On reading recently that 73% of UK workers experience job- related stress, it was telling that my first thought wasn’t surprise at this huge figure in Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study. Instead, I wondered about the other 27% who apparently glide serenely through the working day. Who are these people and why haven’t I met any of them?
Stress has become so endemic in working life, it’s now a normal state of being. There are various reasons for this: our “always on” working culture (and being surgically attached to our smartphones), squeezed incomes (a depressing recent Resolution Foundation study found the self-employed worker’s average wage is less now than it was in 1995), and uncertainty, both micro (our own job security) and macro (the state of the economy). Small wonder England’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies, reports that the number of workdays lost to stress, depression and anxiety increased by 24% between 2009 and 2014.
On the plus side, all this means that wellbeing in the workplace is finally being taken seriously by the business world: we realise now that just as we go to the gym after work to keep our bodies healthy, we must look after our brains, too. And although working in a shared space can be a much healthier environment than the traditional office, fostering flexible, collaborative ways of working, there are wellbeing issues specific to freelancers and start-ups.“I went from working nine-to- five to going freelance and suddenly working 12 hours a day,” says Marija Butkovic, a corporate lawyer turned freelance digital marketing and PR strategist, who works at the Whitechapel High Street building. “I work on the weekends. Yesterday I worked until late evening, went home, cooked for me and my husband, then did another few hours. It can be really challenging.”
This is something that Kate Taylor, the wellbeing expert from upcoaching.co.uk and a guest speaker at the recent Female Founders event at the Gridiron Building, keeps seeing. “The biggest problem among my clients is a long, unstructured working day. People come from a traditional corporate career, where they’re used to fixed hours, into a world with no structure at all,” she says. “You feel like the more you work, the more you’ll earn, but that’s not always true, as you’re not necessarily being more productive. The key is to work smarter, not harder.”
Kate suggests tuning into the circadian rhythms of your body clock to pinpoint when you are most productive, and to plan your workday accordingly. So if you’re a morning person, start early and finish early, doing the hardest tasks first and saving the easy stuff, such as clearing your inbox, for later on, when you’re tired.
"You think the more you work, the more you’ll earn. That’s not always true, as you may not be more productive. The key is to work smarter, not harder"
You can also boost productivity by switching off notifications, so you don’t down tools every time you get a message, text or call. Research shows that every time we’re interrupted, we spend 10-20 times the length of that interruption getting back to the job in hand. The key is to ensure you’re controlling your tech, not letting your tech control you.
One TOG member has taken a radical step on this front. East Side King’s Cross resident Sam Brownfield, a co-founder of thelifehouse.co, a personal finance company for millennials, says: “It can be hard to switch off; often mentally you never leave the office. I was watching my kids play football one Saturday, but kept getting drawn into messages on my phone, then thinking about work all weekend. So I’m trialling giving up my smartphone. I now have an old Motorola flip-top that can only call or text. I’ve found it incredibly liberating.”
Another stress trigger for self-employed people is not taking properly defined holiday — and I speak as someone who’s taken work calls everywhere from a rollercoaster at Drayton Manor Park & Zoo (kids not impressed) to a yoga retreat in rural Portugal that wasn’t supposed to have mobile reception (yogi not impressed). Kate Taylor says: “Block out days off in your diary, just like you’d fill out a holiday form in a traditional job. Or start with a half-day if that feels more manageable. Get strict with yourself. If you don’t give yourself breaks, if you’re not emotionally and physically fit, you won’t be able to work. Stress can put a huge strain on the body, including lowering the immune system, and if you’re self-employed you can feel unable to take time off when ill because you don’t get sick pay.”
"Go outside, look up at the sky. It literally gives you space to think. If you need to trick your brain into downing tools, tell yourself it’s strategising time"