Julie Tucker
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How to be mentally healthy at work

When our mental health is good, we feel we can cope with whatever life throws at us, but if we’re not feeling great emotionally, everything can suffer including our physical health and work.

Everyone has times when they feel stressed and low. The feelings usually pass, but they can develop into depression or anxiety, leading to more complex mental health conditions. We need to be mentally healthy at work, as it plays such a large part in our life.

Can poor mental health be triggered by your job?

One in four UK residents will have mental health problems at some time in their life, according to a report by the Health and Safety Executive. When the stress is work-related, it can become prolonged, leading to psychological damage including depression.

The HSE says problems in the workplace can aggravate pre-existing mental health conditions, as well as bringing on new symptoms and making them worse over time. People who experience work-related stress can also suffer physical symptoms like high blood pressure.

A survey by Perkbox revealed a massive 75% of employed British adults had experienced work-related stress. This figure has risen rapidly from 55% in 2018. Mental health charity, Mind, says one in six UK workers are experiencing the most common mental health problems: depression and anxiety.

While it’s harmful to the individual employee to feel stressed and anxious, sick leave due to stress is costing the average British company more than £1,100 per employee annually. One in five workers has taken time off sick due to stress.

What causes a strain on workplace mental health?

There are many causes of work-related stress, but the most common include working long hours, having a continually heavy workload, conflicts with coworkers or managers and job insecurity. The symptoms include a drop in performance, depression, feeling anxious and sleep problems.

If you’re feeling anxious and short-tempered at work all the time and realise your performance has dropped, you may recognise your own mental health isn’t as good as it should be. Similarly, if you have concerns about a coworker and notice they don’t seem themselves, they too might be feeling emotionally drained.

Does your type of work affect your mental health?

Since a heavy workload, working long hours and conflict with coworkers are among the biggest causes of workplace stress, it might be time to rethink your career path if you’re having any of these issues.

Understanding what type of work best suits you makes you more able to manage and improve your emotional health. When trying to decide on your ideal job, there are some very important questions you need to consider.

First, decide how many hours you can work and whether you have other commitments that take up your time such as children, looking after an aged parent or pets. You may need to free up time during the day, or in the evening, for your other activities.

Decide where you can work – for example, do you have your own transport, or can you cope with a long commute on public transport to get to your workplace? What kind of environment suits you best – working with other people, having an open-plan office, working as part of a team, or working on your own?

Would flexible working suit you?

This could be a good time to consider flexible working – a modern way of having more control of where, how and when you work. One example is choosing your own working hours.

Although most people need to work certain “core hours”, the regular 9-5 working day may not be ideal. If you work in an office, some employers will permit flexible starts and finishes, as long as you work between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm.

If you’re self-employed, or work for a company that allows remote working, you might be better suited to a coworking space. This can allow you to have more control over your start and finish times. You can also choose how many people you wish to work with, the location of your office and how many hours you put in.

Having control can improve your work-life balance and enable you to avoid the rush-hour, peak traffic and the routine of the 9-5 day. You can be available to manage your other responsibilities, attend medical appointments and simply take time out if you struggle with routine and structure.

What about part-time work?

If you can afford to work fewer hours and become part-time, this can really help your mental health, giving you more time to look after your own wellbeing. It can also be helpful if you have children, or someone else to care for.

However, you must weigh up the pros and cons – you won’t be making as much money. You may be able to balance this out by claiming a top-up benefit, so contact the Department of Work and Pensions for further advice on the help you can receive if you’re a part-time worker, or self-employed.

Similarly, casual work may suit you if you’re self-employed, as you can choose the number of hours you want to work each week. This means during periods when you have a lot of work on, you can put in the hours to get the job done.

One of the positives about being self-employed or a freelancer is that you have complete control over your job. This has the benefit of reducing your feelings of stress right away.

Being your own boss means you can work from a busy and vibrant coworking space, or book your own private meeting room when needed to host business meetings with clients or your accountant.

A survey of more than 1,000 UK employees, conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management, reveals 85% of managers find permitting employees to work flexibly reduces stress and enhances wellbeing. Two-thirds say this also encourages more motivation and commitment.

The survey concludes: utilising flexible working policies can benefit individual workers and the company.


© Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com

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