Isolation and the project contractor
How we get on with others plays an important part in our mental health. These days, the workplace is not only where we spend most of our time, contribute to society and earn a living, it’s also where we have most contact and interaction with other people, and the benefits this brings.
As a project contractor, there is a possibility that you will spend at least some of your time working in isolation. People who work in isolation—those who work alone, without close or direct supervision and regular contact with peers—can be challenged by this lack of contact with others. Some of us aren’t bothered by this, or instinctively take steps to cope with it. Others though, need to take more conscious action or get more support to work in an isolated environment and maintain good mental health.
A recent European study has emphasised that factors such as length of time working alone, barriers to communication, location and type of work conducted and the characteristics of the person working alone are important considerations in the development of an optimal working environment for white collar contractors, which we call independent professionals or IPros.
Work-related mental health problems can sometimes be associated with the way work is organised, and to the nature of workplace social relationships. Possible risk factors for people who work independently include a tangible lack of recognition, poor (or non-existent) workplace relationships, a lack of input into organisational decisions, and inadequate circulation of information: all can contribute to poor mental health. Studies indicate that workers who have little control over work process and little or no social support from co-workers, supervisors or management, are at greater risk of feeling stressed and anxious.
Research also suggests that some professionals exposed to the risk factors of working in isolation may experience other reactions. For example, the absence of stimulation and human company involved in working independently can result in decreased vigilance, feelings of uselessness and reduced concentration and focus on tasks.
People who work independently should not be more at risk than other employees. Regular team meetings, good internal communications and participatory mechanisms, staff training and systems for recognising employee contributions are all ways to improve the experience of the contemporary project contractor.
Maintaining regular contact with friends and family, ensuring a good work-life balance, taking regular breaks, exercise and good nutrition are also important to maintaining good mental health—whether working independently or in an office—or indeed at any time in life.
This post was by Entity Solutions’ corporate social responsibility partner, SANE Australia, a national charity working for a better life for people affected by mental illness through campaigning, education and research. SANE conducts innovative programs to improve the lives of people living with mental illness, their family and friends. It also operates a busy helpline and website, relying exclusively on donations and grants to achieve its goals. It receives no ongoing government funding so every dollar counts. Find out more about supporting SANE at www.sane.org.
If you are concerned about your own mental health or that of someone else, contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) or at www.sane.org.
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Working in Isolation, 2000
- Worksafe Western Australian Commission: Working Alone, 1999
- Government of Quebec 2012