The Mindful Leader: Outbrain Managing Director APAC Andy Burke

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AW360 speaks with Outbrain’s Andy Burke about what being mentally healthy means to him.

Firstly, can you tell us your role?

I am the Managing Director, APAC for discovery platform Outbrain. My role manages business across India, China, South East Asia and ANZ.

How long have you worked in the industry?

I have been working throughout the digital and media landscape for more than 20 years.

What does being mentally healthy mean to you?

Being mentally healthy is a core part of how I try to manage each day. And that is exactly what it is, a day-to-day proposition. Sometimes I feel like I am much more on top of how mentally strong I am and other days I’m not nearly as strong and much more vulnerable. To me it’s a simple RPM game – sometimes I feel that I am cruising and at other times red lining. Often it’s somewhere in between.

Can you tell us about a time when you realised your mental health was impacting your work or home life?

The power of the mind was something I came to appreciate very early on in my career. It was clear to me how much it can affect all aspects of life. I’d be extremely positive when in a great frame of mind and much more negative when feeling low.

I grew up in the very early days of the dotcom era, which brought massive professional highs and devastating lows. There was very little if any consideration to the mental toll it was taking on us as individuals and those around us. It was a challenging environment as we tried to build businesses that had never been seen before, or so we thought.

How did this manifest itself?

I think I was one of the lucky ones as the stress I was under manifested in physical symptoms. I developed peptic ulcers and these created excruciating stomach pains that could have me doubled over. I found myself at home at age 27, without a laptop or mobile phone in sight, but with a newfound consciousness that I needed to seriously rethink how I was managing me.

How did you overcome this challenge?

I became truly aware of everything that I was doing and, equally importantly, not doing. The simplest things, like rarely leaving the office between 8am to 8pm other than for meetings, I just didn’t allow to happen anymore.

I made time to get fit and made sure that I did this when I could with other mates or colleagues. It gave me a great insight into what others could be experiencing. I used perspective to form a much more emotional and aware style of management.

I try to do this in a lot of ways; from complex situations involving professional help to simple tools like sending staff home early or taking them out of the office for some genuine care time. I also talk openly with our teams about how we need to look after each other and that it really is ok to be doing it tough.

What do you do now to practice better mental health?

I am very in tune with my mental health and what can be done to bring me up if I am feeling flat. I try and stay on top of it, I think about it every day and I constantly monitor my state of wellbeing.

Again, if I am on top of things and just keeping the RPMs down it might be picking the kids up from school, a run without the phone or catching up with a friend to get out of my bubble. At other times I need to take more serious action. 

What are the three things companies should do to create a mentally healthy workplace?

Talk about it, embrace it and build a genuinely supportive environment. Company efforts could include an always available external (confidential) councillor, ongoing buddy/mentor systems and open support for programs like R U OK, Lifeline and Movember.

The reality is that company efforts can vary from small to large. At Outbrain we do whatever it takes for our people to know they are in a safe and supportive environment where tough times can be overcome, and all staff have a responsibility for those around them.

What are you doing at your own company to address mental wellbeing?

We have an incredibly open and caring workplace. There is a huge culture of trust and this provides an environment where individuals feel more able to chat about things, like how they are feeling. We also have a program, OB Good, where we are able to direct charitable efforts and volunteering to support those in need.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?  

Have fun and enjoy this moment. Perspective is often lost in the cut and thrust of what we do. This industry is super competitive, even aggressive, and this can be all consuming to someone starting out, so keep track of what’s important to you.

Managing mental health will be discussed at Advertising Week APAC in sessions including ‘Mental Health: The Industry’s Big Issue’. Andrew Burke is speaking on the panel ‘A Knife Fight in a Native Ad Box’ on Wednesday, July 31. To see the schedule and buy tickets, click here.

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