Yesterday was World Mental Health Day and as a result there were lots of fantastic articles and blogs online about managing your mental health and wellbeing. In particular there was a lot of content aimed at students in University.
Universities are usually pretty good places to discuss mental health. There seemed to be a real culture of acceptance, particularly in student groups, societies and the Students’ Union that created a safe space for talking about mental ill-health, something I hope I contributed to during my time as an Officer at Sheffield Students' Union. This feeling of being supported didn’t always permeate wider than these spaces but at least they were there as a place of retreat.
But what happens when you leave the student bubble and enter the workplace? Of course jobs and companies vary dramatically but there are ways that you can manage your wellbeing and mental health in the workplace.
There is some fantastic information already written on this topic; I would suggest looking at Mind’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing and managing mental health in the workplace information but here are 4 simple things that I have found useful for managing my mental health in my new role.
1. Be as open as you wish to be – I found it fairly easy to discuss my mental health problems at University. I certainly didn’t start the conversation so it was simply a case of contributing my experiences. Talking about mental health in an honest and open way is a key way of beating the stigma that surrounds mental health. Being in an environment that fosters, rather than fights, this stigma can make it impossible to ask for help with mental health problems and this can make small problems spiral into much more severe issues. Time To Change is a fantastic organisation that seeks to battle the stigma of mental ill-health, you can learn more here: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-us
You don’t have to disclose previous/current mental health problems to an employer but doing so may help you access reasonable adjustments to help you whilst at work. If you suffer negative consequences (like discrimination or disclosing your situation to people who you have not consented to) then your employer may be in breach of the Equality Act 2010. You can learn more about your rights regarding mental health at work in this helpful factsheet.
Being open about mental health in the workplace can have many benefits, but if you don’t need adjustments then don’t feel as though you have to be open with your boss or employer. Talk to your colleagues - have they ever struggled with their mental health? What do they do at work to support their wellbeing? Supporting each other and mutually encouraging positive habits is a great first step for creating a University-like acceptance culture in the workplace.
2. Make a positive change – Some organisations are already on the ball when it comes to mental health and wellbeing and all it takes is a small step to open up and access support. However, other organisations may not have such a culture already in place. I deal with a lot of SMEs, many of which have less than 10 employees, so such organisations may not have had to support an employee with mental illness before.
In cases like these, it may be up to you to make the leap and actually create a positive culture. It may be daunting to think about changing company culture when you’ve only just started in a junior position in a role. But making positive changes doesn’t have to be hard. Charities like Mind and Time To Change have a wealth of free resources that you can use – from fun desk coasters to more serious advice booklets. Think about ordering some for your workplace to get people talking about mental health. Why not suggest a mental health charity for your next business fundraiser?
It may feel presumptuous to start improving company culture but you’ll be thanked for caring enough about the company that you are going the extra mile to make a positive impact in your new role.
Another important part of supporting mental health in the workplace is by incorporating wellbeing into your working practices. Examples of simple and easy ways you can support your wellbeing from 9 to 5* (or whatever hours you work!) include taking a lunchtime walk (which requires actually taking a lunch hour), ensuring that you have a good work/life balance (leaving the office on time is a good place to start) and getting to know your colleagues socially. Socialising with colleagues doesn’t have to mean booze; why not try something out of the box together - like clay pigeon shooting, as Team GC did recently.
3. Not all organisations are the same – Unfortunately not all organisations are equal when it comes to mental health support. Some graduate schemes and jobs are ultra-competitive with a ruthless “work hard play hard” culture. If you know that you would struggle in, or not feel comfortable in, that environment then it may be worth looking for similar roles in different organisations. It’s important to research a company’s culture before applying in order to gauge the working environment – do they emphasise the importance of in-role development? Have they got any information of what support they provide for disabilities or health conditions on their website? It is important, but often overlooked, that the role should fit you as well as you fitting the role. If you feel confident enough, why not ask about the support they provide in your interview? Their answer should give you a good insight into what the company culture is like.
4. Remember that change can be good - Lastly, it is important to be aware of the emotional changes you will experience when you go from being a student to being a graduate employee. Your life will be different and you may find yourself swapping late nights for early mornings and essays for emails. This can leave you with less freedom and intellectual stimulation. You may also be coming to terms with the fact that graduate jobs aren’t what you were expecting. I remember reading statistics about “£27,000 per annum starting salaries” and feeling that I would enter a management job where I could show off those leadership skills I had spent three years at University developing (you can see Gradconsult MD Rebecca Fielding discussing “The Expectation Gap” here). Often the stats you read regarding graduate jobs are not a true reflection of the roles that most graduates will go in to.
How can we, as graduates in our first graduate roles, manage our mental wellbeing in a time of such intense emotional situations? Something to remember is that it is far easier to cope with all these changes if you focus on the things you gain with employment, as opposed to the things you lose. Think of the things you have now as an employee than when you were a student: greater disposable income; gaining new CV-boosting skills and developing existing ones; a new, diverse social circle and experiencing so many new challenges and situations. Try to feel inspired and motivated by these gains, rather than disheartened by the losses and you will find the transition into working life much smoother.
I’ve been really pleased with my experiences so far in my graduate role but I’d be very interested to hear any other experiences and any tips you can give to others in similar situations.
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(*Did you get the reference? Image found here)