your your age, your race where your background is, you know, your your, you know, experience level everybody deals with, you know, things you know, in very, very different ways that will strike anybody at any time. There's great conversations that happen in that we have a a real split between because we fuse together in the community product management and mental health and well being our you know, our ideal sweet spot is product managers specifically or last loosely associated roles, product designers, QA people, etc, etc. But that fusion between that sort of role and they also you know, want advice guidance help support someone's also about struggles that they're having. So we have, but at the same time, we also have people that are part of the community that are really focused on the product manager side. And also some people that are really focused on the mental health and wellbeing side as well. So we've got two collections of resources. Now we've we've produced, I don't think we've actually produced any of them ourselves, we it's resources that have been pulled together from loads of different sources all across the internet, some of them are from well known individuals, I think, actually, we've, we've, we've linked to a couple of your resources. JJ, you know, with just just a point off to some groups and great materials that you've written, as well, as you know, some some formal bodies, particularly where Jackson are based in the UK, on the mental health side, you know, some charities and some organizations that are there to specifically help, or ones that provide training, you know, such as suicide awareness training, or mental health first aid and organizations like that. And, and our aim with those resource libraries was really just to look, if you've, if you found or you identified a great resource, let's add it to the library, because guaranteed someone else will make use of it, find it useful. And I'll put it on the Product Management site, you know, it covers all different stages of the product lifecycle, you know, all the way from discovery all the way up to sunset and the product, or the delivery of a product and all the plan in a meeting organization that goes in between etc, etc. So, it's a large, it's quite a large library, it's always growing. But I think really the, and to reiterate, the whole community is free, you know, Jackson, I never went into this to make money out of it, it's completely free to join. The resources aren't ours. So we literally just point people to those resources that have been found. Again, they will free.
The conversations though, our other key here, you know, the conversations that Jackson I see every day on on the community in the community, people asking for advice, situations that I've, I've seen quite a lot of situations I've never been involved in as well, that I try my best to, to chip in with. But we've got a good core part of the community as well that just through volunteering their own time are here. And they as much as they were asking questions as well, they're helping others. And this is the basis this is the core of the of why we built the community is we want to help people we want to help others. We're not professionals, we just people that have experience, and experiences unique to us. As we said it before everyone's journey is different. And we can have advice that works for us. And we hope that advice will work for others as well. But at the same time, we know our own limitations, you know, if there is serious concerns, we point people off to, you know, experienced professionals in in that particular field. But more than that, it's a supportive environment, you know, every single member of those 180 odd that we've got, you know, they are here because they want a safe space, to talk to share what's going on at work, what's going on, perhaps in their in their home life. And to just let that out just to type it up. And the people that then respond are hugely supportive. They want to offer advice very similar to Jackson myself, they want to do this to help others as well, they want to be part of that community to help others. And it's, it's it times it's it's almost brings a tear to the eye to see so many people just rallying round, when somebody's going through a difficult time and supporting them, and they've never met them before. They may never meet them ever. They may not have interacted with the most part of the community before we even get there. And it's safe. And the people feel very comfortable in talking about, you know, what's going on. And, you know, we look at that, and I speak to Jack's, you know, very regularly offline, but you know, this is just why we did it, why we build the community in this way.
I love it. It's it's amazing what what you two have done, I am grateful and I know it's a it's a huge resource for the product management community as a whole. And so you can learn more, by the way, at product mind. community.com So listeners go to product mind community.com. We'll link to that on product voices.com And on the show notes. Jack's good early Graham Murray. This has been amazing to hear about product mind community to hear your insights and your journey. Thank you so much for sharing about your stories and for being such an amazing resource to the product management community. Thanks for joining me.
It's been an absolute pleasure. Thanks so much for having us, JJ.
Yeah, thank you really great.
And thank you all for joining us on product voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.
Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product voices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.
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