The past several years have given us many reasons to question the workplace environment that companies build online and offline and realize that employee wellbeing has finally become a crucial part of work culture worldwide.
Even though Mental Health Awareness Month is officially over, we believe that it is always a good time to talk about mental health issues in the design industry. This time we sat down with Bobby Voeten, a Visual Storyteller at Minddistrict that created a platform for mental health services. We talked about how they take care of employees and what they do to master their wellbeing.
Bobby has 10+ years of professional experience in the design industry. Since 2017 he’s been a Visual Storyteller at Minddistrict and still finds the time to work on personal projects on the side.
FIRST THINGS FIRST, BOBBY, DO YOU THINK IT IS POSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE WELLBEING IN A WORKPLACE?
If we’re talking about wellbeing, at Minddistrict, we usually say ‘Mastering your own wellbeing,’ not achieving it. The biggest achievement is that you’re learning how to deal with personal or mental health issues while managing work-related tasks. The way I see it is that any improvements or any step forward to a work-life balance are personal achievements.
WITH EVERYTHING THAT HAS BEEN GOING ON IN THE WORLD, WHAT ROLE DOES THE WORKPLACE PLAY IN A PERSON'S OVERALL WELLBEING? HAS IT BECOME MORE IMPORTANT OR MORE MINOR?
Undoubtedly, dealing with a pandemic and its consequences for us as human beings has had an effect on our mental health as well. So many people miss working at the office but honestly in terms of results our company is doing great because we support employees during these times.
The outcome of this situation might be that going to a dedicated workplace might not be a daily-routine-thing anymore. From what I see, the combination of working remotely, occasional office check-ins and other types of communication work fine for our team. If you can work from anywhere, why not?
MINDDISTRICT TEAM ON THE TEAM BUILDING TRIP A FEW YEARS AGO
THERE ARE SO MANY REPORTS, ESPECIALLY THIS YEAR, ABOUT EMPLOYEE BURNOUT AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE. DO YOU THINK YOUNG WORKERS NEED DIFFERENT SUPPORT STRATEGIES COMPARED TO THE OLDER GENERATIONS?
Yes, I do. Different ages mean different stages and struggles. For instance, a 21-year-old isn’t struggling with a midlife crisis. Their career hasn’t even started yet, whereas a 55-year-old might wonder what’s still left of their career. It’s up to an employer to provide a working environment that prevents burnout as much as possible for people with different backgrounds and work experiences.
However, I believe every burnout needs its own support strategy, no matter the age. What’s more important is that remedying burnout once you’re suffering from it is much less straightforward than people might think.
IF YOU DON’T MIND SHARING, PLEASE TELL US IF YOU HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED BURNOUT YOURSELF AND WHAT HELPED YOU GET BACK ON YOUR FEET?
I experienced burnout myself once, not such a long time ago. The beginning was new and overwhelming. I had no idea what was happening to my mind and body, so I believe that there’s little that I could do.
The most important aspects of recovery were rest and self-care. Despite the fact that I was exhausted, I also needed to add some structure to my life. Daily routines, such as waking up and going to bed around the same time, doing groceries, exercising, and a lot of walking — It sounds a bit boring, but it helped a lot. Besides, I’ve picked up an old hobby, which is making music. It brings me a lot of joy working on it right now.
The other crucial aspect was to get help as soon as I felt ready for it. I started with a psychologist and ended up with a coach. It helped me reflect on who I was and how I ever got to this point, and, more importantly, how to prevent going back to a state of burnout (ever) again. I still need to remind myself of how important self-care is today. We always need to take care of ourselves, not only during a mental breakdown.
HOW DO YOU THINK COMPANY REPRESENTATIVES SHOULD SUPPORT EMPLOYEES IN ORDER TO HELP THEM ACHIEVE WELLBEING, AT LEAST IN THE WORKPLACE? PLEASE NAME SEVERAL STEPS THAT MANAGERS CAN TAKE TODAY TO START THE PROCESS
There are two keywords to start with, and those are ‘fun’ and ‘safe.’
I saw this item on Dutch TV about bullpens, or so-called ‘open offices.’ These are not efficient; on the contrary, there’s too much distraction and only very few among us are thriving under these circumstances.
WHAT DO YOU DO AT MINDDISTRICT TO HELP YOUR EMPLOYEES FEEL VALUED, SAFE, AND MOTIVATED?
At Minddistrict, we have had our share of events for employees.
The time when we had offline events seems like it was forever ago. But we had some good times! Like occasional Friday afternoon drinks. That was more of a spontaneous rather than a well-organized event. If I'm being honest, these drinks often got out of hand a little bit, and, accidentally, I was always part of the group! ;)
Amsterdam is a great place to explore on a Friday with colleagues.
In terms of other events, I remember how we went to a small Dutch island about 3 years ago, and we did fun activities like going on a fishing boat and other water-and-beach activities. At night, we partied at a pier bar.
I like the fact that we keep our events simple, fun and intimate. That's who we are. No exclusive, glossy, VIP events. The fact that we don't have advertising budgets to spend might be a good thing.
IT SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF FUN! IT ALSO IS PRETTY SIMILAR TO WHAT WE AT FLOWMAPP WERE DOING BEFORE THE PANDEMIC. WHICH ADDITIONAL ACTIONS HAVE BEEN TAKEN SINCE THE WFH HIT?
We took quarantine very seriously in early 2020, so we all started working from home. I’m a part of the ‘connectors team’ within our company. We’re trying to come up with ideas on how to stay connected which we share on Slack and during meetings once in a while.
I believe that whatever help you’re providing your employees with always needs to be covered by the employer and take place during office hours. This is a part of the job.
IF YOU HAD AN EXCESSIVE BUDGET FOR IMPROVING PERSONNEL'S WELLBEING (ONLY FOR THIS PURPOSE!), HOW WOULD YOU SPEND THE MONEY?
I'd start with improving the basics. If you want to drive a car, you must maintain it as well. Otherwise, one day, you'll be standing by the highway with a smoking engine. Make sure you're 'maintaining' your employees' wellbeing. Some ideas include:
So many people are dealing with physical discomforts nowadays. But only a part of that group sees specialists, because of the cost or because ‘they don’t have the time.’ Long-term physical pain is pretty much guaranteed to lead to mental health issues, so it’s important to remind people to take care of themselves in any way you can. For instance, by providing free sessions with a corporate psychologist.
Prevention is key, so make sure that your employees have supportive coach sessions scheduled every once in a while. Even if they don’t feel like they’re dealing with issues or struggles, an outlet session still never hurts. When my burnout kicked in and I needed to get help, there were so many personal and work-related issues I never really talked about — or I simply wasn’t aware of their existence or impact.
WHY DO WE NEED TO GET TO THAT STATE FIRST IN ORDER TO SEEK HELP?
If we had a budget for that, I’d have a non-office day with the team every month. Sometimes it’d be a day-off that they could spend with their families. Other times we’d organize fun activities that stimulate the brain and challenge it to find creative solutions but are not work-related or project-related. These events also help to connect with colleagues in creative new ways and enhance the team spirit.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE APPS/TOOLS THAT HELP YOU EVALUATE EMPLOYEES' WELLBEING?
Our own app, Minddistrict, is built to support and evaluate mental health so some of us practice with our own modules. While I was struggling with burnout myself I decided to do our own burnout module. This module helped to evaluate the process I was going through, and I evaluated the module too and came up with some visual and innovative ideas. We’ve recently launched a new version.
Some of us use Headspace. But, normally, we just check in with each other via video calls on Slack. In a sense, that's an app.
At the end of the day, it's all about communication among human beings.
MINDDISTRICT WAS BUILT TO SUPPORT AND EVALUATE MENTAL HEALTH
ANY WORDS OF WISDOM TO YOUNG AND ASPIRING DESIGNERS?
Don’t (only) aim for the money, go out there, explore, and do you. Even if you’re doing more commercial, but less challenging projects, try to make time to do personal, explorative, and fun projects and keep sharing them in your portfolio. They show you who you really are and might even lead to more challenging projects with a budget. Stay in touch with your true wanderer, stay inspired by what other creatives make, and absorb that inspiration like a sponge. Never stop doing so. Every sponge needs to stay moisturized.
Written by Serafima Aleksandrova