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Is Your Career On Form?: Using 'Form Score' to track our relationship with work

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Having spoken to many individuals over the past few months - both for my day job at Sheffield Hallam University and through my weekly podcast #TheNewNormal - about how the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown has impacted them, both personally and professionally, a common response has often been that they have become more acutely aware of the importance of their own mental health and wellbeing.

As someone who has often been guilty in the past of neglecting their mental health on a professional level, I decided to use the month following Mental Health Awareness Week to start recording my 'form score' on a daily basis, a method of reflecting on your mental health championed by Rob Stephenson, a prominent mental health campaigner and CEO of Form Score. This was partly out of curiosity (I very rarely consider my mental health in relation to work), but also to see whether recently-observed phenomena like the 'coronacoaster' - the amplified ups and downs that have come with living through a pandemic - were genuinely having an impact on my life during lockdown.

I was surprised by the results. Having always considered myself as someone on a fairly even keel, whose mood doesn't alter greatly from day to day, the chart below depicts a spiky profile for my mental health over the course of the month, with relatively few consecutive days with the same score and a number of peaks and troughs brought on by a combination of the continued transition to remote working, a busy work schedule, and the stresses and strains of house hunting.

In addition to reaffirming for me that mental health is an ever-changing picture and not something that is just 'good' or 'bad' for extended periods of time - a key tenet of the form score concept, in my view - doing this also led me to some other reflections about how I manage my mental health at work.

  • Despite considering myself a natural optimist, I recorded 'low form' or 'very low form' on a few occasions over the month. Typically, I would never describe myself as feeling this way, but by taking my form score one day at a time, I was able to be more honest about how I was feeling.
  • The visualisation of the peaks and troughs I experienced over the month from May to June challenged my self-image as someone who always feels the same no matter what challenges I might be experiencing. Even relatively minor, short-term deprivation - like not being able to see friends and family - combined with the stress of adapting to new ways of working, has made me feel a deeper empathy to individuals who experience more pronounced struggles with their mental health regularly.
  • By looking back at the full chart of my month's worth of form scores, I was able to visualise where I had felt most positive and negative and reflect on the factors that contributed to this. As an exercise, this has better equipped me to recognise when certain things are impacting on my mental health and prepared me to face them.
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All of this got me to thinking. If recording my form score helped to enhance my self-awareness in relation to a professional and personal blind-spot - mental health and wellbeing - could the same approach be applied when considering our career development?

While the use of scaling (asking individuals to score their career confidence or feelings about the future on a scale of 1-10) or charting career highs and lows (for example, drawing a graph of your career to date in order to identify the parts that made you feel most energised or drained) may be a practice already familiar to those who have taken part in career coaching, it's not something all of us consider doing during our working lives.

Based on my experience with using the form score approach to reflect on my mental health at work, I believe that keeping track of our 'career form' - daily, monthly or at any pre-defined intervals - could have a positive impact on career development in the following ways:

  • Charting what makes us feel more positive or negative about our work can help us reflect better on what motivates us and give us a better idea about what key things we really want within a job or career pathway, like autonomy, work-life balance, financial security or creativity.
  • Acknowledging the ups and downs of working life can help bring a valuable realism to how we view our career, particularly in the era of social media, where it's easy to feel that you're not doing enough in comparison to others.
  • Visualising our career journey as it happens can help us to better understand the nature of career development as non-linear and provide us with greater agency in our own working lives. If we can reflect regularly on what work-related activities caused us to record a particular 'career form score', we are better equipped to take the steps needed to move towards the things that energise us and prepared to face, or cut out, the things that drain us.

I would love to hear from jobseekers, career professionals or anyone who is interested in the idea of career form or has experimented with this approach previously, so please reach out to me on LinkedIn if you would like to discuss further.

In the meantime, I'd like to raise a call to action for anyone reading this article who hasn't considered their 'career form' previously: try giving yourself a career form score daily for the next month and see whether reflecting on your results provides any career development-related revelations for you.

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