Even as being self-employed and taking on projects on a freelance basis is empowering, it does have its challenges and one of those is the extra stress contracting puts on mental health and wellness. Between invoicing clients, managing subcontractors and getting the work done, it can feel like being pulled in all directions at once.
But with the pandemic scattering teams to their homes and Zoom replacing basic human interaction, freelancers and hybrid teams face a new challenge to their mental health: isolation. As the year draws to a close, we connected with mental health professionals and HR managers for field-tested tips and techniques that keep everyone in top mental health form.
Engagement and mental health go hand-in-hand
Nobody enjoys sitting through yet another virtual meeting. And with virtual meetings, when you’re not engaged in the conversation and there’re emails piling up in the inbox, it’s too easy to hit the video-off switch and mentally check out.
And that’s a problem. Engagement is a powerful tool to protect your mental health. A Gallup poll from 2020 noted that “when employees are engaged and thriving at work, burnout decreases and productivity improves.” It’s also one of the keys to holding meetings that matter. Alex Mastin, founder and CEO of Home Grounds, keeps his teams engaged with the help of apps. “To enhance our remote workplace culture, we’ve introduced several new benefits such as a wellbeing subscription to Headspace and integrated Quizbreaker sessions to encourage colleague communication and replace the workplace banter that usually unfolds in the break room, reducing isolation.”
When you’re working from home, it can be tough to achieve the work-life balance that it feels like every website is encouraging you to achieve. But the problem is that it can feel like every minute you’re not working, you’re falling behind.
Those kinds of feelings can rapidly turn into burnout. And we heard from a few professionals who found value in encouraging people to step back from their work. Charlotte Robinson, who is both the head of human resources and an IT senior manager, writes that her company, “… decided to shut down our servers at 7 PM EST on a daily basis so that even if extra work was there to be completed, the employees would not feel pressured to spend their free time on it.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Debanjan Banerjee also encourages independent contractors to step away from their work.
“The mind can be biased on comfort so you must not allow yourself to be mentally conditioned into being satisfied only by your work or your comfort zones. Maximizing PTOs and taking advantage of day-offs is critical to provide yourself opportunities for a change in scenery and socialization, keeping you psychologically healthy.”Dr. Debanjan Banerjee, Psychiatrist
Your safety net(work)
When you work from home, you may be hundreds of miles from your closest team member. But the truth is we’ve never been more connected. And when confronting isolation, freelancing coach Laura Briggs shares:
“Find a freelance community where you can connect with others who understand your way of life. While family and friends with traditional jobs might not get it, being connected to other freelancers where you can relax, learn, or share advice together can help break down the isolation. I’ve enjoyed doing Zoom coworking sessions with other freelancers during the pandemic because I connect with people all over the world and feel a little less alone as I’m typing away for my clients!”
Common interest groups can span the web — from bulletin boards to Discord — and sometimes the people who do the same kind of work are the best to lend a sympathetic ear.
If you see something, say something
It’s easy to lose yourself to a demanding workload where self-care takes a back seat to deadlines. Kim LaMontagne, a motivational speaker and State Trainer with National Alliance on Mental Illness, recommends that a client’s leadership team should learn to spot a worker in distress.
“Knowledge about mental illness empowers leaders to open the conversation and crosswalk the employee to the appropriate services. Leaders should not be counselors. Leaders should be the first line of defense when creating and sustaining a mentally healthy workplace culture.”
LaMontagne also recommends destigmatizing conversations about mental health, and an open dialogue between clients and freelancers will help create pathways that ensure a safe, connected workplace.
It’s time to put you first
Times are changing. The old model of business was that there was work to be done, and people adjusted their lives and work to accommodate what had to be done. But with self-employment rising and freelancers contributing $1.2 trillion to the U.S. economy, the power dynamics is shifting from employers to workers.
As more join the ranks of the Great Resignation, some will become independent contractors and others will launch their own business. But regardless of whether you are an employer or full-time employee or freelancer, focusing on mental wellness is one of the key underpinnings of making work perfectly fit everyone and every business.