What does the ‘Great Awakening’ at work mean for mental health?

James Routledge
James Routledge

Founder, Sanctus

The pandemic has given many of us a chance to explore our relationship with work. In this blog, James Routledge shares his own journey, and offers advice to employers on how to be attractive to current and potential employees in this new climate.

More people are questioning their relationship with work than ever before. I call it ‘The Great Awakening’. People are becoming aware of their mental health and consciously making choices about the life they want to live. One where their mental health comes first. The impact on our relationship with work is tremendous.

Pre-pandemic, my work was my life, or at least a very big part of it. I spent 80 minutes a day travelling to and from the office. I shared my life with my colleagues and my team were more than my team: they were my friends, support network, confidantes and creative collaborators too. We went to the pub together, we shared our challenges together, we laughed, we cried, we did everything together. I spent way more time with my colleagues than I did with my friends, family or my partner.

I’ve changed and my relationship with work has changed too

Enter lockdown and virtual working​Top tips to support your wellbeing whilst working from home PDF During the coronavirus outbreak, many legal professionals might be working from home for the first time. This PDF guide from Eversheds Sutherland explores ways you can look after your wellbeing while during this period.Free By: Eversheds Sutherland View resource and my working life has been flipped upside down. Now, I spend more time physically with my partner, friends and even my local community (due to the new hobbies I’ve picked up). I’ve changed and my relationship with work has changed too.

The long periods of solitude and a slower pace of life allowed me to reflect on what I wanted​Purpose PDF This guide can help you and you colleagues discover your purpose, and ensure you are working towards it every day.Free By: Unilever View resource. For example I decided to change my role as CEO of Sanctus, just one of the big life decisions I’ve made in the last 18 months.

Now, my work isn’t the centre of gravity for the rest of my life. It’s a big part of my life, yet my world doesn’t orbit around work. I, like millions of others, have been asking myself existential questions. What do I want to do? How do I want to work? What fulfils me? What gives me purpose?

A photographer poses for a picture.

I believe many of us are asking these questions and many people have had the long awaited opportunity for deep reflection. The results are big shifts in how we work and where we work. Add in varying approaches to flexible working​​Flexibility for who? Millennials and mental health in the modern labour market PDF Younger workers are more likely to be in part-time, flexible or temporary work, overqualified or self-employed—and this contractual flexibility can be a risk to their mental health. This report outlines the problem and the opportunities to take action.Free By: Business in the Community View resource and there’s a melting pot of change when it comes to work.

For those of us who kept our jobs, the pandemic provided an opportunity to reflect on work without the glaze of the commute and the after work beers. Sitting at our kitchen table, or with our laptops propped on an ironing board we could really see what our work is and ask ourselves whether we enjoy it or not.

This has meant, and will continue to mean, some big changes​Coping with change PDF Change in the workplace is often inevitable, but the impact it can have upon employees will differ. This guide helps managers guide their staff through stressful periods of change.Free By: RBS Group View resource. Career changes, role changes, career breaks. Some are stepping off the ladder, some are making radical changes, some still feel stuck and confused.

Everyone who works for you has asked themselves if they want to work at your company long term

For businesses, your entire employee base is asking these questions, you can bet everyone who works for you has asked themselves if they want to work at your company long term in the last 12 months.

That’s why the ‘talent war’, the ‘Great Resignation’, or whatever you want to call it is the number one topic now for all of us in the world of work. Businesses can do a lot to support employees with these big questions, or they can ignore them and pretend it’s all just fine.

I believe employers can make it OK for people to be asking themselves big questions and dealing with the uncertainty inherent in our world. Businesses can use this opportunity to make their working environment an attractive place for some of the brilliant minds questioning where they currently work.

Three colleagues work together.

I’m asking some big questions, I’m sure you might be too, or someone you work with definitely is. We can either sweep all that under the carpet like we used to and pretend it’ll all be ok, or we can allow space for questioning and we can accept that many people are wondering right now. If we accept this crisis as a reality, in my opinion it becomes an opportunity. 

In a recent Sanctus event on Uncertainty we heard how different companies are creating supportive structures that balance the responsibility of the individual and the choices they make, with the new policies of our working environment whilst people now have different expectations from their employers. 

You can watch that here.

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