November 6th, 2019
Additional Experience: Postman
In the first of our Additional Experience series, we speak to former postman John (not his real name). John speaks passionately about his time working for Royal Mail and how his job both positively and negatively affected his mental health. More information about this content series can be found here.
How long were in your profession?
Can you tell us a little bit about what your job entailed?
I would prepare and deliver mail for 8 hours a day. Two hours prep, six hours delivering. 13 miles a day walking, and that is in no way an exaggeration. Sometimes more.
What aspects of your job, if any, did you find challenging for your mental health? Why is that?
There were times that it could get pretty stressful, particularly from mid-November to Christmas time when there were a boatload of packages to sort, but on the whole I found the work quite easy. What really impacted my mental health was the poor management and lack of time off.
There was a culture of bullying and I was constantly being asked to work on my days off. I was rarely working the 7am - 3pm shift I was supposed to be doing, and even when I stayed for hours after work to help out there was never a “nice one, John, thanks for going overtime”.
I was/am fit as a fiddle and (because I’m a hard little fella) was okay to let it slide within reason, but being bullied into so much extra work with zero appreciation can get frustrating. I should have made myself take my day off each week, but I don’t like letting people down. There were times when I turned up at 6am ready for a long haul and I just wanted to go crazy with the management.
What aspects of your job, if any, do you find beneficial for your mental health? Why is that?
Walking around in the fresh air in shorts, t-shirts, Nike kicks in any weather. Talking to people every single day. It’s so good. That adds so much to your positive mental health. Exercise, conversation, fresh air. Loved it.
How was your work life balance? Was it easy to separate the two worlds or did you find they overlapped quite a bit?
Work/life balance was fine. I got up at 6am, was finished before the missus got home. No overlap.
Was there anything that you or your organisation did to improve and/or maintain your mental health at work?
Not in my experience. I was also a member of CWU Union when I was working there and I can’t say they offered any help either.
Did you feel that it was easy to discuss your mental health with colleagues and managers?
I discussed it once with a Union member, but it didn’t go anywhere.
Do you feel like your experience is common in your line of work?
I know for sure there are a load of people I worked with who are completely sick and tired of their jobs but can’t get out because of their family commitments and generally being stuck in a rut.
Are there any stories in particular that you’d like to share?
I’m trying to forget my Royal Mail experience. I tend to block it out in my memory to avoid thinking about it.
Psychological Insight from Dr Nicky Hartigan
Most people’s mental health will not be continuously good or bad, it will usually vary depending on the pressures and circumstances in their lives. If people find themselves experiencing strong unpleasant emotions over a period of time, this as a ‘warning sign’ that something is wrong.
There are clear ‘warning signs’ of psychological distress in John’s account, for example strong emotional reactions like wanting to “going crazy” at management when he arrives on shift.
John identified a lack of support and even bullying in their workplace, which is undoubtedly a significant contributor to their psychological distress. We know that employees at all levels of organisations require adequate support in order to maintain their wellbeing, and John did not experience this from either his bosses or the Union. Likewise, people need to derive a sense of purpose and feel appreciated in their role in order to experience work positively; John felt that his bosses were exclusively focussed on themselves and this is not conducive to psychological wellbeing.
One thing which appears to have helped is that John’s role is very physical and mainly outside. We know that outdoor exercise has a range of significant mental health benefits, including stress reduction, improved mood and improved cognitive function. Also, John benefitted from a good work life balance in this role, which enabled him to spend time with those he cared about.
Ultimately, John left this role as there was not the support or the managerial structure in place to address the issues. The fact that he has tried to completely wipe this job from his memory suggests leaving was a good move - usually if we cannot bear to think about something it represents some kind of trauma. John mentions that he was able to let a certain amount slide and generally feels tough, however given what he has experienced he may benefit from talking this through with a mental health professional such as a psychologist. This will help to ensure that the issues from this employment do not continue to affect his wellbeing or spill over into his current/future role.