By: Adam Sockel, Pluralsight Content Strategist
Throughout November, we’ll be taking time to shine a light on the changing state of mental health in the tech industry. The ongoing pandemic, organizations pushing through The Great Resignation and general burnout from a blurring of our work-life balance are just a few of the aspects creating increased stress and declining mental health. In 2020, a global survey done by Qualtrics noted that, “67% of people are experiencing increases in stress while 57% have increased anxiety, and 54% are emotionally exhausted.” These responses continue to hold water across all industries but especially for technologists.
Software development could’ve been seen as an isolating career before the pandemic created the new normal of remote working. This has only been amplified by our lack of physical proximity and reduced in-person collaborative opportunities.
Addressing mental health in tech
The self-isolation caused by Covid-19 and the new reality of working from home has created new obstacles for both org leaders and their employees. Numerous questions have arisen from our lack of in-person connectivity:
How do we discuss mental health in the work setting?
What signs should managers look for and when is it appropriate to discuss mental health with employees?
How do we track seemingly unmeasurable data that may positively or negatively be affecting team members?
How should managers adjust their leadership styles to facilitate healthy change?
How can we stay connected and remain engaged?
These questions, and countless others like them, are challenging to answer but not impossible. One all-encompassing tool that every tech leader is capable of taking advantage of is empathy. In a recent piece written for Forbes, Dr. Tracy Brower notes, “As we go through tough times, struggle with burnout or find it challenging to find happiness at work, empathy can be a powerful antidote and contribute to positive experiences for individuals and teams.”
Mental health and employee retention
Tracy goes on to share results from a study by Catalyst that shows empathy contributes massively to employee well being across multiple aspects. The study found that when employees feel their leaders are empathetic of their current situation, they are more likely to feel innovative, engaged,and included. It goes on to note that they are also less likely to seek other job opportunities and that this empathy helps them achieve a better work-life balance. Empathy is effective across the board as these metrics came from both female and male responders from multiple cultural backgrounds.
As the connection between careers and mental health continues to be studied, both employees and employers are taking note of the importance of how their work lives directly connect to their mental state. With the current talent shortage in software development, employees are much more willing to seek new opportunities if they aren’t happy in their current jobs. As Tracy told us, “We're seeing that mental health is viewed as being much more strategic. Because we know that employees are differentiating where they might work based on a company's or an organization's approach to wellbeing and mental health.”
While there are multiple ways to approach the questions above about the connection between mental health, productivity, and employee satisfaction, one pivotal factor for employers is the concept of culture. Defining culture is different for each organization but as Site Reliability Engineer Ryn Caniels writes for Increment, “Many organizations use the word ‘culture’ when talking about their shared principles, but this is largely theory; culture is what happens in practice.”
Tracy has a simple, yet effective, solution for creating true organizational culture. “There's a myth that the primary way that we build relationships among teams is through social engagements. We do zoom happy hours. We do our ax throwing. Those are good, but what's more powerful is to link people through tasks and projects. where we share a common goal. We start to work together on something that we both care about and we can better understand our roles and what makes us a team as opposed to what separates us.”
Shelley Benhoff, Sitecore MVP and Founder of Hoffstech, LLC agrees. “When teams learn from each other, from anybody on the whole team and respect their work and opinions as well, that really helps confidence. It helps collaboration, comradery.”
Mental health is an ongoing campaign
Assuring that your employees have a positive outlook on both their own work and how it impacts business goals has been proven to be beneficial on multiple fronts. Studies show that when employees feel fulfilled, they are more productive and more likely to stay at the organization. We also know that upskilling current employees is far more cost efficient than hiring and training new employees to do these jobs. Also, on a basic human level, we should care about the people we work with. We should want to know that they’re happy and healthy.
Fostering healthy mental wellness for employees benefits everyone across your organization but it’s not a task you can check off and be done. It's not a one-time sprint to complete. Mental health is something that needs to be worked on everyday. Creating a safe space where employees feel comfortable, connected, and engaged takes work. Our questions above are challenging to answer but they can be answered. Empathy can be difficult, but not impossible, to learn.
To that end, we hope you’ll register to join us for an on-demand panel driven webinar on November 24th about the importance of mental health in the work environment. Expert tech leaders Shelley Benhoff, Dr. Tarique Sani, and Sachin Shah will discuss topics including:
Using data to help solve for untrackable aspects of mental health
Creating a safe space to discuss topics pertaining to mental health
Dealing with the concepts of perfectionism and burnout
Having self awareness vs awareness of your teams mental state
Even if you can’t make the webinar on the 24th, be sure to sign up for the event and we’ll email you a recording after the back.
Mental health matters and fostering a healthy culture of engaged technologists is essential to the ongoing success of your organization, the sustainability of your teams, and the personal and career growth of your employees. Join us in celebrating mental health in tech throughout November and beyond. Creating a healthy and thriving work environment in our new reality is hard but not impossible and if these last few years have taught technologists anything, it’s that we can do hard things.
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