Skip to main content

The importance of mental health awareness in the tech sector

man stress at work
(Image credit: Getty)

The events of the last two years has sent the technology industry into a constant state of flux — and the impact that this had on people’s mental health should not be underestimated. Working through the pandemic hasn’t been easy, especially when combined with the need to adapt to new remote work environments that can make people feel more isolated and disconnected from their teams. 

In fact, research has found that nearly half (44%) of IT sector professionals said their mental health has been affected since the start of the pandemic.

In order to negate this, tech leaders must prioritise the mental health of their employees. There are a number of ways to do this, from reframing how wellbeing is viewed within an organisation, to creating safe spaces for honest discussions about mental health, and using data to find solutions for the less traceable aspects of mental health.

Mental health is a crucial topic, and organisations need to get a handle on the issue as soon as possible - because it’s not set to diminish in importance anytime soon.

Reframing mental wellbeing as a leader

The first step to increasing awareness around mental health in the technology sector rests with the leaders of companies and how they communicate it to their employees. It should be framed as something that requires open discussion, to be addressed head-on.

Empathetic leadership also has a big role to play here, establishing trust among employees and demonstrating care and concern. One way to do this effectively is to send a short survey to employees, to get an insight into how they are feeling, areas they would like to discuss and how their employer can help.

Burnout is something that many have experienced since the onset of the pandemic, in a struggle to maintain the work/life balance. However, instead of focusing a conversation on how to reduce workload, leaders should think about it through the lens of employee wellbeing and how this could be improved. Considerations in this sphere might include what people need to feel engaged and valued at work, the current support structure, and the processes in place to make sure employees are able to set clear boundaries.

Tackling burnout in this way demonstrates to employees that the company really cares about them – not simply their output linked to their workload.

Creating safe spaces

Linked to the empathy point above is the need to create safe spaces for employees to talk openly about their mental health. Currently, 59% of human resources leaders would like to do more to support employee wellbeing – but company culture prevents it.

At the same time, 30% of technology workers want more mental health support , so leaders must ensure that there is the opportunity to be open and honest about issues without judgement. By removing the stigma around mental health, it’s possible to normalise the conversation.

Unconditional acceptance is key, and safe spaces are about listening. It may not be possible to fix something immediately, but listening and validating the concerns and challenges of a colleague is a good start.

A safe space can take on many different forms – from informal group catch-ups to more structured forums or even a Slack channel where colleagues can speak to one another in a virtual capacity, of particular importance in the new normal of hybrid working.

The role of data in supporting mental health

Complementing the above, data is also central to supporting employee wellbeing. If employees don’t feel able to speak openly, data can help to track less traceable aspects of mental health-related to workload and performance.

By looking into data around employee satisfaction, performance, turnover and working hours, it’s possible to pinpoint when or why something may have happened, or what is leading to burnout or strain. This will enable organisations to take informed steps to make sure there isn’t a repeat of the situation.

Compiling the results of any anonymous surveys related to workplace satisfaction can also provide businesses with valuable insight into how well they are supporting staff, allowing them to improve where necessary.

Small steps on the road to recovery

There is no quick fix - you can’t just plug in a piece of code to solve the problem. It requires a concerted effort and a step change to a company’s culture, all of which takes time.  

It is no secret that technologists are subject to high stress and workplace pressure, largely due to long hours and short deadlines, so mental health must be placed at the very top of the corporate agenda, without stigma or fear.

Shelley Benhoff is an author at Pluralsight (opens in new tab).

Shelley Benhoff is a Pluralsight author, Sitecore MVP and Founder of HoffsTech. She has 20+ years of experience in IT as an Entrepreneur, Manager, and Trainer, and she teaches leadership, communication, and Sitecore development.