Is It Time To Talk About Mental Health In Tech?

By Martin Falch, CEO of executive search recruitment company 360Leaders

A staggering one in two tech workers have been affected by a mental health issue over the last 12 months, such as anxiety, stress or depression. While up to 10 per cent of the population reportedly experience depression and anxiety, that figure is multiplied five-fold (52 per cent) for those who work in the tech sector.

Within fast-growing tech organisations, there is often a misplaced expectation that employees will thrive under pressure. However, without a supportive working environment, one based on mutual trust and the ability to share vulnerabilities; it is often those exceptionally gifted employees, even founders themselves, who are most at risk.

Poor mental health can have a huge impact on a company’s bottom line. In the UK, 12.7 per cent of all sickness absence days are down to mental health affecting productivity and creating delays in project timelines. Research shows that better support in this area can increase productivity saving UK businesses up to £8 billion per year.

Additionally, for fast-growing tech enterprises seeking investment in the form of venture capital or seed-funding, taking the wellbeing of one’s employees seriously can position the organisation as a more attractive proposition. Last year, 360Leaders gathered together some of the UK’s leading tech experts and entrepreneurs to discuss how companies can create a better culture and drive staff engagement, which in turn boosts retention and attraction rates

During the discussion, they found that as many as 82 per cent of those present felt they did not have a clear picture of their team’s mental, emotional and physical health and 39 per cent felt they weren’t supporting each other in their work. With statistics like this, it’s clear that tech leaders need to do more to place mental wellbeing at work as a priority, not a nice to have. Businesses should evaluate how to build a supportive culture, and ways in which this can and will positively affect the bottom line of the business itself.

More importantly, in the race for talent, every company needs to show their best side to attract the best people. This needs to be authentic, with the hiring managers’ mental state being crucial to win the race, avoiding a situation where candidates meet Dr Jekyll during the interview process but end up working for Mr Hyde after they’ve joined.

Initiatives such as ‘Time to Talk’ should be celebrated for helping businesses put mental health conversations at the top of their agenda. Many people are made to feel isolated and awkward talking about this issue, which means we need to work collaboratively to quash the stigma surrounding mental health.

With this in mind, here are 10 steps from 360Leaders to help you to make a difference to your team.

  1. Designate mental health ambassadors at work.
  2. Commit to reviewing work culture and resilience.
  3. Promote mindfulness and make exercises easily available to staff.
  4. Undertake regular staff surveys, audits and build data about the current state of mental health.
  5. Provide training to support mental health problems and open the discussion of wellbeing with staff.
  6. Communicate how staff can gain access to mental health services, including access to HR and external services.
  7. Formalise, host and promote Mental Health Days for your business
  8. Set up peer support and mentoring programmes for staff with lived experience of mental health problems.
  9. Partner with healthcare organisations to support healthy behaviour, promote mindfulness and measure impact.
  10. Expose leaders and managers who are driving the wrong behaviour through habit

If your organisation isn’t prioritising mental health, it’s time to ask why. As a new generation of employees enters the workplace, Millennials and their younger ‘Gen Z’ counterparts, they are placing a real emphasis on the importance of a supportive office culture. It is no longer acceptable to expect people to ‘keep quiet’ or just to ‘get on with it’. Instead, introducing strong health benefits, as well as taking steps to openly encourage positive wellbeing, will allow you to build a highly successful team.