Much of my work as a business relationship consultant involves in depth face-to-face interviews. To find out what’s really on someone’s mind, nothing can ever replace the richness and flexibility of a conversation. This kind of feedback really is a gift.

Pretty regularly, when one of these sessions draws to a close, amid the usual pleasantries, my interviewee will observe that our hour together has been therapeutic, cathartic even. I take this to be a positive sign and we go our separate ways.

On reflection, however, there is a darker side to this reaction which I have recently verified with several contacts who work in organisations of various shapes and sizes.

In short, in the modern workplace it can be difficult to find the time, space and audience for a safe, non-judgmental baring of the soul. This is both a pity and a gap that needs filling.

It has never been easy to speak openly with colleagues about ‘issues’, especially the professional variety. Will a boss suspect weakness, will a peer take advantage, will a report be unsettled by ‘too much information’? And can workmates ever be truly objective?

There was a time when it was possible to have an off the record cup of tea with a friendly face in HR but I sense that, as this function has been trimmed in scale while charged with ever greater formality, previously invisible meetings must now leave an official trace.

Of course, family members, friends and significant others are always available to chat but, again, can they be distant enough to be unbiased or close enough to understand the relevant details?

Reading this back, hard on the heels of a January blog about burnout, I seem to have started the year on a bit of a downer. Certainly, I am not a fan of the grey, chilly, penitent grind until the clocks go forward but I am a generally optimistic Piscean with a birthday this month. Hurrah!

However, while 2020 will, I’m sure, prove to be fascinating and stimulating, the challenges at work in the new decade will require us all to be mindful of how we nurture and protect ourselves as we seek to perform at our natural best.

Life today is complex, criss-crossed by digital technologies. As a force for good, they help us navigate our busy schedules; of more concern is the evidence that fundamental elements of human connection are being eroded by our addiction to the internet and its possibilities.

It is important to remember that, despite efforts to replicate human behaviour through automation and AI, the essentials of human bonding, for example eye contact and empathy, remain irreplaceable by technology. Where a human touch is lacking, the result can be an environment where people feel anxious, unrepresented and isolated.

More broadly, a high-profile suicide last week, RIP Caroline Flack, has once again brought the potential impact of present-day stresses into high relief. One of the most desperate of human tragedies, suicide is now on the increase again, for the first time since 2013. A report last year by the charity Samaritans revealed that there were 6,507 suicides in the UK during 2018, up by 10.9% on 2017.

Another charity, Mind, suggests that the overall proportion of people with mental health problems has not increased significantly over the last few years (having said that, around one in four of us will experience this kind of difficulty each year). Rather, how individuals are coping is getting worse, as indicated by the growing number who self-harm and/or have suicidal thoughts.

Also, if, like me, you believe that self-destructive tendencies subside as winter departs, this is in fact not true. The cold, dark months contribute to an emotional apathy that, counterintuitively, spring sunlight can interrupt with disastrous consequences.

Sadly, we are yet to hit the period when suicide peaks. During May (November in the southern hemisphere), the juxtaposition of a world in bloom and inner turmoil can, for the terminally depressed, be too much to bear.

The effects on our mental health of modern living are increasingly well documented. There is no simple explanation. Behind every trauma lies a story that is specific and personal but macro factors like economic austerity, wealth inequality, the relentless demands of an online culture and job insecurity all play their parts.

Which brings me back to the workplace and what we can do, when the inevitable tensions arise, to look after ourselves. Primarily, it is important to find ways to express our feelings. Setting aside time for this is crucial, even if it’s only 10 minutes every few days. Writing it down can help. Negativity can also be countered by relaxing properly, listening to music, playing sport and discovering non-work- related outlets for creativity.

For me, though, the priority is to find that person who will listen actively, objectively, willingly and, if required, respond intelligently. But mainly just listen.

My advice, in these early stages of 2020, would be to seek out a confidante, to be there for you when, for whatever reason, you want to let it all out. In today’s world of work, we all need someone to talk to.

And if you are asked to be that person, say yes. It’s a special privilege and who knows what you might facilitate (or prevent).