Mental health and flexible working hours Published on 19 February 2018 3 minute read

When I first started working for Government, I found flexi-time awkward. Until this point, my entire career had been fixed working patterns and strict start times. If I was 1 minute late, my boss would dock my wages by 15 minutes. So, it seemed alien to me to have any flexibility at all.

Because bad organisations had conditioned me for over a decade, I thought there must be a catch. I assumed it was one of those things where people say one thing but mean another. I thought if I came in 30 minutes late people would act fine to my face, but there would be a secret strike against my name. If I chalked up enough strikes I'd get disciplined. The last place I worked loved this secret strike system!

Of course, this isn't true for every organisation. It was just my experience of employment to date.

Until recently, despite my contract saying my hours are flexible, I was still stuck on panic mode if I walked in later than 9am. Altering my world view was hard. It was one of the things my counsellor and I had to work hardest on. But now, I hold flexible working hours in very high regard.

I cycle through periods of depression and mania. When I'm depressed, I find it hard to get out of bed. I get agitated easy and I struggle to maintain focus for more than a few hours. I still do whats expected of me, but there is little left in the tank for anything extra.

When I'm manic, I find it hard to stop. In fact, I don't want to stop. I'm super motivated. Enthusiastic. Laser focussed. And I barely sleep without any repercussions. I get involved in anything and everything. Can I write and deliver a talk? Can I help on another project? Can I renovate an entire room in my house?

As you can imagine, this doesn't work well with fixed regimes. Just because an organisation forces me to be there on time, it doesn't mean that my brain is ready to go. Sometimes when I'm struggling to get out of bed, that extra half hour could be the difference between having a productive day and it being a write-off.

This also works both ways. If there is no flexibility then I'm going home at my finishing time. No matter how in the zone I am. No matter how good the work is I'm busy doing. And there is no guarantee that I'll hit the same flow tomorrow morning.

As an employer, it can be a scary prospect giving people flexibility. There's a fear that people will abuse the system and that you will lose control. There's a flawed belief that micromanaging people gets more work done. But, from what I'm seeing in Government, giving people freedom and trust inspires them to do their best work.

Saying flexible working hours have saved my life might seem a bit drastic. But they do give me the ability to manage my own mental health on a day to day basis, and this shouldnt be overlooked. As a byproduct, I'm enjoying way more productive days and doing some of the best work I've ever done. And that is beneficial for everybody.