“You’re not working from home. You’re staying at home during a crisis and trying to work,” explains Nele Groeger of Berlin-based agency, Shitshow. Working alongside two other co-founders, Luisa Weyrich and Johanna Dreyer, she puts a spotlight on the relationship between work and mental health, helping clients like Johnson & Johnson maintain and improve the wellbeing of their employees. Here, Nele tells us how the three balance working from home and caring for the mind.
First things first, why did you name your agency ‘Shitshow’?
As a business, we try to address what most of us shy away from addressing: mental stress and illness in the workplace. Both are the reality for many people, yet are far from being seen as part of ‘normal’ life. So while prevention and promotion of mental health plays a big part in our work, we also want to destigmatise the shit times most of us experience at some point.
You launched the business while working from home – what does your office setup look like?
On the days we work together, we sit around a large dining table that allows us to keep our distance. Or sometimes we cook lunch and work from the kitchen. When we need to come up with new concepts, we just stick a load of Post-its on a blank wall. And when it’s time for a siesta, I curl up on my sofa.
Why do you think your expertise is so in demand right now?
The pandemic proved once more that our social environment has a huge influence on our mental state. We were all reminded, as simple as it sounds, that mental health isn’t just an issue for the supposedly weak and less capable. Plus, we’ve seen how working from home, combined with a lack of social interaction and being affected by job retention schemes, has had an impact on our mental wellbeing.
So do you think that working from home has a negative impact on mental health?
There are pros and cons. It often leads to increased levels of stress because boundaries between private life and work are now blurred. But it’s also given a lot of people a sense of independence, which can feel really satisfying. Overall, we see the recent changes positively. They create more opportunities for people who struggle with what we call ‘presence culture’ in the office. For example, parents, people who care for relatives, people with disabilities, and anyone who isn’t psychologically suited to an office environment.
Do you have any general advice for companies wanting to support their staff?
Many companies have now realised that the home office is an option for them – and that it’s way less complicated than they thought. To make it work long-term, the most important thing is to prioritise and improve communication. What that looks like varies from place to place, but I’d say that now is a good time for regular check-ins and asking lots of questions.
What would you say to freelancers or anyone who doesn’t feel supported by their employer; what changes can they make to help themselves?
Take a good look at what it is that’s stressing you out. Do you feel overwhelmed by colleagues contacting you on too many channels? Then make clear agreements on how to use each one. If you’re feeling lonely but can’t bear any more Zoom sessions, a walk and phone call with a colleague can do wonders. Or if you’re simply feeling under too much pressure, tell your team leader and clarify your limits. We also always recommend practicing acceptance: it’s okay to have negative feelings and emotions. After all, we’re still in a crisis.
Is there anything you need on or around your desk (or sofa) to work well?
When we write up concepts and presentations we like to have music playing, but most days all you hear is the birds outside the window. Apart from that, we drink litres and litres of tea every day, so a teapot and mugs are a must. Oh, and a bowl of cereal for snacking.
So what’s next for you and Shitshow?
Right now, we’re developing new digital formats. We're also working on a training programme for people who want to be mental health ambassadors within their own companies. And of course, we hope to be able to host workshops and events again soon – with real people in real places. That would be a dream.
Want to know more about how mental health relates to work? You can watch Nele's, Johanna's and Luisa's TED talk here.
Article written by: Lisa Wenske