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Why mental health at work matters even more when you're freelancing

Now you’re working for yourself, is mental health at work still relevant, or is it just something big corporates do? Here are five reasons why mental health at work matters even more now you’re self-employed.

It won’t have escaped you that mental health at work has become an increasingly important topic in recent years - with employers doing much more to look after their employees’ emotional wellbeing. Indeed, it is much needed - over 70% of sick days off are caused by work-related stress.

But now you’re working for yourself, now you’ve got more control over your working day, the work you do and the way you work - is mental health at work still relevant, or is it just something big corporates do?

Here are five reasons why mental health at work matters even more now you’re self-employed.

You are your businesses most important asset.

Without you, your business doesn’t exist. If you’re not able to work, your business is not working. Taking time to invest in your own emotional wellbeing is not a luxury but an essential task to ensure your business can function. In the same way you make sure your laptop doesn’t get scratched by using a bag, keep your apps updated so they don’t stop working, or pay your tax on time to avoid a red bill - putting things in place to support your own wellbeing is just as important, if not more: you can replace a laptop, but there’s only one of you.

The self-employed have a unique (and long) set of challenges.

Doing the work, finding new work, chasing invoices, marketing, sales, admin, accounting - and then keeping on top of all of the other things you’ve going on  your life too. It’s not surprising that taking time to look after yourself can often get deprioritised or fall off the to-do list. There are things which we are in control of (like our own working habits and attitudes), and there are also lots of things we aren’t in control of (like how our clients behave or global pandemics). Being too busy or not being busy enough, chasing payments, frustration around tax changes, a client going quiet - these might not seem like mental health issues, but they all have an influence on your mental health. 

1 in 4 people will be affected by mental health challenges at some point within a year - but if you’ve never experienced poor mental health, you might not even know symptoms to look out for, how to manage your own stress levels, what causes you worry or concern, or recognise that often many small things can add up to take their toll on your wellbeing - and when you you are struggling, you may not have a team-mate you can chat to and even turning to friends and family isn’t always the right option if they don’t understand the reality of self-employment (“but you can take as much time off as you want - why don’t you just take the day off?”).

Because there are good days and bad days.

On the whole, the self-employed report averagely better mental health than employees, as often we have more control over our work, more freedom, autonomy and get to work on projects which are meaningful and rewarding, we can design our days to suit how we work best, and it gives us time to balance and integrate our lives with work in a more harmonious way. But at the same time, for those bad days, where things aren’t working as well as they could be, when you aren’t in control of the situation or not sure how to cope with the challenges that your job is throwing at you - if you haven’t put a support structure in place for yourself, it can be hard, really hard. Being proactive and putting foundations in place on the good days, means you’ll be better supported on the bad days.

There are no sick days.

For some, stress, anxiety and worry can get in the way of doing work, which means poorer mental health has a direct impact on your business and profitability - which can create even more stress. Sustained stress or poor mental health can lead to further complications and mental illness, or prevent you from working all together.  As you know, there’s no sick pay when you’re self-employed. Making sure you’re proactively thinking about your own mental health at work, taking rest and breaks, managing the things which cause you stress, putting things in place to build a support network and building resilience for the good and bad times, for today and tomorrow, means your business is more resilient for the future, and you’re more equipped to deal with what life throws at you unexpectedly.

It's a foundation of doing good work.

Proactively thinking about your mental health at work isn’t just about avoiding bad days, but actively enjoying more good days. Making decisions around work which is more meaningful, enjoyable and rewarding. Positive mental health means better productivity, greater creativity, focus and motivation during the working day - all which leads to better quality of work for your clients, and for your business. Beyond that - how we feel at work doesn’t just stay at work. Feeling positive, supported and healthy at work permeates our personal lives too.

We all have mental health, and because mental health at work when you’re self-employed is your own responsibility, it’s up to you to ensure that its a critical part of your business plan. 

Fortunately, just because you’re working for yourself, doesn’t mean you have to do it by yourself. There are increasing numbers of wonderfully supportive community groups, resources, tools and content on the topic of mental health at work, and mental health in self-employment. And it doesn’t need to take a huge amount of your time - even just 15 minutes a week to reflect upon how you’re doing can help immensely. 

We might not be working together, but we can collectively support each other when working for ourselves. Even if you’re doing great right now, talking about how you’re feeling, sharing your experiences, supporting others and making it okay to ask for help is the way we can together be a team for people without a team. Even just asking someone “how are you?” and listening to their answer, can be the difference in someone’s day.

Our aim, as a project, is to help people actively think about their own mental health at work when self-employed, provide useful signposting and resources towards understanding what influences your mental health at work (positively and negatively), and to build yourself a way of working well which includes a strong support network, healthy habits and positive working relationships with others. If there was just one thing we would want to do, it would be to encourage every single individual within the 5m+ self-employed community in the UK, to take a moment to think about the importance of their own mental health at work, and take steps towards making it an essential part of their business plan.

The first step for anyone is to take 15 minutes for yourself right now, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you’re the most valuable asset to your business. After that first deep breath, if there are things you want to start doing to reflect upon how you work, and put things in place to work well, we’re here to help too.

But for today, take that breath, take care of you, and remember to work well.