The shocking flaw in your mental health policy

12 November 2018 -

Office employeeStrategies for wellbeing do not support freelance workers

Guest blogger Penny Power OBE

Mental health has not only become a very acceptable conversation in most walks of life, it is now a core driver of business.

Companies are seeking to build a culture of kindness and tolerance, while managers are rejecting an autocratic leadership style in favour of collaboration.

On the benefits side, wellbeing policies at larger companies frequently include flexible working, psychological healthcare and benefits such as meditation and yoga that promote relaxation. But there is one problem: these support mechanisms are geared towards full-time workers. What about the individuals within supply chain that a company increasingly relies on? The contractors that they hire and the suppliers that help them innovate, build capacity, inspire and train their staff?

For years I have witnessed the struggles of the self-employed, including isolation, loneliness and financial struggles. As someone who has worked in the technology industry for 35 years, I feel quite sad that processes and automation have taken away the humanity of business – not only separating the customer from the company, and the employee from their boss, but also, the freelance supplier from their buyers.

I have interviewed both the employed and the self-employed – and they both think life must be easier for the other. However, empathy, shared values and understanding are important. Managers should be aware of the mental health vulnerabilities that both types of worker experience.

THE SHARED MENTAL HEALTH STRAINS OF THE EMPLOYED AND SELF-EMPLOYED

1. Hours worked

2. The draining nature of adopting a professional attitude to hide work pressures

3. The pressure of ambition

4. Lack of confidence

Firstly, let’s look at hours worked. CMI research shows managers work on average an extra 44 days a year beyond standard office hours. Meanwhile, self-employed individuals can work six-day weeks. Without the structure of a working day they frequently work late into the night.

The impact of working long hours has the same cause and effect no matter whether an individual is employed or self-employed.

The causes are:

1. The need for a stable and growing income. Ambitious traits convince individuals that this pressure will come to an end once they reach a certain level of financial stability with reserve cash for a ‘rainy day’.

2. A lack of inner confidence that drives constant over effort and exertion.

3. Challenges at home. Grief, divorce, childhood illnesses, and the modern mental strategy of saying “I am resilient.” The fear of showing emotional weakness.

4. Crucially, managers can inadvertently cause these mental strains by praising long hours and hard work. The same occurs when a supplier works more than their contracted hours to impress.

The impact of these mental stresses include a lack of physical exercise, exhaustion and anxiety.

THE SOLUTIONS

Managers can ‘be the change’. A kinder culture starts in the boardroom and works its way through all departments. The companies that say, ‘we care about small business’ must realise that this has to resonate in policies and actions for their supply-chain. For example, keeping a small business contractor waiting 120 days for payment doesn’t reflect a company’s values of caring.

Companies can also support aspiring self-employed workers. The millennial workforce have values such as freedom and purpose. Due to this, there is an increase in requests to go freelance in many industries. One major company advised me that they’re noticing a trend toward staff leaving to set up their own businesses, so to protect the talent they have nurtured they offer them a two-day working week.

Above all, understanding the life, motivations, trials and needs of the self-employed is desperately needed within larger companies. Business is an ecosystem of talent and the same strategies for supporting mental health must stretch to all stakeholders.

Read more: CMI Quality of Working Life study

Penny Power OBE has written her latest book on the emotional and mental strategies for self-employed and small business. Business is Personal is released in January 2019 and more information can be found at pennypower.co.uk/mybooks

Image: Shutterstock

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