HOW CAN YOU LOOK AFTER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH AS A CONTRACT WORKER?
HOW CAN YOU LOOK AFTER YOUR MENTAL HEALTH AS A CONTRACT WORKER?
Tim James, Regional Managing Director Hays Regional Managing Director VIC, TAS & ACT
- Research indicates that contract workers suffer from adverse mental health for a variety of reasons, many of them due to the working patterns and job insecurity inherent to contract work.
- As a contract worker, you may sometimes feel disposable or replaceable, as a result of inconsistent and irregular work, which can impact negatively on your mental health.
- Contract workers can help prioritise their mental health by owning their own learning, establishing a sound work-life balance and adopting a growth mindset.
The unique mental health challenges contract workers face
Maintaining good mental health is, of course, a challenge for all of us. However, a study from McGill University in Canada found that people who were engaged in temporary, contract or casual fixed-term positions were more susceptible to poor mental health than those in long-term, stable employment.
This may be due to any or more of the following factors:
- Not feeling completely included, or part of an organisation’s core team, leading to a sense of being ‘disposable’ or ‘replaceable’
- A perception of being treated differently to permanent employees
- Inconsistent working arrangements and hours, including regularly moving between jobs, and a general lack of security due to irregular work
- Constant change and the need to adapt quickly to new environments
- Some contract roles possibly lack stimulation or challenge
- Inadequate personal growth or career progression opportunities causing despondency and de-motivation
Of course, some contract workers may also face specific challenges in relation to COVID-19, such as contracts ending, financial and health worries, and difficulty getting a new temp job in a turbulent market.
Work in general can be challenging during times of crisis. It may be even harder, however, for many contract workers. After all, it is these workers who are constantly joining new employers, and therefore having to go through repeat cycles of adjusting to the dynamics of their latest team and the specifics of how their new organisation works.
Moreover, it’s important to recognise that poor workplace mental health could be disproportionately impacting the younger generation, as they typically hold more temporary or part-time employment.
How can contract workers maintain their good mental health?
The below steps will help you to look after your mental health effectively as a contract worker:
- Do what you can to start each contract assignment well, and to feel part of the team. It’s crucial to prepare so that you are in the best possible position to make a success of your contract assignment from day one. It’ll probably be easier to achieve this if you look to make friends and contacts at your new workplace in the same way you would if you were expecting to be there for years. Steps like the below will help you to succeed and ward off that feeling of being ‘disposable’ or ‘replaceable’:
- If introductions to each team member aren’t already organised for you, take the initiative. Reach out to find out about the role of each member of the team, and how your role fits with theirs – as well as so that you can simply get to know your new colleagues on a personal level.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you feel the need to do so, as well as to offer assistance to others. This will help you to be clear from the outset about where your responsibilities start and end, to prevent you feeling stretched. Requesting to shadow an established member of the team, or find a ‘buddy’, might help further ease you into the company, team and role. Participate in the social side of life at the organisation as much as you can, even if COVID-19 restrictions mean this takes place over Zoom or Skype rather than in person.
- Speaking of COVID-19 and technology, if pandemic restrictions are forcing you to start many of your contract roles from home, there might be more new technology to get used to, especially if you’re moving quickly between jobs. So, if possible, allow the time for this tech adjustment before you even start your new temp role. This should enable you to avoid quickly becoming stressed and overwhelmed by tech ‘teething problems’.
- Another thing you should do early on when starting a contract role, is strike up a good relationship with your boss. Having a productive and respectful relationship with your manager is important for a contract worker in much the same way as it is for a permanent employee – for future career progression, but also for morale. So, be sure to take the initiative to arrange meetings with your boss often. But also aim to maintain an open line of communication with them at other times – which will be good for the mental health of you and your boss. You’re likely to need to communicate with your boss a lot in those first few days or weeks of ‘acclimatisation’ in your new contract role, so it’s in both of your interests for your relationship to be good.
- Establish a good work-life balance. As I covered above, the ‘contract life’ can be an unstable one, full of constant change. So, keeping your habits and routines outside work as consistent and healthy as they can be, will help to prevent you feeling quite as stressed amid the inevitable ups and downs of your life as a temp. Achieving the right balance between your professional and other parts of your life will help to boost your all-round wellbeing and build up your psychological resilience against the setbacks temp work can bring.
- Put in place clear boundaries and rules, such as only working your official hours and not checking work emails outside these hours. Also set time aside for hobbies, interests and other things you enjoy, and learn to say no to assignments if you feel you are at risk of being overworked.
- Do the other things, too, that characterise a healthy lifestyle. Those could include ensuring you get enough sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and minimise alcohol intake. It’s also a good idea to make time for friends and family, so that you aren’t always consumed with work-related matters.
- Try to keep your spirits up between each contract job. There are a lot of things you can do to keep that sense of personal and professional ‘progress’ going even when you aren’t actually in a role.
- Be proactive about your future even before you’re in one of those ‘in-between’ times, by working closely with a recruiter to establish a strong pipeline of roles.
- You’ll presumably also be using your free time between jobs to update your CV with details of your latest contract position. So, you might take the opportunity to make deeper changes – for example, restructuring your CV, refreshing your personal statement and introducing relevant action verbs to evidence your achievements.
- Reflect on what you liked and disliked about your previous contract role, and consider what implications this might have for your next temp job.
- Reconnect with your broader network, including contacts from previous contract roles.
- Above all else, see any periods of unemployment as projects in and of themselves – not periods of limbo, but instead times when you’ll be doing a different kind of work.
- Take responsibility for your own learning. I touched earlier on how de-motivation and despondency can set in during those times of your life when you might feel you aren’t growing or progressing on a personal or professional level.
- One common factor in this can be self-limiting beliefs that may mean you fail to see the growth opportunities that might actually be right in front of you. So, don’t give in to such self-limiting beliefs as “I’m not good with technology” or “I’m not very effective at dealing with people”. Instead, instil a growth mindset that is all about taking responsibility for building on your present abilities.
- Regularly upskilling and reskilling, both during and between roles, will help to give you a feeling of greater control over your own development, and therefore your mental health. To this end, you may seek out a mentor at your new workplace, who will be able to impart important knowledge to help to make you more effective in your role and feel more part of the team.
- If you feel that any additional training is needed for you to succeed, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Take on any learning opportunities available within the company – and when you’re away from work, enrol on relevant seminars and listen to industry-related podcasts.
- Treat each contract job as an opportunity to learn new skills. Again, it’s all about embracing the opportunities for growth and fulfilment that might be right under your nose, instead of presuming you can’t possibly learn much simply because your latest job is a contract one.
- Don’t just see your current contract role as a source of short-term income – also try to get the maximum value from it as a learning experience.
- Keep a lookout for opportunities to take on special projects or assignments that other employees may shy away from, but which could allow you to acquire the skills needed to advance your career in the longer term. This will help you to feel like you’re always moving forward in your development as a professional, instead of simply bouncing from job to job with no broader sense of direction.
- Talk about your feelings with others. Not all of us are used to talking about our mental health with others – indeed, it can sometimes feel like a taboo subject still. But if you feel that you’re struggling to cope with day-to-day life stresses, it’s important to be able to speak up about it. This could be with trusted friends and family, and your manager if you feel comfortable doing so.
- So, don’t be afraid to ask to arrange a one-on-one meeting with your boss, at a convenient time for both of you.
- Prepare what you will say to your manager in that meeting, and try to be honest about the specifics of how you feel, while expressing your appreciation of the positives of your job.
- Have proposed solutions ready to talk to your boss about, but also be open-minded to their own suggestions, which may differ slightly from yours.
- Whether you speak to family, friends and/or your boss, it’ll help you to feel less alone, and reassured that you have the support and help of those around you.
- If you feel you need further support, consider asking for a referral from your doctor to speak to a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. Bear in mind the differences between the two; psychologists receive training in therapy and psychological testing, while psychiatrists have medical training and can provide therapy and prescribe medication.
- However, depending on your condition, you might not require the services of either a psychologist or psychiatrist.
- If you’re simply struggling with some everyday challenges and issues, a therapist may be able to help you to process your emotions and sort through the conflicts that might currently be detrimental to your mental health.
It can’t be reiterated enough that contract workers experience different stressors than permanent employees. So, if you’re a contract worker, it’s really important to take proactive steps to maintain your mental health, in the knowledge that your mental health will go hand-in-hand with your career performance and success. You should therefore never feel embarrassed or ashamed to make changes to your professional life to support your mental health, or to seek help if you feel the need for it. The more aware you are of your moods, feelings and thoughts, the sooner you can take action to prevent yourself becoming too stressed or overwhelmed.
This, in turn, will enable you to more easily achieve your professional goals and manage your mental health effectively amid the frustrations and setbacks you may encounter during especially challenging times.
Hays Regional Managing Director VIC, TAS & ACT
Tim joined Hays Construction Property in 1996 and worked in London and Cambridge. In 1999 he was appointed to establish the Hays Construction and Property specialist business unit in Victoria, Australia. Today, Tim is the Regional Managing Director for Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory and was appointed to the ANZ management board in 2012.
Additional to Tim’s management expertise he has key national responsibility for the winning, implementing and management of several of our most prominent accounts and a proven background in recruitment of MSP, RPO, professional contractors, high volume labour hire, permanent and executive roles throughout Australia and overseas. Tim was also responsible for launching Hays Logistics and Hays Manufacturing and Operations across Australia in 2002-2012 where he coordinated the strategy and growth of these businesses on a national basis.
Tim’s operational and commercial experience has seen him open and develop nine offices in Australia and he plays a key role in implementing the group’s strategies, managing risk, growth and profit for Hays ANZ.