During the years that I worked for multiple corporate businesses, stress, burnout, anxiety and exhaustion were words I heard from my colleagues nearly every day. Out of the 600 people I worked with, there were at least 20 suffering with stress related conditions and off work; they were the ones I knew about anyway.
Unfortunately, it’s a common story within most businesses, so what’s the fatal mistake, what needs to change? As with physical health, prevention is more effective than treatment – handwashing and suitable nutrition will ward off coughs and cold, the same idea must also be applied for good mental health and wellbeing. Open communication, work/life balance and a supportive environment are all preventative measures to avoid mental health problems.
Sadly, we still live in a world where our children have anxiety, our teenagers have depression and our men are killing themselves more frequently than ever before. Old people are lonely and the suicide rate in new mothers is growing. Couples are divorcing at a rate of one in every two and families are being torn apart.
It’s an awful picture but, it doesn’t have to be like this. What many don’t realise, or perhaps don’t acknowledge, is that we have the power to change it.
It may sound like a stretch to link flexible working with the nation’s mental health issues, but stick with me.
Most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and yet, those basic needs and wants can be overlooked when it comes to work. Once we are physiologically well and we feel safe, our social needs come next. This means membership, belonging, inclusion, all feelings which mainly come from our family and our relationships.
So, drawing upon this, is it that big a jump to suggest that we would all be happier if we had more choice over when and how we spent time with our family and friends? And isn’t this most limited by our work?
How we work
Saying this, people do want to work, it’s where we find personal fulfilment and challenge. I know many of us say if we won the lottery then we’d leave our jobs but what would we do after we’d been on the holidays and bought the big house? More than likely, we’d still work.
The difference is that it would be the work we chose, the work we were happy to do. We would choose something fulfilling and then do it in a way that made us happy. When you take financial pressures away, people still choose to achieve, we would just do it a different way.
So the issue is not whether we work, it is how we work.
What does this mean for business?
The ‘how we work’ is something managers, employers and businesses have control over. We can offer people different ways of working like late starts, early finishes, days from home, leave in school holidays – all of those things that give employees more choice.
Breaking away from the archaic notion of the 9 to 5, and using flexible working as a tool to do so, is vital for both business and employee.
In our role as leaders and employers, we have the power to improve our employees’ wellbeing. It just needs us to think outside the box, to do things a little differently from the norm. To be a little flexible.
And for this, there’s no time like the present. 2020 is the year to flex.