I work in the NHS, more specifically in community healthcare as a Leader in Information Governance and Information Technology. Standard practice involves getting to work, firing up the laptop, turning on the work mobile and checking emails. I produce policy, guides, documents, research law blah blah blah!
This style of working practice is alien to humans. When did you normal start to be antihuman? So here I am, living in another time. This morning I am building a new central building for celebrations. Tomorrow I will be painting the interior with incredible colour. Next week I will be discussing how we will make and plan the rest of the build with others in the village. Once it is all finished I, and all the villagers who worked on the project will step back and say “we did that”. Ok back to reality.
I know this is romanticised and life would have been hard for our ancestors. But the point is, as a society we have lost the element of the big picture. As we as a culture have become over populated and taken over more of the world, our communication has increased. We work together far more but, we only see part of the big picture.
Imagine being locked in a room for years. All day you forge a piece of metal to an identical specification. You get paid but you never know what the piece of metal is for. Your morale will be low and you may work quite slowly and lose interest which could affect the finished piece. Now lets mix it up a bit. This room is now an aircraft hangar. Others are working around you on other parts. Then in the middle, is a plane. You can see the part you have made being placed onto the plane with other parts. Once completed you can see the customer pick up the plane and see its test flight. You learn that the component you make is a safety feature that has saved 20 lives each year it has been fitted. You have purpose, you feel inspired and even take interest in others work and how the plane was designed. Put in simple terms, you have a village.
So whats this got to do with my mental health? I have needed to force myself into a world based on how people think things should be, not on how humans are used to being. Through school we learn through play up until we are 5-6. Then the tables, chairs and looking forward at a board starts. Straight away preparing us for work at a desk. By the time we reach secondary school, we are trained very well at sitting at a desk and looking at books and computers. By college, we naturally turn to books and computers to carry out all our work, revision and tests. Then there is university with its large auditoriums and, you guessed it, books and computers.
I’m not saying that books and computers are not required, but is this really the best way to learn? Do we need to sit at desks? Are we teaching everyone a conservative approach to work? Are we subduing the natural tendencies of humans to innovative and discover to survive?
For me, academic learning is a nightmare. Sitting at a desk with a book or computer and with a test at the end is hell to me. So my qualification scores are average but my practical results are excellent. In truth is it not the practical results that employers need? Don’t we need people to ask questions and challenge the way we think?
For me certain things at work agitate my mental health problems. Meetings are not really useful, more specifically, formal meetings. The constant non stop overload of information and people talking, the need to make notes and the sitting at a desk in a room that was designed by Mr Conservative himself. The bombardment of questions expecting instant answers to every question with immediate timescales. Documents that must be in a consistent, conservative, black on white format with no sign of being interesting other than the business logo in the corner if you are lucky. And last but not least the inspirational, overload of information known as the spreadsheet. Full of numbers, stats and columns of confusion, unless you have hours to look over the sheets.
Again, I’m not saying this is wrong just that this is based on a specific type of person that thrives on the detail. One decimal place is not enough and nor is a top level plan. We must have every little thought and plan for every possible scenario, even the impossible!
Me and many others thrive on colour, diagrams, logical interpretations, pictures, inspirational spaces and everything beautiful. Yet the environments in most offices are as inspirational as a cowpat in the sun. Without an image of the bigger picture you may as well be throwing your work in the bin after you finish.
A work environment should mimic the natural world as much as possible. What’s wrong with plants, art work and comfortable chairs? Why can’t a work space be flexible to adapt to how the employee wants to work? We always feel better when we are in a nice environment with flexibility and the best innovation thrives on it. Check out the Google HQ or Moshi Monsters or Apple. These environments encourage play and innovation.
So in conclusion, your work environment can have an impact on your mental health. Businesses need to adapt to enable happier work spaces and to reduce stress. I tend to look at two screens all day. Turn to the left, cream coloured wall. Turn to my right, storage units, desks and other employees. No breathing space, nothing inspirational and constantly feeling out of place. Come on businesses of the world, innovate, become more human and help us to help you!