The Importance of Mental Health Awareness in Tech
An always-on working culture, enabled by technology, is something that’s commonplace today – while the idea of a 9 to 5 job is increasingly a relic of the past. This issue is perhaps particularly pronounced in the tech sector, where people brag about working 100-hour weeks and sleeping under their desks.
This phenomenon has put a huge strain on the workforce, and mental health is a topic that is quickly climbing the agenda both in business and across society. It’s an undoubtedly grave issue, as well, given that suicide is the number one cause of death for men aged 20 to 49, in England and Wales and we must note that from this statistic, the tech sector is very male dominated and this is something we need to address.
“People are starting to take a more holistic view of mental health,” notes James Routledge, CEO of Sanctus, which works to change perspectives on mental health. “In [the past], mental health’s perception was that of solely mental illness. Now, people are realising that we all have mental health, just like we all have physical health. This is the biggest perception shift: people realising that you can have good mental health as well as bad mental health.”
And, it’s easy to imagine how issues can escalate. Employees without the time or resources to get their jobs done can become overwhelmed, leading to burnout and depression. Equally, staff who are disengaged with the company’s mission can become listless and resentful.
“As individuals have been impacted by poor mental health most significantly where they work, businesses have had to look at their approach to mental health and consider how to alter it,” says James. “Work is a big part of people’s lives, so many people have begun questioning the role of their workplace in their life and whether it impacts their mental health positively or negatively.”
And the issue is close to home for James. “The biggest factor [that made me see there was a gap in the market to start my own business] was my own experience with my own mental health,” he says. “I was in a bad way, having panic attacks and debilitating anxiety. I wasn’t talking to anyone and didn’t know how to or where to go, so I just shut myself off from my feelings. When I finally tried to find support, I was clueless and had nowhere to go. I created Sanctus because I wanted to create a brand that makes talking about your feelings cool and fun even, then we make the support easy to access and affordable too.”
The first step that companies can take to address the issue is to ensure that the subject of mental health is open for discussion and that staff can share their issues (as well as having access to independent support and counselling services). And setting reasonable expectations is key – meaning that staff can leave the office at a reasonable hour and switch off for the day.
“There has to be genuine care towards mental health from the top down,” comments James. “Leaders in a business have to be bought in to supporting their employee’s mental health because if they’re not, it’s just a tick box. Ideally, leaders in the workplace will be working on their own mental health and questioning what the business can do culturally and structurally to positively impact an individual’s mental health (including their own). With leadership on board you can create a culture of permission where it’s OK and normal to talk about mental health at work, and that’s the best thing a business can do.”
France has written it into law that companies with over 50 employees must not require staff to answer emails out of hours. For the better part of a decade, meanwhile, Arianna Huffington has been proselytising the value of getting good sleep – which sits alongside getting good exercise as a key step to take to combat depression. After all, exhaustion, anxiety and fatigue go hand in hand with one another (which is another reason that gym membership discounts can be an ideal employee perk)
Giving staff autonomy over their own work can also be a major motivational driver. Google famously allowed staff to work on their own projects for 20% of their time – a policy that led to the creation of products such as Gmail and Google Maps. By allowing individuals to take ownership of their own projects, the company was able to capture an enormous amount of value.
Offering staff access to training and the ability to advance can also be a very significant factor. Recent research by WorkBuzz found that more than three times as many employees would consider leaving due to an inability to grow or advance than would quit to escape a bad manager. Almost two thirds of workers, meanwhile, would accept a promotion without a pay rise – illustrating the value of career progression over direct financial gain.
Another way that businesses can help staff to find meaning in their work is by enabling them to give to charity – whether by donating their time and skills (while on the clock), for example, or by directing how the company disperses pooled donations.
And that’s something that we’re very aware of at Empiric. In fact, our company director, Steve Brown, will soon be taking part in the 260km Cycle Ibiza Challenge, in support of mental health awareness week. As a director in the HR/tech sphere, Steve is highly conscious of the importance of mental health both to drive employee engagement and to provide support for staff at a basic level.
Organisations need to give staff the support, the space and the tools required to get their jobs done, while at the same time communicating their corporate values and the broader objectives that they are working towards. After all, the key to addressing mental health in the workplace is to fundamentally look at employees as people and to consider their wants and needs.
Whereas businesses manned by apathetic employees will likely stall and falter, companies that take care of their staff will see increased output and loyalty, as well as enhanced resilience and resourcefulness. Employee engagement is set to be one of the core business metrics of the future – and it’s an issue that no business can ignore.
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Empiric is a multi-award winning business and one of the fastest growing technology and transformation recruitment agency's specialising in data, digital, cloud and security. We supply technology and change recruitment services to businesses looking for both contract and permanent professionals.
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