Real Talk – Hayley Jepson on the dangers of burnout

Following her Ask An Expert session for SELF/STYLED Sunday, we wanted to dive deeper into Hayley Jepson’s experiences and how she’s working to change hairdressing culture as The Resilient Hairdresser

From hair to psychotherapy and back again — Hayley Jepson’s career path has seen her questioning the status quo, diving deep into what constitutes happiness, and trying to help other hairdressers in their quest to find their own version of balance.

Hayley Jepson

I’ve been doing hair for 29 years now, and I’m also a qualified psychotherapist. About 10 years ago, before I got into therapy, I was fed up with my career in hair, I wasn’t really enjoying myself anymore. I was bored and very unhappy with the culture. I just thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I was burnt out, definitely, and a bit depressed. I was having therapy at the time, and as I started to feel better I just said to my therapist one day, “I want to do what you do.”

I sort of thought to myself… I bet I’m at the peak of my earning power. I felt like I was at the top of my game. If I was going to make a move, now was probably the time. It took four years to train part-time, and I eventually quit hairdressing. I went off to be a therapist, that’s me now, I’m never going back. I was happy! I had my own practice, and I worked in a college as well. I did that for a few years and then… I wasn’t so happy.

I noticed that my mood was dropping again, and due to the training I’d had I could sort through my feelings and put my finger on why. I realised I wasn’t getting enough connection with people through my work, I was lonely. I had no colleagues, it’s just you and it’s a job with a lot of pressure.

Around that time I was offered a job in a salon again. And I said, “No, no, I’m a therapist now.” But I thought about it some more and said to my friend, “I tell you what… I’ll do one day a week for you.” I thought that would balance my life out again. And it worked; I noticed that I was happier. In the end, I quit the being a full-time therapist and went back to being a full-time hairdresser! I couldn’t believe it, I just thought ‘What is happening? What a waste of money! All that therapy training, what did you do?’ But I was happy to be back in the salon, and I noticed that clients and other people weren’t stressing me out in the same way they used to. I realised I was more robust, not so sensitive. Even so, I knew I probably wouldn’t want to work behind the chair forever because my back’s not brilliant. Then came that question again, of what I might do.

One of my favourite, oldest clients was a life coach, and I was talking to her about it. She said, “Well, you need to think about what’s special about you.” What’s special is that I’m both a therapist and a hairdresser, and that I could teach hairdressers how to look after themselves. Because I also used to be so stressed, and I know what’s helped me.

So I wrote a course and did it for free for a few salons, just to see what it was like, and it was very well received. Emboldened, I dug further into it, started my Instagram and it started to spread by word of mouth. After just four months lockdown hit, and as I was unable to do in-person courses anymore I just threw myself into the project of digitising my content, and doing Zoom sessions one-to-one.

My coaching is the sort of therapy that I used to practice, which is called transactional analysis and is regularly used for organisational coaching. Same framework, just with a more of a directive coaching manner – and specifically designed for hairdressers, because I understand the culture of hairdressing and exactly what their struggles are. When I was looking around for a coach, I really struggled because I spent all my time explaining how hairdressing works. I was having to argue with my business coaches and insist how things really are in the industry. Like… there is no HR department, or lunch hours don’t exist. Even my therapist was just like, “What do you mean when you say you can’t take a lunch break?” I wasted a lot of my money and it was exhausting having to justify the culture to other people. I’ve been there, which means there’s a shorthand that I have with my clients.

The most common issues that hairdressers raise with me are that they’re always overwhelmed and too busy. This idea of scarcity of clients, and our people-pleasing mindsets, right? “If I change my clients will leave!” That kind of thing. This is usually what’s holding them back; often they’re scared of change and too scared to jump. But then they’re miserable – really miserable. The longer you stay in a fishbowl that doesn’t fit you, the more miserable you get, and then the more fearful of leaving.

I now have multiple workshops. The first one is called Managing Mood, about what goes into being mentally resilient. How do you keep a mood up? How do you keep a nice vibe and train a team to look after each other? What’s involved in that? I like people to come away with a clear vision of what they can do, like balancing a scale. It’s also about connection, how you can look after people while still getting your needs met.

My second workshop is about dealing with difficult clients. I’ve not really had difficult clients for a long time, because I’ve been self-employed for a good few years now and you can avoid them. But sometimes you don’t have a choice so if you can’t change this, how can I help you? Burnouts and Boundaries is basically about how to build the boundaries you need to protect your priorities in life, so that you are having a nice life.

Hayley Jepson in front of positive affirmations

I think a lot of us became self- employed hairdressers to have the life that we wanted, but it sometimes pans out like you’re working harder. Because suddenly you’re now a receptionist as well, and you’re buying your own stock, and you’re having to do all this thinking rather than just the hairdressing. I think a lot of us didn’t take that into account.

I’m worried that a lot of people are going to come out of college and go straight to being self-employed and freelance. Your early years are so informed by your community; the team-building and the learning from each other is so important. A lot of people are leaving hairdressing too, so this is also my attempt to keep people in. I wonder if I would have stayed if I had these tools the first time around? I would like to try and change the culture a little bit. Resilience training is so common in most offices, but it’s not in hair. Everyone constantly seems like they’re on the edge of burnout all the time, and it’s sad that people think there’s no other option… I’ve been forced to choose between money and health before, and I would like that to not be a question anymore.

You can find out more about the available courses and resources from The Resilient Hairdresser here >>

Find more Real Talk, first-person perspectives on the realities of freelancing, here >>

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