Balancing the Grind with Sabina Read, Resident Psychologist at SEEK

Sabina Read is a psychologist, presenter, broadcaster, facilitator and writer, as well as SEEK’s Ambassador and Resident Psychologist.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role? 

I’m a psychologist, but don’t be fooled into thinking you know what that means! There is no such thing as an average day for me, and this is exactly the kind of portfolio career I’ve deliberately carved out for myself.

I spend some of my week as a therapist with clients which I currently do via video, telephone or walking sessions, however, I will soon continue to see some clients back in my clinic now restrictions are starting to lift (yes – I really do have a therapy couch!). 

I also enjoy presenting regular keynotes and workshops with corporates and other groups on topics such as well-being, stress, burnout, relationships, difficult conversations, and navigating change. 

I am frequently engaged as a spokesperson to share psychological and human insights for a host of causes and brands, I hold several regular media and social commentary roles, including co-hosting my own podcast Human Cogs, and I offer expert insights, develop content, and present on a wide range of work-related topics from both the employee and employer perspective as SEEK’s Ambassador and Resident Psychologist. 

I also value a range of not-for-profit work with a cross-section of people who I feel privileged to walk alongside as they navigate the highs and lows of their lives. 

On the personal front, I’m a partner, mum to two daughters at university, and two rescue dogs; and I treasure the relationships I have with many friends and family. 

Working and engaging with all these individuals, groups and stakeholders brings me much satisfaction, meaning, variety and stimulation, and it can also be very demanding, so I need to be aware of the boundaries required to continue to kick goals in all these directions. The truth is this is very much a work in progress. Plumber and the leaky tap if you know what I mean! 

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Yesterday went something like this – ran with the dogs, did a load of washing, spoke to two jounos on mental health and toxic workplaces respectively, prepped for my weekly radio segment, attended an indigenous information program with a NFP I support, promoted my most recent podcast episode on social media, presented to 600 ANZ peeps on burnout and languishing, counselled 3 clients, and met with a tradie at home to put a new door in!

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I work for myself, so I can work flexibly and remotely. However, sometimes this can mean falling into the habit of working round the clock – partly because I love what I do, and partly because there’s no-one else to do the work!

I have a wonderful PA, but the buck stops with me. During the last 4 months of lockdown in Melbourne, I have been living down the coast, and I have never been busier. This has affirmed that flexible work and working remotely is absolutely possible.

Although none of us could have predicted what the pandemic would bring, I think I’ve continued to carve out a career that allows for independence, growth, impact, and flexibility, all of which are values I hold dear.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I kinda debunk the notion of work-life balance as somewhat of a furphy! The idea of finding a “perfect” and yet often elusive work-life balance has been bandied around for years.

It assumes the desire, and possibility, to strike a harmonious balance between the personal and professional domains of life. The reality is that work-life balance is a personal construct rather than a universal destination.

If work-life balance is our goal, then work-life boundaries are the road map. I put many boundaries in place every day to align with my needs, values, and goals. Examples of boundaries that nurture balance for me include unapologetically getting 8 hours sleep, moving my body every day, and staying in connection with friends in meaningful and intimate ways.

I need to have some fun and play in my life, and when I dial these down, I can sense the resentment and grief building within me. 

I also place great value on identifying how the range of work, volunteer, and personal projects I undertake impact the lives of others. There’s little point in utilising my energy, skills, and passion if I can’t see how my contribution will somehow touch the lives of others.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I’ve recently taken up running again. I’ve placed renewed emphasis on sleep. And I’ve engaged a wonderful therapist which has injected a renewed curiosity towards understanding myself and the choices I’m making.

I would challenge anyone who thinks that seeing a psychologist is a sign of weakness or flaws. On the contrary, I’m repeatedly buoyed and inspired by the growth and development of my clients. So, I decided this year to commit to my own therapeutic learnings and I haven’t looked back!

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts, or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I love Esther Perel’s podcast Where Should We Begin? And I have to give a shoutout to my own conversational podcast Human Cogs where we talk to extraordinary ordinaries about their human stories across personal and professional spheres.

We just wanted to have the conversations that we felt needed to be had. Atomic Habits by James Clear is a great read too. And for those trying to make sense of trauma with a big or little T, I enjoyed What Happened to You? by Oprah and Dr Bruce Perry.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

The weather app is a favourite! And I would struggle to dance through life without nail polish on my fingers and toes. Spotify and audible also get a good workout on my phone, as do the Smiling Mind and Calm apps.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be? 

I don’t subscribe to gurus, and I don’t think any one person has the answers. The best person to learn about work-life balance from is you. We all know when we’ve drowned out our inner wisdom, and we generally know what we need to do to tune into it once more.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Having a job that you enjoy and find fulfilling can have a very positive impact on your life. On the other hand, if you dread going to work or you’re constantly stressed and feel you have little support, your job can take a toll on your mental and physical wellbeing. This poses the basic question: Should workplace mental health be the responsibility of employers or employees?  

A workplace that supports wellbeing is motivating and helps mitigate workplace burnout and exhaustion. Factors such as working long hours, disconnection from colleagues or a lack of boundaries can result in increased levels of stress which have a damaging effect on the mental health of employees.  

One key factor to support mental health is setting clear boundaries to help create work-life balance. We can define boundaries and ensure mental health is a top priority when we are in tune with our needs, values, and goals.

Setting boundaries means being accountable for how your time and energy is divided across different aspects of your life. Although work-life balance has often been characterised as an elusive concept that is unattainable, there are steps that both employers and employees can take to strike for a more harmonious balance between the personal and professional domains of life.  

According to SEEK research, 60% of employees believe it is their employer’s responsibility to support their mental health, however, 24% of people surveyed say they have no mental health support at work. This disconnect is concerning and requires input from both employees and employers to close the gap.  

While there has been an increase in awareness about the prevalence and importance of mental health in the workplace; there remains a need to support and guide employees, managers and leaders to increase confidence and ease in knowing what to do and say to support those in need.

As our professional lives become increasingly demanding and the line between the home and the workplace is further blurred, it’s little wonder so many workers feel overwhelmed. With deadlines looming, to-do lists getting longer, and workplace relationships sometimes strained, it is vital to acknowledge the importance of nurturing mental health at work.  

One way to close the gap around mental health expectations is to introduce regular conversations around the resources available for workers to support them through difficult times as well as encourage behaviours that result in better aligned work-life boundaries for employees.

Some employers are fearful to open the dialogue around mental health in case it gets in the way of delivering business goals, or for fear of saying the wrong thing, however, avoiding these conversations won’t dial down employees’ unmet needs, and it negates the agency that employees can bring as problem solvers.  

Mental health is everyone’s business and both employers and employees are responsible for creating innovative and sustainable work-life boundaries that not only aim to improve work-life balance but dial up job satisfaction. Thriving workplaces acknowledge that these strategies need to be fluid and flexible with the expectation from both parties that they can be reassessed as situations change.  

SEEK’s research unveiled the different ways that employers are offering support to their employees to help achieve work life balance and promote positive mental health:  

  • 56% of those surveyed have regular workload reviews at work 
  • 55% have flexible and remote working arrangements.  
  • 43% encourage employees to switch off computers/work phones at the end of the day 
  • 35% reinforce the benefit of getting outside for exercise 

As we move into a post-pandemic normal, and transition to a hybrid working model, many employers have introduced mental health days into the remit of possibility for their employees. By legitimising mental health days in the workplace, employers are noting that management of our mental health should be no different to our physical health.  

There are five emotional, behavioural, physical, and cognitive signs that show it’s time to take a mental health day off work: 

  • Negative or pessimistic thinking, or personalising other people’s negativity, comments, or feedback 
  • Feeling frustrated, short-tempered, stressed, intolerant or low 
  • Withdrawing socially 
  • Increasing frequency of physical issues including gut and gastro-related ailments, headaches, skin conditions and a compromised immune system 
  • Sleeping concerns include trouble going to sleep or waking throughout the night.  

The reality is that both employers and employees have a key part to play in ensuring that mental wellbeing is a priority in the workplace.

It is the employer’s role to have transparent conversations around mental health and ensure that strong work-life boundaries are a key value for the company. On the other hand, employees have the responsibility to speak out about what they need to bring their best selves professionally and ensure their most important needs are being met.  

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.