Whereas once a career meant working for a national or multinational company and having a job title with clear responsibilities, it’s far from the norm nowadays.
In what has now been termed “the Freelance Economy”, there has been a huge rise in a new sort of worker.
Some choose contracts over being on the payroll, others are working for themselves and using their talents to fulfil different roles for different clients. Still other modern workers are opting for the variety of several part-time jobs, of a full-time job with another on the side.
Thought to be driven here in the UK as much by a high tech world that makes it possible to work easily from anywhere as the economic downturn,
the Office of National Statistics here in the UK now puts the amount of people working from home at around 4.2 million.
And then there is the rise of the entrepreneur, glorified by popular TV shows like Dragon’s Den.According to Companies House, over 500,000 new businesses are now registered in the UK each year, and the numbers are only growing.
While it might sound exciting to work from home or be your own boss, it doesn’t come without a price. Today’s changing workplace leaves many of us facing new kinds of stress altogether.
The Psychological Costs of the Modern Workplace
The psychological stress that the new ways of working can bring include:
Work has always been the cause of anxiety for some, but there are new reasons workers are anxious.
Freelancers live with the constant worry over whether new contracts will come in, and can feel like they no longer have life security.
And the lack of supervision and feedback the regular workplace provides can lead to anxiety about whether or not clients are happy with the work being done.
(not sure you are suffering anxiety or just stressed? Read our piece on stress vs anxiety).
Debt or money panic can be an overlooked cause of depression. Freelance or contract work brings all new money worries, including how to afford medical care without the insurance full-time work provides, and how to get a mortgage when banks frown on freelancers.
And many new businesses take out start-up loans, which can seem a good idea at first but cause stress later on when the interest-free period expires or the generous relative demands payback.
(Want to know more? Read our article on debt and depression).
Traditional workplaces provide feedback and ongoing training that works to keep employees feeling on track. Without this structure and without constructive criticism, workers can worry about their performance. This can exacerbate any self-esteem issues.
And while a project gone wrong can seem acceptable when it’s for a company, if it’s your own company, it can seem a personal setback.
(Worried about your self-esteem? Read our comprehensive guide to self-esteem).
Without the supervision and competition of the workplace, those who are prone to distraction can find their issues with time management and procrastination exacerbated, or may find that mild adult ADHD becomes severe, causing both stress and depression.
Boredom can also trigger all of the above, when the thrill of working from home in your pyjamas or being your own boss wears off.
Many workers gone freelance overestimate the joys of working from home and underestimate how much they relied on the social contact the workplace provided.
Although no studies have yet been done, it begs to question if the growing rate of contractors and freelancers working from home is at all related to the growing rates of loneliness being reported in the UK.
(Read about the 3 Stages to Overcoming Loneliness if you are concerned, or our piece 7 Surprising Reasons You Are Feeling Lonely).
Are You Experiencing Burnout?
Although the traditional image of workplace burnout is of a CEO working 14 hour days then crashing, this too needs a modern makeover.
While burnout can result from too many hours and no leisure time, it’s actually less related to hours worked but more to the effects of those hours. Burnout is specifically about experiencing feelings of powerlessness and loss of control.
Symptoms to look out for include:
7 Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health in the New Job Economy
How can you take care of your psychological health if you are part of the new, more flexible work force? Try these tips.
1. Set achievable goals. With it’s lack of staff targets and appraisals, self employment can easily lead to either setting yourself goals that are unrealistic, or not setting goals at all and free floating your way to feeling a failure or low self-esteem.
Set yourself yearly, monthly, weekly, and even daily goals to keep yourself on track. Consider using apps to keep you focussed (read our piece on Apps that Move You Forward).
2. Make yourself accountable. Humans are by nature social, and knowing you are going to be sharing what you’ve done with others can be a great motivator. Connect with other freelancers via business networks and weekly groups such as those found on meetup.com. If you are living in an isolated place, consider finding other freelancers online to report in to.
And consider being accountable to your clock; setting a timer to go off every hour can keep you on track.
3. Learn to balance optimism and pessimism. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling negative or having the freelancer doldrums. Instead, learn how you can best use pessimism to move you forward in our article on optimism vs pessimism.
4. Focus on self-care. Working in your pyjamas can be fun at first. As can being able to sleep-in if you want to. But too much of letting yourself go can actually be a sign of low grade depression.
Putting in effort to take care of yourself, on the other hand, can raise self-esteem. Try to do three things a week for yourself, even if its just small things like a hot bath or gym trip. Don’t just think about self-care, put it in your diary. And if it helps, wear work clothes even at home as a way to differentiate your work day from your down time.
5. Practise proven techniques to manage stress. If you do feel stressed, don’t assume it will pass, take action. There are many evidence-based techniques you can quickly learned that will help, such as mindfulness, gratitude, and progressive muscle relaxation. And if the stress really gets too much, seek help from your GP or a counsellor.
Sure you can just ‘handle it’? Be wary of making assumptions. Stress, left to its own devices, can lead right to serious anxiety disorders that are far harder to treat.
6. Create a support network. As well as connecting with other freelancers and entrepreneurs, consider the support of a career counsellor, coach, or a therapist to keep you on track and resilient. If you are worried you can’t afford therapy with all your money going into your new business, read our guide to low-cost counselling.
7. Be honest with yourself. If being a freelancer isn’t working for you, and you aren’t happy, be honest with yourself. The truth is, despite the glorification of being an entrepreneur such shows as Dragon Den offer, being a freelancer doesn’t suit everyone. There is nothing wrong with going back to regular nine-to-five work if it’s a better match for your temperament and personality.
Do you have a tip for safeguarding your mental health as a contractor, freelancer, entrepreneur, or someone juggling multiple jobs? Share below.