What is the new world of work doing to us physically and mentally?

An interesting blog post from Mandy Rutter, Head of Resilience and Trauma Management at psychological wellbeing consultancy Validium:

“We need a debate on what the new world of work – all the post-recession pressures and digitally-driven change – is doing to us.

“This year’s World Mental Health Day [10 October] focuses on the issue of dignity, the importance of overcoming stigma and being able to live and work with a mental illness. It’s widely recognised that an essential part of improving mental health is being at work, its routines, the social contact and sense of normality. But the two issues of work and our psychological wellbeing are messily inter-related.

“The proportion of counselling cases through Validium’s Employee Assistance Programme involving some kind of mental health issue is high, and continues to grow higher – up from 94.16% in 2013 to 94.9% in 2015. The number of counselling cases focused on a specific mental health problem has jumped sharply, from 15% in 2013 to 22.5% in 2015.

“It’s good news that more employees are starting to admit mental health issues (whether that’s privately to an EAP or GP, or openly with an employer as per the latest CIPD stats, where two-fifths of firms said they’d seen an increase in staff reporting mental health issues).

“But we shouldn’t let the concerns over transparency and stigma cover up the underlying question: why does work make so many of us ill, and why don’t efforts by HR to support wellbeing, flexibility and creating positive working environments seem to be helping?

“There are no quick fixes. What will help is more awareness of the issues – particularly around the impact of IT and the extension and intensification of working days – and the need to support and build resilience among staff.

“Resilience isn’t about growing a thick skin, toughening up. It’s not possible – or sensible – to equip employees with an impenetrable emotional armour. Sensitivity and empathy are always going to be critical skills for dealing with colleagues and customers and being resilient shouldn’t involve stopping people from experiencing the emotions that arise naturally during the course of a busy, challenging day at work. Instead, it’s about giving people the ’emotional readiness’ required to quickly process and act on those feelings, instead of allowing them to fester inside them.

“This kind of ‘emotional readiness’ is all about being prepared. Just as you can increase your physical resilience by preparing and teaching yourself to use the right equipment for challenging situations, you can also increase your emotional resilience by putting coping mechanisms in place to support you through difficult times, before you actually need them.

“The measures required to become emotionally ready for mentally testing times include things like having a trusted person on standby who you feel able to offload with and confide in, even if it’s just a close family member; or the number for a counsellor at the end of the EAP helpline. Other important measures include the ability to unpick problems and see the bigger picture. Again, something we can do with relative ease when it’s someone else’s problem or we’re not under pressure, but when our back’s against the wall, it’s all too easy to keep focusing on the urgent stuff and lose sight of what’s important. Other ingredients typically include regular contact with family and friends, being able to empty our minds for at least some part of every day, making time to enjoy a hobby or indulge a passion, and participating in endorphin-releasing exercise. All these elements – along with the basics like eating and sleeping well – help to build up a strong basis for coping.”

Author: Editor

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