Mental Health at work has never been more on the agenda of employers (and employees). After two years of disruption in the way we work, and an ongoing background of stress caused by economic, ecological and geopolitical turmoil, it’s not surprising that the very best business leaders are looking at what more they can do to take care of their people.
However, that rightful care for people also needs extends to the ‘total workforce’, not just those who are on payroll, but also those you work with under contract, such as freelancers.
Whilst there can be challenges in directly supporting freelancers, whether it be IR35 getting in the way, time, budget or even just not knowing where to start or who has internal responsibility, often it can be the simplest things which are most effective — good communication, fair payment terms, feedback during and after the project.
Every year, our research shows, however, that freelancers rarely know where to turn for support for their own mental health at work. It’s a big reason why we exist as a project, to be one of the sources of support, as well as signpost to other valid and good quality support mechanisms, but we can only be effective in doing that if people know about us.
That’s why signposting for employers is so critical and important as the first step in supporting your total workforce.
Signposting is the simple act of helping people be more aware of where they can find support.
It’s a step before providing that support yourself, and often is adopted more readily than your own support — as you’re letting people know a range of places where they can seek impartial and independent help.
This is especially important for the self-employed as they may not want to let their client know they’re struggling emotionally, as often the freelancer might feel it could create concern the project will not be completed, only adding to further stress (even if their client might be wonderfully supportive, the anxiety of sharing can be worse than reality), and a majority of freelancers say they would not share with their client if they were feeling stressed or suffering with poor mental health.
How does signposting work?
At its simplest, it’s about providing a list of useful and authoritative sources for support — places your people can turn to, in order to find out more, to connect with someone, to reach out and get what they need.
Those sources and materials need to be of good quality, rooted in evidence, from authoritative and respected providers, and be written in a understanding and supportive way — that’s not “You won’t believe these ten ways to improve your mental health” listicles, but content that can be trusted.
Secondly, those resources need to be relevant to the self-employed experience — content which suggests “make sure you use your paid sick leave to rest” isn’t going to help a freelancer, nor is “speak to your line manager or HR team”. Whilst 80% of mental health resources are relevant to 80% of people, helping them find content which tackles the unique issues they might be facing is essential.
Thirdly, it’s not just about content, but also community and support services which they can turn to in times of need. That could be counselling or therapy services, it could be local healthcare services, it could be peer-support and community networks. It’s not enough to just offer reading material, but aim for offering genuine connection.
Signposting will often simply be a list, helping the individual to navigate the links and resources which could help — that list could be a downloadble PDF, it might be a page on your intranet, it could be a poster in the breakout room, some employers offer phone numbers or support email addresses to ask questions, or even chatbots to intelligently automate the process.
But critically — it must be visible and easily accessible to the individual.
This means you need to both create the signposting resources and ensure it’s communicated to everyone you work with. Recent research shows that whilst over 97% of large companies offer support platforms like an EAP, only 6% of people are using them, and over 50% of employees don’t know they exist or think there isn’t one — pointing to the importance of communications in any sort of signposting and support.
For the self-employed, this communication is even harder: there is rarely a formal onboarding process or documentation the individual receives at the start of a project and more often than not, they’re not part of an EAP; and more important: as they don’t have the time or space to find it themselves.
I’ve worked with businesses who offered their freelancers access to amazing levels of support, but none of their freelancers (or people who were bringing those freelancers in) knew it was available, making the investment and effort a waste of time.
So what to do?
Leapers is committed to tackling this issue by offering a free signposting service for any organisation who hires freelancers. We’re doing this because we don’t believe there should be no excuses in not signposting, but also recognise the time and effort it takes to create these resources can fall beyond priorities and responsibilities. So we’ll do the hard work!
STEP 1 — SIGNPOSTING
We’ve built a customisable landing page, which you can send your freelancers to when they arrive in your business, and we take care of making sure the links, resources and content are up to date and relevant for your people. It’s entirely free to use, just let us know and we’ll create your own page which you can send to your freelancers.
STEP 2 — COMMUNICATING
We’re building a tool to help with the communication challenge too, it’s as simple as inviting your freelancer (just their email address and bing, you’re done!), and we’ll handle the rest. They’ll get signposted to support, invited to a peer-community, and join your freelance alumni — all in a single go. We’re inviting organisations who are interested in trying this out to drop us a note, and we’ll get you involved in the beta tests.
There are plenty more things which you can do, of course, to support your freelancers’ mental health, all of which not only support the individual, but also lead to more motivated, more engaged, more creative and and better quality work from your freelancers — it even leads to freelancers prioritising those clients who support them over those who don’t — but to start with, if you’re not already signposting, it’s the least you can do.