In light of Mental Health Awareness Week (15–21 May), it seems well-timed to reflect on effective methods of managing stress and taking care of mental wellbeing within the bid and tender writing industry and public sector procurement.
There is no question about it – tender writing can be arduous and tough for even the most seasoned of bid writers. It regularly involves hard deadlines, reacting to changes in requirements and managing multiple, complex submissions for clients with varying levels of tendering experience. A 2018 survey of APMP UK members found that 88% of bid and tender professionals felt under stress or had mental health struggles, compared to 59% in the general workplace. Due to the fast-paced nature of the industry, it is likely these levels of pressure have not abated.
However, the sector is acknowledging and changing in response to wider conversations around mental health in the workplace in addition to feedback from members in the industry. One leader within the procurement landscape is Pagabo, which provides consultancy services and construction frameworks for public sector projects. Beginning in November 2022, tenderers bidding for work through Pagabo-managed frameworks are required to produce information on their organisation’s mental health policies to improve employee wellbeing. Last month, the agency increased the tender period to 10 weeks for a crucial £750 million framework for professional services in construction. The decision was motivated by ‘[a desire to] make sure bidding doesn’t interfere with people’s home lives or increase stress unnecessarily.’
In recognition of the importance of mental wellbeing and achieving a positive work-life balance, we will share some tips around effectively managing stress within the bid and tender writing industry as a whole.
Preparation and planning are key
As any of our writers and reviewers will undoubtedly echo, dedicating adequate time to project planning and preparation for bid submissions is a crucial element of our success. By setting realistic and achievable timeframes for each part of the submission and dividing the tender into smaller, more manageable parts, you can minimise the stress of working to hard deadlines. This includes:
- Answer planning in advance of client interviews by breaking down each question into constituent parts and ensuring all necessary information will be recorded prior to the writing period.
- Taking note of all mandatory policies and appendices at the beginning of the tender process – in addition to ensuring the client knows which ones they are responsible for – and entering them into the project database.
- Creating a project schedule of which days SQ and ITT responses should be completed by, avoiding a haphazard and disorganised approach to tender writing.
- Discussing particularly challenging questions with other members of the team, including quality managers, prior to drafting responses, ensuring you have identified all facets of the question and chosen the correct approach.
The varying effects of pressure, stress and anxiety
HSE Northern Ireland defines pressure as a potential positive and motivating factor, as it supports achievement of goals and can lead to improvements and efficiencies in performance. It is important to note that, while pressure could have beneficial outcomes, too much pressure can lead to decreased job performance and result in work-related stress.
In contrast, stress results when the employee lacks the time or resources to complete the necessary tasks, and the pressures of the workplace become undue. The official HSE definition of work-related stress is ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.’ Prolonged work-related stress can lead to a variety of mental and physical health symptoms, including heart palpitations, reduced cognitive abilities and anxiety.
Finally, anxiety is defined by the NHS as ‘the feeling of unease, such as worry or fear’ which can be exacerbated by pressures of the workplace and a stressful environment. As this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme, the Mental Health Foundation has posted tips for managing workplace anxiety, including challenging your thoughts to avoid ruminating on circumstances which may be unlikely or out of our control.
Speak out if your workload is becoming unmanageable
Occasionally, work may pile up and become unrealistic to complete within an agreed timeframe or submission deadline. For example, the buyer may have decided to increase the word count for all quality questions to achieve a more holistic view of the tenderers’ approach to working processes or procedures. This could be compounded by an existing mental health condition or stressful period in your personal life, leading to unmanageable levels of stress, anxiety and the risk of burnout.
If this is the case, speaking to a bid manager or other senior members of the team to discuss the current situation and how it could be improved is the best thing you could do. Solutions could include allocating portions of the tender to someone with less urgent deadlines or introducing efficiencies into the process by prioritising a review of your material, resulting in a more practicable workload.
The amount of time, level of detail and unique skillset required to produce concise and well-written responses which comprehensively address all aspects of the buyer’s question can occasionally go unacknowledged by other employees or organisations. It is important to recognise that there is no shame or ‘failure’ in asking for support work or accommodations in these instances – employers have a duty of care to treat mental health as ‘equally important’ as physical, simply because it is.
Find appropriate ways to relax and destress
Lastly, learning positive ways to destress and unwind after work and on weekends is a crucial aspect of supporting a positive work-life balance, sustained mental wellbeing and effectively managed stress. Examples of productive and beneficial hobbies/activities include:
- Engaging in sports/exercise: Numerous studies have confirmed the benefits of exercise on mental health and managing work-related stress. Members of our team are active in a variety of sports and exercise, including cricket, boxing, tennis, five-a-side football and running.
- Spending time in nature: Similarly, spending time outdoors in green spaces can have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. Some of the nature-based activities our team members engage in include birdwatching, hiking and fell-walking.
- Pursuing creative outlets: Getting creative and practising an artistic hobby is one of the best ways to get endorphins and positive energy flowing, in addition to having a demonstrable skill/product at the end. Some of our team members satisfy their creative urges through playing a musical instrument, writing fiction and non-fiction, participating in still life drawing classes and pottery making.
- Learning a language: Described as ‘the ultimate workout’ for the brain, learning a new language has already been proven to improve overall cognition and mitigate the effects of Alzheimer’s. However, further benefits include growing self-confidence by mastering previously unfamiliar material and increased resilience, improving receptivity to new tasks.
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