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Ask the Expert : What steps can I take to protect my mental health?

 

This article’s expert is the psychological health in the workplace specialist trainer, Christine Clark 

Question

My job share has temporarily cut her hours as she is close to burnout.  I have been told that for the moment she will only do straightforward, routine tasks and that I should leave these for her and concentrate on the more challenging, complicated areas of our role.  Although I have every sympathy for her personally, I wonder how long it will be before my mental health suffers as a result.  Are there any actions I can take to protect my mental health?

Answer

There are a few areas to consider in the scenario you have presented.

Firstly, sticking the more challenging areas of your joint role on you really isn’t a solution.  Could things not be organised so you don’t solely concentrate on the challenging, complicated tasks; otherwise it could end up having a domino effect with the end result being you and other team members going down with stress.

How much communication and negotiation has taken place between everyone involved, as a group?  If there have been discussions, has your manager been involved, as negotiation should involve all parties.  Who is deciding which tasks are easy or complicated?  If your job share colleague wasn’t included in the conversation, they could be hostile to just getting mundane tasks to do.  The hierarchy of control needs to be considered here whereby preventative measures are taken to reduce stress risks to their lowest practicable level.  Further details about the hierarchy of control can be found on the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) website.

As your current situation involves a change in working practices, your manager should also refer to the HSE Management Standards.  The Management Standards cover the areas of work design which can lead to poor health and wellbeing, lower productivity and higher sickness absence if they are not well managed.  Of the 6 keys areas covered by the Standards, your scenario suggests you are experiencing stress risk within each area:

  • Role – your role is changing, excluding routine tasks and including more complex tasks
  • Demands – are increasing as you are to deal with more challenging and complicated tasks
  • Support – you won’t be receiving the usual level of support you and your job share colleague offer each other.  Is your manager and team offering greater support?
  • Control – being told how you are now to divide up your joint workload doesn’t suggest you have much say in the way you do your work
  • Relationships – there will be an altered relationship with your job share colleague due to the current situation
  • Change – there has been a change to your working practice

No-one knows how long this current situation could go on for which adds to the uncertainty for all concerned.  It is a poor solution to think that putting the problem on to someone else will solve it.  Perhaps the duties could be shared around other members of the team and support for all increased?  A plan of how it will be managed needs to be agreed by all who are involved and then reviewed frequently.

On a personal note, you should turn up your self-care.  Make sure you look after yourself and build some time out for yourself.  Treat yourself kindly and listen to your self-talk – ensure it’s positive, as you would talk to a good friend who’s experiencing a tough time.

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