Checking The Mental Health Of The Tech Industry

I recently read the story about a CEO thanking a web developer at his company, Madalyn Parker, for raising awareness on the importance of mental health and commending her for taking some time off to focus on her wellbeing. The story went viral after Madalyn shared her boss’ email on social media, with more than 30,000 likes and hundreds of comments from people wishing their employer had the same attitude.

That this example went so viral, so fast, is telling. To me, it’s a clear example of how employee wellness is intrinsically linked to attracting the right talent and having a happy, healthy workforce in our industry.

The tech industry is built on employing some of the brightest minds in the business to develop new apps, write code and flex their grey matter to come up with new solutions to complex challenges. And it’s a high-growth, fast-paced world where people work extremely hard to meet very high expectations.

Speaking to a number of founders over the years it can feel like a ruthless, 24/7, non-stop environment – asking for time off to combat anxiety, exhaustion and depression often feels like an admission of failure. It doesn’t help that the industry has developed a go-go-go culture with its 24-hour hack-a-thons and all-nighter coding events, either.

This intense work schedule isn’t just unhealthy; it leads to employee burnout and in turn, consequences for the sector. That’s why I think those of us working in tech need to do more to put employee wellbeing at the forefront of company culture. However, fewer than one in 10 (8%) of UK organisations have a standalone wellbeing strategy in place. Many rely on one-off initiatives instead, which don’t effectively address the core problem.

According to the Office for National Statistics, Britons took 137 million sick days in 2016. Of these, 15.8 million days were for a mental health issue including stress, anxiety, and even more serious conditions such as manic depression and schizophrenia. And, when one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year, it’s time for the leaders of the tech industry to look at their work environment and make sure it’s a healthy environment for their teams.

While many tech organisations – including my own team at Salesforce – are starting to embrace wellness programs with gym memberships and meditation sessions, it’s important to remember that wellbeing takes different forms for different people. Much like the CEO mentioned at the outset, managers in the tech industry need to create a culture in their teams where employees can unplug from their devices, take a 15-minute walk or even ask for a mental health day. They also need to show their teams with their own actions. When I chat to business leaders and managers, I encourage them to take part in these programmes themselves to truly lead by example.

Wellbeing programmes in the workplace are not just a positive outcome for the individual employee either. They also contribute to the performance of our industry and how we attract and retain talent. According to a study by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, there is a direct correlation between employee wellness and job performance. This seems obvious to tech leaders, but the data backs it up too.

The workplace is changing and employees want their place of work to be part of their lives in a positive way. When we’re always on our phones and connected to work, it becomes even more important to carve out time for ourselves and recharge the batteries. By empowering employees and supporting their need to take time to focus on themselves, stories like Madalyn’s won’t be the exception – they’ll be the norm.

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