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Disembarking The Mental Health Rollercoaster Ride





During the summer of 2019, I worked in a moderately large theme park, during their high season, and quickly went from one of their most uncomfortable, skittish team members to part of the furniture, winning an award for my contributions to the company. How did I do it? Because I felt that I belonged in the company.


Despite being up to five years older than some of my fellow colleagues during that summer, there was a semblance of belonging, whether it was the second day of the bank holiday, where our aching sunburnt selves were dragging heavy bones, coffees in tow to clock in, or dancing together in the shade of the rollercoaster by our kiosk, I never expected to develop a kinship with my fellow employees.


I was one of the oldest members of non-returning staff, and acknowledged that despite being around the same age as the returners, my lack of past experience with them may have meant I wouldn’t have found friends in them. This, however, was not the case, I found myself chatting about childhood nostalgia with supervisors just six months my senior, who had worked this job since leaving secondary school, without feeling like I was breaking some form of company conduct.


Unlike in my previous roles at work, my superiors at the theme park were all around my age, until you reached the highest form of management. Most staff members returned for multiple high seasons, relaxed when it came to the nature of the role because the general team consensus was that if you knew you were in the right, your supervisor would believe you, support you and back you up via the headset. You didn’t need to fear the wrath of the manager in the back office, or the supervisor looking over the cameras to see if you’re “just standing there”, instead you would know that whatever support you’d need, you could have it, almost instantly.


This, along with the informal nature of superiority in the workplace meant that we could discuss mental health in a non-confrontational manner. It wasn’t taboo for the supervisor to say she was having a bad day, and admit she might have been a bit harsh to a colleague, and apologise. Instead, it reflected a sense of humanity. Cashiers having panic attacks were excused to compose themselves, no matter how long that would take. And, in some of the more extreme cases, they would receive extra support.


I can recall two such examples at the theme park, and I will be forever grateful for the consideration of my colleagues at those times. When I was explaining some ride rules to a group of rowdy customers, I found myself being shouted at with increasing levels of aggravation by the customers, demanding to know why I was telling them such things, while it was simply to avoid another colleague at the ride getting a mouthful. Overhearing this through her activated mic, a colleague closed her till, while I attempted to diffuse the situation, flagged down the supervisor, and told her it was getting heated at my station. My supervisor had tapped me on the shoulder, indicated that I remove my headset, and I could finally exhale, hearing her inform these customers that she was “not happy with the way they had spoken to her cashier”, and that “she was simply doing her job”. She had been able to assert her authority as the supervisor and make me feel much more secure than I had felt attempting to avoid a confrontation myself.


The second time, was, unfortunately, more extreme, where, in a late shift, I had been hailed to a separate till window to talk to a disgruntled customer, while my colleague was serving. My supervisor had been on his break, and we had been informed that if anything were to go extremely wrong, we could hail Mike* in the cash office for help. The situation with these customers, just like the previous ones had become significantly heated, with refund requests being declined, and my blatant refusal to call for the customer service team to leave their office on the other side of the site to deal with this issue, and instead telling the customer that they will instead have to make the trip to their office. This had led to banging on the glass panes of our ticket booth, and even recording of me serving other customers from my designated till. It was mortifying, and for someone with severe anxiety, hearing the banging had set me on edge. When my supervisor returned from his break, he asked me why I looked so “on edge” and, although he had been rather shaken when I burst into tears, he told me he would clock me out, and I could calm down and go home, even if he would need to jump on, and reopen a till himself, because he didn’t want me serving in such a state.


The thing that struck me here was the elevated sense of empathy among colleagues, the comradery during those awful periods, and understanding that, ultimately, I was more than just a cog in the machine. My contributions were being valued, and I was being supported personally by my superiors to make sure I was okay and coping after such ordeals.


The same could, unfortunately not be said for the place where I began to work, just days after leaving the theme park at the end of high season. I had found myself working for a new company in my local shopping centre, which, like the theme park held their company culture, of being a fun-loving, fast-paced and friendly environment in high esteem. My personal experiences, were, unfortunately, not as positive. During my short four-month term, I encountered instances where I had been made aware of colleagues gossiping about my nervous habits, things I hadn’t even realised I did, to the point they had been flagged as concerns to our manager. I also noticed, due to an absence of inconspicuousness, that notes were being made about me in the supervisor diary, telling my colleagues, that if they had the chance to send someone home early, they should send me. I found myself growing to feel unwanted in the workplace, acknowledging that unless I hounded others to let me cover their shifts, that I would be working the bare minimum of four hours a week, and spend the whole time counting down the minutes until I would be set free.


I did not feel like I was in that same fun-loving fast-paced and friendly environment anymore. I believe that one of the key distinguishing factors between the two was the levels of empathy. At the theme park, most supervisors could relate to the panic, frustration and emotional outbursts of their colleagues working in the ticket box, because, they were once those cashiers. They would either implement the same methods they’d had used on them, or provide the support they wished that they had during these times, to make sure that their cashiers wanted to come to work every day. While at the shopping centre, there appeared to be less of that, instead of acknowledging struggles of a colleague, there were instances where I would be told that I should have handled things better, been more on top of things, because if one person (despite their years of experience) can handle working the big store during a rush, and keep it looking clean, I shouldn’t have had any problems in the smaller store on my own.


I left that job after just four months and was glad to never have to return. It didn’t matter to me, that they preached a sense of unity and support at their store, I never saw it. For me, working there, was the epitome of attempting to force a culture to bloom without roots. Company culture is like I have said previously, not a self-fulfilling prophecy.


When it comes down to it, employee satisfaction and rapport among colleagues, I found that having a significant focus on empathy was the best way to go around it. Being able to communicate with your colleagues, those above you and ask if they’re okay, just as you can the new-kid-on-the-block, you will provide them with a space where they may feel more comfortable to express their feelings.



Based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra The Agile Works (www.TheAgileWorks.com), is an up-and-coming recruitment and Agile consulting company. Arvind is a Certified SAFe SPC and regularly delivers both private and public SAFe certification workshops.

He is a design thinking expert, Sr. enterprise, portfolio Agile Coach with over a decade of experience working as an Agile coach in diverse industries such as banking, pharma, retail, auto, oil, gas, consulting and government.

The Agile Works; a small team of three strive to help shape the leadership's mind-set and values in readiness for their business transformation journey challenges. With Arvind at the helm, we strive to provide you with the agility tools to make your company that can thrive, and not just survive.

To book a consultation, or for any enquiries, you can contact Arvind via the following email address: arvind@theagileworks.com


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