Tackling mental health issues in the tech industry
The rise in remote working has meant many in the tech industry are prone to working longer hours. This leads to less time spent relaxing and socialising, which can increase the risk of stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout.
This reality is reflected in the statistics. According to AppDynamics, 89% of tech professionals report feeling immense pressure at work and 84% found it difficult to switch off at the end of the day. In turn, as Open Sourcing Mental Illness (OSMI) found in their research, just over 51% of this group have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Given this high prevalence, opening up the conversation around promoting better mental health within the tech industry is crucial.
Mental health starts with being aware of signs of stress.
We’re particular about having a weekly review with each member in our business. It’s a brief chance to check-in and flag any potential issues. But since Covid, it’s become a lot harder to connect and have the sorts of conversations that allow you to look someone in the eye and notice if they seem down, lack energy, or appear to be having a difficult time – particularly when employees work remotely. Having a camera switched on has allowed us to bridge the divide somewhat, so it’s an important requisite during conversations.
Data metrics provide another method for monitoring potential issues. Timesheets, when they’re filled out accurately, can present a red flag when someone is over-working. Similarly, employee wellness surveys are another way to check if a team member is experiencing difficulty in an area of their life.
But, it’s important to remember that only a qualified mental health professional can diagnosis a mental health condition, and while larger corporates may have such in-house resources available, for many smaller companies this is often not the case.
However, subscription-based services can be made available to employees if they need to consult someone with the added comfort of confidentiality. These types of services are also helpful for creating greater awareness and destigmatising mental health issues, allowing team members to feel more comfortable to come forward when they need help.
As leaders, it’s about having empathy.
Providing the necessary resources to support your team’s mental health is not enough. There needs to be an internal culture where people feel open about their mental health needs, and are comfortable enough to speak up and seek help when needed. And that has to come from the top-down.
For us this is made easier by the fact that all our founders are still actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. This helps us better understand the demands of the job, and allows for better communication when it comes to talking about employee wellness. By creating this sort of environment, it’s easier to know when team members might be overworked, and in need of support.
Promoting a better work-life balance is key.
The nature of our work can create a constant sense of urgency. It’s important to manage this workflow to avoid burnout. Busy periods are an inevitable part of any job, but these should be complemented by moments for people to catch their breath and re-energise.
While many businesses set a standard 40-hour work week, few are active in limiting additional hours above that. Policies to entrench this limitation need to be encouraged – because employees need to get away from their keyboards. Getting people to step away from their desks by taking part in social activities is important.
Encouraging daily exercise also breaks up the work day and promotes better mental wellbeing. Whether it’s getting up from the desk to stretch, or going for a jog, physical exercise is a recognised outlet for alleviating mental stress and has been shown to improve focus on a task.
To optimise good work, put the needs of your team first.
A team with a positive outlook will impact every aspect of a business. From meeting deadlines and achieving goals, to maintaining the general health of employees, a company that prioritises its people will have the winning edge.
Consistent up-skilling of employees is a good way to make people feel valued, and coupled with incentives or bonuses they similarly allow employees to feel appreciated.
Matching people to their situation is often an intervention that gets overlooked, particularly in the tech sector – and it’s worth serious consideration if mental wellness is a real priority. As an example, if an employee is introverted, placing them in a situation that requires overt interpersonal skills can result in significant detrimental anxiety. Rather, by playing each team member to their strengths, they can be made to feel more comfortable in their role within a team, and less likely to become victims of burnout.