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Managing Mental Health Within Contract Work

Managing Mental Health Within Contract Work

6 months ago By Emily Harris
Adult Business Businesswoman 165907

​While there are numerous benefits to contract work, the nature of the work can be challenging; job uncertainty, pressure and the feeling of isolation being the most common. Workplace stress and anxiety can impact contract workers, just as much as it can permanent employees, however the difference is that contract workers don’t always have a built-in support network or clear list of contacts to reach out to. Consequently, Public Sector People have collated some key steps to help alleviate stress for contract workers and ensure they’re functioning at their best whenever they take on a new contract with an organisation:

Invest Your Time In Making Social Connections

Contract work can feel isolating, as you’re often joining in on assignments or projects with an established team who are already familiar with an organisation’s policies and procedures. However, the best way to ‘bridge’ the divide between yourself and your new teammates - especially if they’re permanent employees – is making a conscious effort to invest in relationships. Over the last year with so many offices working remotely, it’s become easier for contractors to go under-the-radar as they see out their contract, but making the effort to connect with colleagues will not only instil a sense of belonging and happiness, but help expand your professional network. Research from Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, found that social connection is one of the greatest predictors of happiness and reduced stress. In one of the largest studies on happiness ever conducted, Anchor found that the people that survived stress the best, are the people that actually increase their social investments in the middle of stress, which is the opposite of what the majority of people do.

Meanwhile, the long- term benefits of building strong relationships will help expand your professional network; if you’re looking for work further down the track you’ll have a greater number of people to reach out to or alternately may have people you’ve worked with previously able to refer you for an available job. Being able to demonstrate your ability to get along with people and cooperate in team environments will also position you favourably amongst managers and key decision makers within a department or organisation, which could help you become the contractor of choice for that organisation in future.

So, as a contractor how do you invest or build relationships with colleagues, especially when so many team members work remotely? HR managers suggest firstly, making the time to introduce yourself properly to your team- setting up short meetings in person or over zoom to introduce yourself and get a sense of what your teammates do and how they like to operate. For connections to feel legitimate rather than ‘forced’ HR professionals also recommend individuals thinking about how they can genuinely add value to the relationship or connection? Do you have expertise in a particular subject that might be of use to someone? Do you have a beneficial connection that might be useful to pass on to a colleague? Sharing articles others in your team might find interesting or connecting contacts with information or people that can help with their business needs, are both easy examples to help foster those initial connections. Finally, accepting any invitations from colleagues for lunch, coffee or social interactions outside of work are great ways to build your relationships. Taking the time to find out about teammates interests outside of work, the things going on in their life etc. demonstrate a level of effort and care that people value and will reciprocate.

Manage Uncertainty

While contract work comes with great flexibility and the opportunity to try your hand at different roles and experiences, the flipside of the coin is the level of uncertainty that comes with the job. Because contracts are short- term and often dependent on the completion of projects – especially within the public sector- contractors are always on the move and don’t have the same level of job security as their permanent counterparts. This irregularity can be a source of stress, especially when you’ve got family and financial obligations to look after. Which was intensified last year when the outbreak of covid impacted the job market; suddenly contractors finishing up with organisations or coming to the end of their project were faced with greater competition and organisations who no longer had the capacity to take contractors on.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of external factors that contractors can’t control in regards to job security and longevity – it is the nature of the job. However, there are a few things contractors can do to help prepare themselves and minimise the time between roles, which in turn can minimise related job stress and help deal with the uncertainty. The first is to have an open dialogue with your employer, especially when you’re coming closer to the end of your project or contract. If you’ve enjoyed your time at the organisation, don’t be afraid to ask about future possibilities or their thoughts on having that contract extended. Gaining clarity on the organisation’s capacity and their future goals and priorities can help you plan ahead. If you know in advance that your contract won’t be extended, you can give yourself more time to look for opportunities and lock in your next contract, which can minimise stress levels. It’s also important that those in contract work have a constant eye on the job market, so they’re aware of any interesting opportunities that pop up. It’s also worth reaching out to recruiters within your industry or specialise in contract roles, so that you’ll be top of mind for any opportunity that might arise. Recruiters will also do a lot of the initial leg work with organisations for you, which will save you time and again, help minimise stress.

Finally, taking the time to invest in your ongoing development and learning can be a proactive way to manage uncertainty or if you have a bit of down time between contracts. Being up-to-date with the latest market trends and technology increases your employability, however contractors don’t necessarily get the chance to utilise company-funded training and education like permanent employees do, so the responsibility falls on the individual. Setting time aside to take courses in-between contracts, obtain relevant certifications and build your knowledge and skill-level will help you stand out against competitors and become qualified for a greater range of positions, which ultimately helps increase your chances of having a healthy and long-term career in contracting.

Coping With Long Hours and Strict Deadlines

Although being a contractor gives you more flexibility, a contract is usually made up of set hours and key deliverables you need to achieve within those hours- especially for contractors in construction and project management roles. Consequently, leaving work ‘on time’ isn’t always possible. Busy periods, tight deadlines or expectations set by your fellow team members or managers can apply pressure, making you feel the need to work longer hours and feel overwhelmed- especially if certain tasks are taking longer than anticipated or the team experience any setbacks which means deadlines aren’t being met. To avoid feeling like you’re drowning in work, HR experts recommend the following steps:

If you’re finding that working overtime has become the norm rather than the exception, it’s important to remember that as a contractor you are in charge of your own hours. If the workload is becoming too overwhelming and impacts your ability to work effectively, you can reach out to your manager or supervisor about your concerns. Perhaps the workload is overwhelming due to the deadlines that were initially set not being realistic, or perhaps the resources dedicated to the task initially weren’t enough. Projects rarely go exactly to plan and there will always be some adjustments to be made which managers are aware of. If there are issues or problems that you’re experiencing, your team and supervisors will appreciate you flagging these ahead of time, rather than a week before the project is due or worse, failing to deliver the final result. Ultimately your managers want you to succeed in delivering the final project, so If you are struggling with the workload, they’ll want to work with you to resolve any issues and minimise stress moving forward.

For managing day-to-day workloads, the global job site Indeed recommends many suggest trying to limit the number of meetings you have a day or blocking time out of your diary, which you can then dedicate to working on whatever priority you need to, uninterrupted.

Finding Support

Contractors have become a considerable portion of the public sector’s workforce - AusTender reported that contracts for temporary workers in 2020 totalled $1.36 billion which was an increase of around $500 million on the previous year. Last year also marked the sector’s lowest proportion of ongoing employees, representing 87.5% of the workforceWhile there aren’t as many formal support programs or benefits available to contract workers as permanent employees, it’s important for contractors to reach out if they’re feeling stressed, overworked or isolated. You can always reach out to your organisation’s HR department to see what wellness programs, social activities or general support is available to you.

Otherwise, outside of the organisation you can reach out to mental health and support organisations such as Beyond Blue and R U OK? Furthermore, some recruitment organisations offer formal programs or assistance for candidates they place in a new role. At Public Sector People, we’ve created a formal after-care program for our candidates in which our consultants will regularly keep in touch with both the candidate and client, identify any potential issues and act as a facilitator for both parties, to ensure candidates can feel properly settled and secure in their new role.

To find out more about Public Sector People’s aftercare program or the current contract opportunities our consultants have available, you can reach us at:

Email: info@publicsectorpeople.com.au
Phone: (03) 8535 3111

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