Colour me stressed: public servants stick to colouring-in guidelines

By Stephen Easton

July 24, 2015

At least one publisher of adult colouring-in books has been “in talks” with some government departments according to reports earlier this year, and The Mandarin has obtained documentary proof that public servants are indeed staying between the lines.

Pictures designed for adults to colour in as a relaxing break from the stresses of work, office politics and constant morning teas have been spotted in the federal Department of Employment and Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

A photograph snapped of one public servant’s half-finished colouring effort has made its way to The Mandarin:


One finds it hard to imagine the no-nonsense head of PM&C Michael Thawley getting out his pencils — or textas if he was really confident of staying inside the lines — and losing himself by brightening up a line drawing. It seems unlikely to be an idea that would draw enthusiastic support from the rather conservative Employment Minister Eric Abetz, either.

We thought it best not to bother anyone’s media teams — or waste too much of our own time — with such frivolity, but it is possible some departments have purchased adult colouring-in books like Colourtation, which has been bought by companies like ANZ, Wesfarmers and Bupa. Author Dr Stan Rodski, a consulting psychologist and neuroscientist, says on his website:

“Brain studies show us that when under pressure we can ‘manually’ change ‘gears’. By focusing on the task of ‘colouring between the lines’ we can change our ‘brainwaves’ from being in a continual state of ‘BETA’ (pressured and stresses) to a more relaxed state of ‘ALPHA’.

“The effects on both your health (physical and mental) and performance when you’re pressured, will be immediately felt.”

While that all sounds very promising, and Rodski is all too happy to explain the benefits of his quite reasonably priced colouring-in books, it’s hard to see what makes his pictures special, given there are loads of beautiful and complex pictures that need colouring available free and instantly all over the internet. His website does, however, have this to say about the illustrator Jack Dowling:

“Jack describes finding patterns as an creative and iterative process. He hopes readers will similarly apply their own creative intuition, allowing the mind to relax and enjoy the meditative qualities that come from these exercises.”

Rodski also offers a range of “peak performance” consulting programs designed for senior executives, around better sleep, fatigue and stress, depression, grief and loss, personal issues, physical health, life changes and work-related issues.

Sources who’ve seen the pictures pop up inside Canberra’s public service offices said opinions of staff varied considerably. Some liked the idea, but others found it bemusing, or even a mildly offensive trivialisation of serious mental health effects of workplace pressures.

Does your agency have a better way to deal with stress? Tell us in the comments below.

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