Making space for some side-hustle: Tackling mental health and wellbeing amidst shifting employee expectations

Jo Lyall, Managing Director, Mindshare UK

With recent news outlining the six steps to take to improve your work/life balance, it’s clear that juggling the demands of work and personal interests is a hot topic.

Work cultures are changing to adapt to employee needs, with flexi-working rapidly becoming the norm as we realise that pursuing our passions and nurturing a respectable work-life balance is just as important as developing a career.

It’s about time!

Recent NHS findings reveal that one in four UK citizens are likely to suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives and that London’s workers are suffering through a loneliness epidemic that is perpetuated by a poor work-life balance. The issue reaches beyond societal implications too, with a recent report commissioned by the government finding that poor worker wellbeing annually costs employers in the UK a staggering £42 billion; a figure that frankly dwarves the £12 billion that was reportedly spent on mental health by the NHS in 2017/2018.

Why, in this enlightened age, are we still so ashamed to admit when we’re not ok?

The difference between morale and wellbeing

Whilst many companies have implemented a number of ‘perks’ in recent years that are primarily designed to boost employee morale, there’s only so far an early finish on a Friday evening can take you. Tackling wellbeing in the workplace should be so much more than just paying lip service, it should be sewn into the fabric of how the company functions and how it treats its employees. Ultimately, there’s a very important distinction to be made between morale and wellbeing. Morale generally implies enthusiasm for the company cause, whereas wellbeing represents something infinitely more personal. So, what works for one employee, won’t necessarily work for all employees.

Avoiding a one-size-fits-all solution

Just as there is no one-size-fits-all employee benefit, not all approaches will work for all businesses. Managers must be flexible and personable with their employees and invest time into understanding their personal needs, which should, in turn, lead to growth in both the individual and the company. Treating every employee as an individual is of great importance when sorting a genuinely helpful perk from a token gesture. If certain employees have young children at home, for example, perhaps consider implementing a flexi-work policy that allows them to work from home once a week?

Exposing the silence

Some employers are taking the initiative by letting their employees know how their mental wellbeing affects their job performance and the performance of the business. Many more, however, are allowing their employees to fester, under fear of being ‘exposed’ and the only way to change this paradigm is to make them realise that their mental health is not a taboo topic. There is an important and definitive link between contentment and productivity that needs to be examined and cultivated. Ultimately, if you want to inspire a positive and productive company culture, that means investing not in the skills of your employees, but in the employees themselves; an overall package that not only includes, but is arguably governed by, their mental wellbeing.

The consumerisation of the workplace

Just as programmatic advertising has led to a culture where people expect more personalisation from brands, they are also now demanding the same of their employers. The unique needs catalysed by this consumerisation of the workplace mean that employers must now begin to understand their employees on a more intimate level. This can mean anything from curating company days out tailored to the interests of your employees, to something small, but consistent, like ordering bespoke lunches for the whole office on a Friday afternoon. Still, whilst gestures such as this can go a long way towards making employees feel like they are being understood and appreciated, don’t let them become a one-offs. Instead, allow these gestures to embody a perpetual work culture.

Finding some space for a little side-hustle

Finding the space that will allow individual employees to carve their own niches is something I vehemently believe in. Long before the days when we were au fait with the practice of flexi-working, I decided to find an outlet that would help me to grow and succeed in the media industry. I decided to train as a qualified nutritionist. Mindshare helped me find the space I needed to achieve this by building a half day into my week. This half day was invaluable, as it allowed me time to feed my passion and turn it into something positive and useable that I could bring back to the company when I was ready.

In my experience, allowing space for passion projects eases the pressure at work and results in a more creative and productive office. There’s still, however, a dearth of role models, and the avenues for employers and employees alike to take back their work/life balance and nurture their mental wellbeing still don’t exist for many people. Finding a space (in whatever shape it might take) for open discussion, for individual growth and for a little side-hustle is the crucial thing that I feel will allow us to fully redress the work/life balance and generate a positive and lasting workplace wellbeing.

About the author

Jo is the Managing Director of Mindshare. She is responsible for growth and new product development as well as for creating client satisfaction and maintaining a happy and high-performing workforce.

Over a 20-year career in media, she has worked in almost every area of the business. Spending the first 10 years working in digital where, ultimately, she became Head of Digital and launched Mindshare Social. Over the next 8 years she went on to set up and lead Invention, our content and partnership team. Following this she ran the Planning department as Chief Planning Officer. She built the first generation of planners with the ability to blend digital, offline and social planning to create effective and innovative solutions to our clients’ marketing challenges.

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