Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl

- So you just don’t seem to be able to stop the endless stream of emails coming into your inbox – before you have had a chance to even deal with one of them, two more appear – fighting for your time and attention.

- Or maybe you have had no work to do all day and are getting pretty bored, then just as it gets to 5pm and you are getting ready to leave, an emailed marked URGENT pops up in your inbox. Yes – you are going to have to stay in the office late again – you need to get this done by tomorrow morning.

- Or maybe you have spent the past hour planning how to get through your giant to-do list for the day but then have one colleague after another come to see you asking for your help – pushing that to-do-list completely aside…and forcing you to fall further behind.

- Or maybe after a tough week of long days at work, you have planned a weekend away with your partner or some close friends, only to get a call from your boss on Friday asking you to help out with something over the weekend.

One of biggest things that affects people’s mental health in the workplace is the feeling of having no control over their workflow and workload. Having too much work, too little time and then dealing with unpredictability is a recipe for poor mental health. With emails flying into their inbox 24/7, long working days, interruptions throughout the day and nobody to turn to for help, employees often feel as though they have no power to plan their day or their lives, and this can be incredibly overwhelming. So what can be done to help employees re-gain control over their professional lives.

What can employers/managers do to help?

There are several steps that employers can take to help their employees to feel more in control of their work-flow and professional lives more generally, including:

- Establishing a work-allocation system that is fair and looks at what work everyone in a team is doing. Ensuring that work is distributed evenly and being transparent about how work is allocated will ensure that nobody in the workforce feels as though they are contributing more than their fair share.

- Regularly checking in with employees to see whether their workload is appropriate. Ensuring that employees are comfortable with the amount of work they have and are able to cope, is a key way to prevent mental health conditions from arising and to encourage employees to ask for help or support if they are feeling overwhelmed by their workload.

- Where a partner/director or someone senior is managing the client’s expectations, start thinking about whether something really is URGENT and whether it really needs to be completed that evening/within 2 days. Whilst having a culture of fast delivery is great, an organisation will probably get a much better work product if they give their team more time to do the work well (rather than asking them to rush and complete it late in the evening or over a weekend).

- Allow an employee to see where their career in the organisation is headed. An individual is likely to be much better able to cope with the demands of a stressful job and a lack of control if they feel appreciated and know that they are going to progress in the company (whether through financial incentives, changes in titles or otherwise). Knowing that their hard work has a purpose and that they are working towards a goal, can help an employee to feel better able to manage stressful times.

What can employees do to regain control ?

There are also several steps that employees can take themselves to re-gain control over their professional lives:

- Whilst an employee may not be in control of their workflow or the situation in their office, it is empowering for them to realise that they are however always in control of their thoughts and emotions. So they can respond to their boss giving them more work or a new deadline by thinking ‘How am I ever going to get this done’, then worrying and getting stressed or they could think ‘I will try and do my best with this but may not get it all done’, then calmly trying to do as much as they can and not feeling as bad. Whilst it may seem difficult to change thought patterns – with some awareness of what thoughts are triggering a stress response, it is possible to encourage thoughts which are likely to be more helpful and better for mood/health.

- An employee can start to lower the high expectations they have of themselves. Very often feeling the need to get something done quickly or dealing with all of the work they have to do that day on time, is a self-imposed deadline. Chances are, an employee would not get in trouble or fired if they were slightly late in meeting a deadline or replying to an email – in fact an employer would much rather a workforce responded slightly less quickly but stopped taking off lots of days off sick for stress/anxiety/depression. So employees can start to ask themselves how much of the pressure they are experiencing is self-imposed because they want to do a good job – whilst it is great to want to do a good job, this should not come at the detriment of their mental or physical health.

- An employee can start to feel comfortable saying “no” and asking for help. Very often when an employee is stressed it can be easy to lose sight of the help available. Employees also often feel uncomfortable turning down work, despite already having too much to do. If employees remember that their employer would probably much prefer them turning down one piece of work or asking for help rather than ending up chronically stressed and sick – maybe they would be more likely to get the help and support they need or not feel bad when they have to say that they can’t take on any additional work.

Control is a funny thing – because feeling out of control of one’s circumstances is very often a factor that leads to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression and yet we never really have any control over anything external to us. You can understand why someone may get very anxious when they never know how much work to expect or when it will appear in their inbox. Yet as everything is always changing – we don’t really ever have control over anything- expect perhaps our own thoughts, actions and emotions. So when we are feeling that we have no control a great thing to remember is that we never really have control of anything external – but we can always change our thoughts and knowing that you therefore always have control over how you respond to a particular situation, is a truly empowering thing.

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -  Viktor E. Frankl