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How to look after your mental health while contracting

As a contractor, you are constantly on the move. In amongst deadlines and projects, looking after your mental health can often take a back seat. Today is a day where people around the world are acknowledging mental health and well- being to create awareness, so we thought it was a good time to check in with you and see if you are ok?

Here are some tips that can help you manage the challenges associated with contract work that may affect your health and well-being.

1 – Managing the irregularity of contract work

While contract work comes with great flexibility and an exciting pace of change, the irregularity of the work can also be source of stress. Particularly, when you’ve got financial and family obligations to look after. It’s difficult to have the balance, giving each contract your very best and prepare at any time to start looking for new opportunities.

Here are some tips to help manage this:

  • Have an open dialogue with your employer, and don’t be afraid to ask for a status update on your contract. Gaining clarity can help you plan ahead and minimise stress.
  • Keep an eye on the market. It’s worth having a good relationship with a recruiter who specialises in contract roles, so that you’ll be top of mind for any opportunity that might arise.

2 – Coping with long hours and strict deadlines

Although being a contractor gives you more flexibility and control over your hours, leaving work ‘on time’ isn’t always possible. Busy periods, tight deadlines or team expectations can lead you to feel the need to go beyond standard hours. This can start to impact your health and throw any concept of work-life balance out the window.

How do you stay afloat when you feel like you’re drowning in work?

  • If working overtime becomes the norm rather than the exception, or you need more flexibility, remember you are in control of your own hours as a contractor. Have a chat with your manager or supervisor about your concerns and what you want to adjust your hours to. Assuming they’re human, they should get where you’re coming from.
  • Try and minimise the number of meetings you have and block out periods in your calendar where you can work uninterrupted.
  • Make sure you have the right tools to work efficiently. If not, don’t be afraid to ask.

3 – Taking time out

The question of taking leave is a common struggle when it comes to short-term work, as many contractors feel as though they are not in a position to ask for a break. Plus, if you’re paid by the hour it’s difficult to make the decision to take unpaid leave.

According to Beyond Blue, one in five Australians (21%) have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.

Taking regular breaks is essential for your mental wellbeing. Here are some tips for managing time away from your screen:

  • Albeit unpaid, as a contractor you are entitled to ask for leave. While it may not be possible to take a month off in the middle of a major project, you can ask your employer for some time to refresh. We’re all human and sometimes we need that break to get away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lifestyle.
  • Take regular breaks during work hours. Whether it’s getting fresh air at lunchtime or moving around your workplace every hour or so, this will improve your wellbeing and help you stay focused and productive.
  • Use the time between contracts to recharge your battery. Just let your consultant know when you are available for the next job and they can continue looking for your next opportunity while you’re putting your feet up.

4 – Setting healthy boundaries

As a contractor, it’s natural to want to go above-and-beyond your employer’s expectations, particularly if you are hoping to pick up additional work within the organisation.

It’s not always easy to say no, especially when you are relatively new to a company and there are big expectations for what you can deliver.  However, you have a right to set work limits when the demand exceeds your capacity for what you can take on and deliver. But how can you do this without limiting your opportunities?

  • Remember that it’s okay to say no. If you’re being asked to take on additional tasks, explain how this would affect the project you’re working on. For example, “if I spend my time on X that will delay our project by Y.”
  • Limit the amount of work you do at home – including responding to phone calls, texts and emails. Successfully switching on and off from work will help you de-stress and sleep better.

5 – Finding support

Most companies now have contractors as a major part of their overall workforce, and this trend will only continue to increase. It is currently estimated that 30% of Australian employees are contingent workers. Even though contracting is becoming more common, there is still a huge gap between the benefits offered to contract and permanent workers. Whether it be social activities, wellness programs, skills development schemes or general support, it can often feel like you’re missing out as a contract employee.

How can you gain access to support and development schemes?

  • If you’re missing the social interaction that comes with permanent employment, Talent hosts Christmas parties for Engage contractors in most major cities across Australia and New Zealand. It’s a great opportunity to meet up and build your network.
  • If your work environment is making you feel uncomfortable bring it to your employer’s attention. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them about it you can always reach out to Talent or your recruiter to help mediate the situation and work towards a solution
  • Reach out to mental health and support organisations – we care about your health and offer all contractors the Talent Contractor Assistance Program which offers confidential and professional counselling. (Get in touch with your consultant, one of our contractor care managers or the Engage team if you would like us to connect you)