Perry Timms writes on social HR and asks the questions we should all we asking about the workplace. He has over 20 years experience in business change including project management, organisational development, talent strategy and L&D. He is well-known on the blogger and event circuit and is regularly asked to chair conferences, roundtables and webinars, both in the UK and around Europe. Perry is a CIPD adviser on social media and engagement.

Just like Brene Brown and others, I want to talk about emotions now. Cue a few who will roll their eyes or expect some loved-up post with internet memes and inspirational quotes.

Cue a lot of other people who will sit up and hopefully take in some warmth and warnings.

Social networks can be a pressure cooker of expectation and visibility, a valve of letting off steam and of support when you need it most.

So when things are hard, work is piling up and demands are great we do this thing, we plough on. We get our head down. We get up early and work until all hours. We seem more determined to pull things around and test out what we’re made of.

We put on a brave face and on social networks we post, we are present we don’t want to appear to miss out or disappear. For fear we might lose our place, our relevance our ranking maybe? We don’t want to admit we can’t cope, we don’t want to appear like we’re struggling.

After all, we’re not being diagnosed with a specific condition and we don’t want to overlabel ourselves as suffering even a little of mental ill health.

And we shouldn’t overly utilise this term too – not being well IS more than physically ill, we know that – but it’s also exhaustion, burn-out, despair, anxiety, and of course more severe forms of depression.

Social networks can be a pressure cooker of expectation and visibility

"When we're not happy, we're not charged."

But when we’re not happy, we’re not charged in the right ways.

We’re not sleeping well and we can’t be bothered with all that social media guff.

We have important work to do and people rely on you and need you. They expect you to post something insightful and even inspiring. To pick up a retweet and a comment on a blog you’re normally interested in. We don’t stick to what we know would help. We eat irrationally. We stop exercising.

We get less buzz from our social network and it becomes annoying.

A nagging thought in your mind says “but they’ll notice I’m not here anymore”.  Except they won’t and they (people) might only not notice but if they do notice they will be concerned for your wellbeing and not overly judgemental or critical.

And that’s your social network that you’re part of. Perhaps what that doesn't refer to are the social networks you choose and have created. Smaller tighter communities of interest and practice. Groups of people you’re closer too even if there’s a geographical distances.

"The truly amazing nature of social networks"

This is where the power comes into play on just how useful – no, how downright amazing – your social networks can become. Letting people know how you are in that tighter group isn’t a commentary on life, a big desperate plea for attention or a bandstand on something which could/should be done more privately.

It’s safety.

It’s where the effort you put into others, their needs and their intellectual and emotional wellbeing come back ten fold. Where people who really do care about you can not just show support and empathy but show their belief in you and offer the right kinds of help. Where a +1 or a like isn’t just part of a general scan of pictures of places, plates and posts but where it says “I’m here; I see you”.

So it is that we need to aware of something quite unique in our age of social: social pressure and social protection.

What is social pressure?

Social pressure is the feel that if you’re not posting you’re missing in action.

That you’re not there much, so something must be either wrong or more important. That what you have to say isn’t for public consumption. That you might make people feel uncomfortable with some stark truths about struggles.

That others may belittle you and in some patronising way, tell you to get over it and not make such a big deal out of it. That people with diagnosed ill-health problems are suffering so you should count yourself lucky really. 

Real or perceived, unlikely though you may think that is, you can’t help but suspect it might happen so the countermeasure to this is a brave face and a masquerade of “all is well”.

There’s plenty of research out there concerning teenagers use of social media and the pressure to be “living life to the max”.  And that’s a REALLY sad indictment of something that should be about celebrating and sharing things that make life better.

What is social protection?

Social protection comes from the closer-knit and more chosen/constructed social networks. Be they a closed invite-only Facebook group; a What’s App chat gang; a Google+ Community – these are places where people BELONG. 

Other social networks are where you’re subscribed and you belong but not really in a human sense of belonging.

In these networks, friendships are either forged or strengthened. Where there’s more likely allegiance and a reason to be there and a common and shared purpose. So they’re naturally safer by that definition. In this sort of social network there’s no trolling, no snarks, no pompous posturing.

There’s a greater chance that any vulnerability won’t be met with disdain, platitudes or faux concern. There will be concern of a genuine nature. Messages of support which are only words but ones crafted from the very heart and soul of people as an expression of care.

Don’t ever forget that we’re a social species and we need others

Where offers of help and advice are not just well meant but well formed and well received.

Social networks get a lot of bad press and hype and in some cases and experiences rightly so. Please though, don’t ever forget that we’re a social species and we need others.

Mindful thinking is sure useful but the milk of human kindness has seen us through centuries of challenge and now it appears modern living is no different and perhaps more needed than ever with the pressures of working and living in a “loud world”.

Whilst we may feel the pressure of social, I’d urge us all to think about the safe spaces and networks we have and can create that give us the most fundamental need of human beings state of mind: protection.

Social protection.

A place where we belong.