According to the World Health Organization, one in eight people on our planet lives with some form of mental health problem. This figure has been increasing for a decade and shows very little tendency to reverse. From depression and anxiety, to work-related stress and burnout, as we celebrate World Mental Health Day on October 10eit’s worth taking a look at some of the most common mental health issues facing workers at all levels in the tech and business worlds – and any mitigations available to help people and businesses to achieve better balance and healthier humans.
Burnout is one of the biggest problems among the workforce of tech companies. It is a syndrome characterized by three main symptoms: 1) depletion or depletion of energy; 2) an increased sense of estrangement or cynicism about one’s work; and 3) reduced work efficiency.
Perhaps curiously, burnout is not recognized by the World Health Organization as a medical condition, but as a “professional phenomenon”. Nonetheless, this is a significant issue for the tech workforce, which occupies many positions in which there is a significant fixation factor on particular problems or issues – whether it is be it coders trying to build an app that does a particular thing well or better than others, or analysts constantly combing through attack surfaces looking for potential threats, or just workers in a tech space that feel it is their responsibility to work beyond normal hours to achieve particular goals. The “overuse” of technology has even, in some cases, been seen as intrinsic to the onset of burnout, as it can induce a sense of the human, as well as the technology, never being able to stopping from tasks or thinking about tasks, even when away from computers, desks or desks.
This feeling of “always being connected to work” was exacerbated by the rise and rise of remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic, when there was a sharp increase in the expectation that staff would use their own personal devices (from phones to laptops) to complete their work, or take work devices home, blurring the lines of work/life balance more than ever.
What can businesses do?
There are two primary means by which companies can guard against employee burnout – one operating at the policy level and the other at the practical and technological level.
At the political level, companies can ensure that staff understand upon onboarding that they are more essential to the success of the company than just overwork. A people-first focus must be built into the very ethos of the business, with open communication channels for staff to inform their managers of any issues related to meeting deadlines or completion of projects, so that workflows can be adjusted in time to avoid bottlenecks of stress and singular responsibility.
From a technology perspective, there needs to be an “Off means Off” policy – weekends, evenings, days when a staff member takes vacation should be highlighted as no-contact days, to reinforce work/life balance of staff and the message that people are more important than individual projects.
On top of that, tech companies are starting to use technology — especially AI technology — to actively relieve burnout. Security analysts frequently suffer from burnout, as they are too often tasked with constant vigilance against high-level threats. and low-level mundane activity. AI is starting to come in handy to take mundane work off their shoulders, to enable analysts to be analysts and to avoid the disconnect from their work that is such a common symptom of burnout. Some companies that rely on a heavy workload of
Companies that rely heavily on call center or customer relations staff are also beginning to use AI to ease the majority of the burden on their human staff, again particularly in terms of routine and mundane work, enabling staff to stay engaged in their work and not exhausted by repetitive tasks. Andy Wilkins, co-founder and CEO of the British AI company Future, also found that AI assistants can help those who need more targeted mental health support. “The need for adequate mental health support has never been more recognized, but people who need help must be able to access these services in the way that suits them, when they need them. Using AI chatbots can help reduce wait times by providing intelligent self-service for simple queries and freeing up critical human agent time for those who need it most.
Anxiety and depression
These are comprehensive mental health issues as defined by the WHO, and as such there are levels of support companies can provide that go beyond company culture. Belief in the validity of these conditions and that they do not diminish the value and contribution of the staff who have them is essential, but this is where a commitment to mental health awareness and support goes beyond words and culture.
Where possible, private breakout spaces on site to allow the staff member to take breaks if experiencing bouts of anxiety or depression can be helpful, as can a non-invasive approach to staff management faced with these problems.
Ways to contact real, trained support workers, either by phone or, as is much more common these days due to the rise in phone-specific anxiety, through text-based support, can be subsidized by the company, to help staff connect with real mental health support in their times of need. And both medical leave policy flexibility and remote working flexibility can help people with anxiety or depression ease the pressure on themselves when their condition is particularly bad.
Widespread batch training of staff in mental health awareness and the ability to share experiences of particular conditions, either anonymously or, where specific workflow adaptations would be helpful, through named feedback, can be useful not only in supporting staff suffering from anxiety and/or depression with their conditions, but also in helping them to be as productive as they wish, without stigma in the 21st century.
On World Mental Health Day – and hopefully every day of the year – companies have a moral, if not legal, duty to offer such help and consideration to their staff suffering from mental health issues, at all levels, from newcomer to CEO. . After all, 1 in 8 people already struggles with a mental health issue. And the number looks set to continue to rise. The stigma needs to end and companies need to build mental health support into their operational budgets going forward.