#Ukraine: providing and receiving support

How are you feeling? Introducing simple principles and acts fostering healthy work environments

Mental health text

How are you feeling?” - have you asked your colleagues this question recently? Like, for real, where you did not just ask out of politeness but wanted to know and cared about the answer, dedicating the time to listen to their answer?

If you work in academia, as we do, chances are that you feel a bit ambivalent with questions like the one above because you know that right now, several of your colleagues, and maybe even yourself, are battling with stress that may be impacting your work-life balance and wellbeing. Such stress is often considered as part of an academic career with mental health impacts almost perceived as a common cold; they are widespread, but often not paid very much attention to. It is, however, crucial that we end the silent suffering and that we talk about what can be done to make the current situation better.

In June 2022, Eurodoc’s general assembly approved its mental health statement “Towards healthy working environments for Early Career Researchers.” The statement contains 10 principles that can serve as a guide for academic institutions and national, as well as European policymakers, on how to provide a healthy work environment for early career researchers. 

Doctoral candidates, postdocs, and other early career researchers are the wheels that make research happen. While we may need supervision, we play a key role in conducting research at academic institutions. In short, we are professionals. In Europe today, it is the norm that if you carry out a professional role in a public institution, then you are employed, which should also be the case in academia. However, the academic career is a precarious one and unfortunately, it remains common practice for early career researchers not to be employed. Some certainly are, but many are financed through scholarships, and for some doctoral candidates, the reality is that they are without financing. Expecting people to work unfinished or on scholarships without social security should belong to the past. 

The lack of clear employment conditions, however, is not the only thing that can make academia an unhealthy workplace. In many cases, we do not “live as we preach,” and although we are painfully aware of what measures we, based on our research, would recommend other workplaces to implement, academia struggles to live up to such standards itself. There is a need to de-stigmatize mental health issues, speak openly about them, implement support systems and work together with institutional management for the wellbeing of early career researchers. 

We recommend that you read the entire statement, share and discuss it, and let us know what is good about it and what can be improved. We encourage you to share your best examples with us and create awareness on the topic. 

You may notice that none of our 10 principles suggests something you can do as an individual, but we do have such a suggestion!

The answer is very simple; be nice to yourself by acknowledging and appreciating each small step in the impressive work each of you is conducting! If you have the energy, please also pay it forward - start the year by telling a fellow, an early career researcher, a student, and/or a manager what a great job they do and why you are happy to work with them - and ask them to do the same! Finally, take the time to ask somebody how they are feeling, and the time to listen to their answer.

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