How we survived a pandemic: Part 6 – Wellbeing as a home-worker… where are you on the unicorns 🦄 and pumpkins 🎃 scale?

This is a conversational blog post (cross-posted here) between Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) and Maren Deepwell (@marendeepwell). We are using this approach to create some space to think together in ‘unprecedented times’. 

In this month’s post we reflect on wellbeing as homeworkers, particularly under the pressures and strains of current times.  As part of this we look at ways individuals and teams can check-in on how they are doing using resources from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England. We also discuss ways that we have used to find a better balance such as using the Digital Data Detox Kit and even removing ‘work’ from our phones.


Maren: Two years (or what feels like a lifetime ago) we wrote a post on ‘the serious upsides of working in pyjamas’. I really enjoyed revisiting this post, in which we discuss some of the advantages of working from home and also reflect on different aspects of wellbeing as a home-worker. Since then, throughout this year, working from home has become a necessity rather than a choice for many. In our case, our choice to work from home has turned into working from home under very different circumstances. Recently, as I have gained a better idea of what the next 6 months will look like at work, I have started to make a concerted effort to reframe my own thinking, focusing on working from home as a positive choice again. For example, one of the things I mentioned two years ago is how liberating it was for me no longer to have to have a daily commute and this is a huge bonus for me still. I don’t miss the day to day train journeys for meetings. I know many people are discovering this just now and I love having time to do more exercise or meditation instead of leaving the house when it’s dark to catch a train to London. At this time of the year especially I find it a huge bonus that I can go outside (lockdown permitting) when there’s daylight most days. Something new for us this year is that we have made a much bigger effort to build wellbeing activities into our routine operations. Last month’s post shared examples and one of my favourite is inventing new scales to describe how we are. We already talked about this two years ago, but now that I can convey my wellbeing in unicorns and pumpkin scales, I feel we have stepped up our game. Looking back, is there anything that really resonates with you?

Martin: I find myself revisiting that “as winter draws in these are curtailed and I find myself already trying to mentally prepare myself for the long grey winter days” with the extra dimension of doing this with COVID-19 being a factor. Recently working on the ALT Annual Survey questions I was looking at the ‘Workplace wellbeing question bank’ published by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. The question bank “is a collection of validated questions, which have been developed and used by various organisations to measure different aspects of wellbeing” and “includes questions that cover all relevant aspects of wellbeing derived from existing frameworks of wellbeing and work”. As part of this there are some validated questions from other sources including the 5-item World Health Organization Index (WHO-5), which is described as “a reliable and valid instrument to capture mental health problems such as depression and anxiety”

If folks would like to play along at home in the last 2 weeks indicate the closest you’ve been feeling for the following statements where 0 = At no time, 1 = Some of the time,  2 = Less than half of the time, 3 = More than half of the time, 4 = Most of the time,  5 = All of the time  

012345Don’t know
I have felt cheerful and in good spirits
I have felt calm and relaxed
I have felt active and vigorous
I woke up feeling fresh and rested
My daily life has been filled with things that interest me
5-item World Health Organization Index (WHO-5)

If you add up your score for each statement “a value of 0 represents the least healthy mental state and high risk of depression. A value of 25 represents the healthiest possible psychological state”. Adding up my ‘🎃’ on this I’m 13, which isn’t as bad as I expected. I don’t expect you to share your score Maren, but any thoughts on the WHO-5?

Maren: Oh, that is useful. I tried out the question for myself and this week’s score is 18, after a day of rest yesterday, which probably has a lot to do with it. I recently explored a popular mindfulness app called Calm, which I find helpful. It includes daily check-ins with yourself, letting you choose emoji to indicate how you are and also includes prompts to reflect on things, such as “What inspired you today?”, Where in your surroundings have you felt calm recently?” and “What made you smile or laugh today?”. 

Calm App
Calm App

I find tools like these really helpful and for many years I have kept both a professional and a personal journal as part of my self care routine. That said, times like these call for more active measures in my case, and I find the app makes it easier for me to engage – easier than sitting down and looking at a blank page may be. I came across the Mental Health First Aider programmes, such as this, and I found this an interesting idea. Whilst we have staff trained in First Aid, we haven’t previously considered this kind of programme. As an employer, we have offered support for individuals throughout the year, and I was inspired by this offering. Particularly during the current crisis, and as it extends over many months, I feel it’s very useful to refresh my own knowledge about and approach to how to talk about mental health and wellbeing in a work context. Has this year changed your perspective? 

Martin: I’m not sure if the year has changed my work perspective that much but I’m perhaps more aware of making sure when permitted I get out for some air. Your link to Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole reading their community blog contributions. As mentioned recommendations like “getting outside each day even if it’s to stand on your doorstep or back garden if you can. If not, have a window open just to allow in some fresh air” [ref] really resonates with me. In another MHFA post they highlight the importance of providing space for teams to unplug and recharge, using screen breaks and annual leave to relax and recuperate. I’m relatively good at screen breaks, but I’m sure as many are finding personal life is somewhat both upside down and inside out right now. Something that has helped in this area is when setting up my new phone I separated my personal and work accounts. This means at a toggle of a switch I can completely turn off all work related notifications including all of our organisations social media accounts. This proved very effective during my last annual leave break allowing me to completely drop off the work grid.  

Work profile on Android 11
Work profile on Android 11

Maren: That sounds like an excellent approach. I have been doing a similar clean up, inspired by the Digital Data Detox Kit, and I have moved some apps off my phone altogether, so that platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, which I primarily use for work, are now on my browser only. I was expecting to miss the apps, but as it happens, that wasn’t really the case. Most of my social interactions nowadays are happening in messaging apps in any case. Despite my phone taking a step back from work-related social media, I probably value my peers and networks more now than ever before. For inspiration, support and knowledge sharing, I am more dependent on my online activities and I find them very rewarding. It’s about balance for me – just as you suggest in what you have written – to find ways to be connected in a way that has a positive impact on my professional and personal life. 

If you have any of your own wellbeing tips and resources please feel free to share them with us.