Supporting the mental health of independent workers — a work in progress.

I believe that the current design of the future of work points towards the creation of three major issues: a failure in strategy, creativity and innovation; a long-term skills gap; a crisis in mental health. I want to try and do something about each one — Huru is the project to tackle mental health [ask me about the other two].

Last month, 12 wonderful pioneering organisations joined me for lunch, to explore mental health within the independent workers community. It’s a unique set of complex challenges, and our intention was to identify and implement ONE THING that each group could do to some way help the people which many organisations are increasingly moving their business models towards relying upon.

Each organisation, in some way, uses, works with, relies upon, or has built a business model leveraging independent talent. We have small and large businesses, and they’re all bought into the idea that they way they work with people (regardless of employment contract) need to be more supportive.

The intention is that each organisation will find one idea, and implement it over the coming months — from which we’ll share them widely with other organisations who can replicate the ideas, or then develop further interventions of their own — and on and on until we’ve made a difference.

I wanted to share one of the outputs of the conversation — a set of themes or areas where we think possible interventions could lie:

Insight — Firstly, let’s not make the assumption we know what freelancers want, need and desire for support. How can we find out what our community of independent talent would find useful?

Communication — How do we better communicate with freelancers; with our team internally; about their role and reason for being here; and within teaming behaviours? Or just where the toilet is? There are too many stories of people arriving, and just being expected to crack on with work.

Access — What existing services are easily made accessible to freelancers? such as EAP, in-house resources, healthcare, mentoring and emotional support? desk space, social, data, training? Whilst we have to be careful of IR35, what existing support infrastructure can be exposed to a wider cohort?

Citizenship — How can stop to treat freelancers as second rate citizens within the workplace, and just “a member of the team”? How can we make them part of the organisation for their time with us? What do we need to do to break down the (largely false) assumption that they’re on a massive day rate and are raking it in? How can we turn it upside down and celebrate that we have a brilliantly talented specialist in the building for a while?

Relationship — How can we build a stronger relationship with ‘trusted’ freelancers over a period of time, to benefit us and them? how can we ease their pipeline and ours? how can we support training and development? how can we alleviate stresses of being a solo worker? what makes us a preferred client to keep returning to?

Network — How can we help share and connect the individual within our business to others who need similar help? How can we create connections between freelancers within our business? How can we build better networks of agile talent for everyone’s benefit?

Investment — What are the longer term and higher value investments we can make in people we don’t employ, but want to support? mentoring, cash-flow, shorter payment terms, access to healthcare, holiday and sick pay, etc? What are the new models of remuneration which fit the new models of working?

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I’m sure there are more themes, and maybe many overlap, but from 90 minutes of conversation, to get to this point as a foundation for taking action, I feel was a really good starting point.

Right now our Huru Pioneers are identifying and designing their interventions. Come Feb 15, we’ll have a shortlist of things they want to do, and over the following month, I’ll be supporting them implementing their ideas, and then trying to get the message out to as many people as possible, to steal and build upon our work.

After that, I’ll be looking for a second cohort of organisations to do even more.

If you’re interested in being part of the second cohort, sign up here: https://huru.leapers.co/

If you can help us spread the word, please share this article, or let me know if you can get us some press coverage when the time is right.

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Matthew Knight is an independent strategist, who helps businesses build ways of doing things ready for the future. Leapers is a community of people who are actively changing the way they work, curated by Matthew Knight. Huru is a project of Leapers. Capiche?