The future of work is already here but just not evenly distributed - to paraphrase William Gibson. Indeed this year has reads a little like a future dystopian novel for many, yet work might be changing for the better. 100 days of restrictions on where we work and being apart from each other has not only accelerated the conversation around remote and more flexible working patterns, but also shone an extra bright light on the continuing importance of mental health at work.
Mental health at work is no just longer about mental health in the workplace - but rather, about designing relationships, patterns and structures which consider how you can support your teams, no matter where they’re working or how they’re working, and many employers are doing great work to make sure their people are invested in and cared for - and with with good results, we know that investing in mental health is not only good for people, it’s good for business too - research shows that interventions and activities supporting positive mental health can can provide a return on investment of up to 8:1.
Yet - as teams increasingly move towards more diverse groups, combining on-site and remote, full-time, part-time and freelancers, or with many businesses, especially in the creative sector, building their teams from almost exclusively freelance talent, what responsibility and investment is being put into your non-employees?
This year’s World Mental Health Day theme is “mental health for all” - we all have mental health, and we all have a responsibility to take care of the mental health of those we work with, regardless of employment contract. This means your freelancers and self-employed colleagues too.
Unfortunately - it seems like there’s a very long way to go. In our annual study, we discovered that over 71% of freelancers don’t feel their clients or employing organisation has their wellbeing in mind, that 66% don’t feel they have adequate support for their mental health within the context of work, 63% wouldn’t know where to find that support, and 81% would like clients to take some responsibility.
Whilst it’s entirely understandable that clients aren’t going to pay for health insurance or sick-pay, training or vacation days, or invite freelancers to wellbeing events or access to employee assistance programmes, supporting freelancers and the self-employed is not necessarily about benefit packages or perks, but rather supportive relationship building.
Mental health is complex and nuanced, and influenced by any number of things - when self-employed, you’re often juggling doing the work, finding new work, chasing late payment for past work, admin, marketing, sales, accounting, plus everything else that’s happening in your life - so often the most valuable things for freelancers are also the most simple things: good onboarding, good communication, involvement during projects, and feedback after projects, getting paid on time - ultimately respect. A lack of these things would cause negative impact on anyone’s mental health - but for many freelancers, they’re lacking almost as standard at work - causing significant stress, concern or anxiety for over 50% of freelancers.
And the impact of poorer mental health hits your business too - ultimately, if your talent is not supported, the quality of work delivered for your business will suffer. There’s a direct correlation between mental health and productivity, between mental health and creativity, between mental health and motivation, focus and attention. You know this to be true for your employees, it’s absolutely the same for freelancers. As you’re paying a premium for freelancers to be 100% on the top of their game to deliver for you, anything you do that isn’t supporting them to do their best is ultimately costing you too.
There are no shortage of amazing businesses who have really simple but effective processes and support in place to get their extended team working well - most of which cost nothing more than consideration.
There are 10 things which we recommend that businesses do to support freelancers to work well with you, but this year, for World Mental Health Day, we’d ask that you look at how you can start simply by simply signposting. Share the links, content, resources and nudges that you’re sharing with your employees with your freelancer community as well - to not only nudge them into remembering them mental health at work is essential when you’re self-employed, but also to demonstrate that mental health at work is a shared responsibility.
If you believe the future of work is more agile, dynamic, diverse and open to all, and than mental health at work is important to the success of your business - then make sure you include all of your team, regardless of employment contract.