Adapting business culture & managing employees mental health

With the emergence of new operating models, flexible working hours, remote ways of working and new technologies and D&I initiatives, you could say the future of work is now.

We live in a world where a “hustle-grind culture” is the norm. We’re almost always switched on, and we’ve never had higher rates of mental health issues.

Last month I moderated a panel discussion at RebelCon with psychotherapist and author of “The Burnout Solution”, Siobhan Murray, ultra-marathon athlete Shane Finn, business agility coach Agusto “Gus” Evangelisti and Donal Scanlan from Mental Health First Aid Ireland.

RebelCon is Ireland’s largest Software Engineering conference and has been running for the past 3 years. This was the first year the conference discussed mental health.

“While this was the final talk of the conference, mental health in tech rang through many of the talks throughout the event,” said one of the organisers, Stephanie Sheehan of Poppulo.

Depression, anxiety, isolation, and impostor syndrome

Depression, anxiety, isolation, and impostor syndrome are some of the major mental health concerns in the tech industry. However, these issues aren’t limited to tech & IT alone.

“Impostor syndrome is not limited to the tech industry it comes mostly from inexperience and uncertainty, I felt like this during my youth but not as I gained experience. Perhaps it’s something many young people feel as the tech industry is mostly young people looking up to more experienced people” said business agility coach Gus.

Speaking about the importance of mental resilience Shane Finn stressed that his “mental toughness” got him through a 36-day marathon journey across America came along with a strong team.

“There was doubt and times when I wanted to give up. Rather than giving up, I allowed myself 5 minutes to have a tantrum about whatever was bothering me and then I’d repeat 3 things I’m grateful for, picture my cousin at the finishing line and that got me through.”

Whether you are an athlete or a software engineer, you can’t avoid stress, but you can manage it.

Managing employee’s mental health

In the technology industry employees are often expected to be “on” 24/7. It’s both the employees and the employer’s responsibility to set more realistic boundaries. Without a level of personal accountability, burnout is in some cases inevitable.

Both Donal and Gus agreed that creating a culture where companies mind people’s mental health goes beyond talking about it.

In a recent Cpl survey, a promising 60% of employers stated mental health support as the most common wellness initiative provided, including stress workshops, counseling & EAP.

Although this is positive, it’s not enough if businesses are still dishing out long working hours and expecting people to achieve impossible deadlines.

Businesses need to adapt their culture, and managers need to be trained to set expectations and listen to employees when they voice mental health concerns.

We are all afraid to call in sick when we’re not having a good mental health day, in turn harming our mental health further. Common perceived concerns are “is he/she able to do their job?” “are they a flight risk?”

In fact, a concerning study by AXA PPP Healthcare in the UK found that seven in ten bosses believe stress, anxiety or depression aren’t valid reasons for time off – despite 25% of employees suffering from mental illness at some point each year.

Depression and anxiety are on the rise and while we are open to talking about it, quite often we are talking about other people’s mental health issues and not our own.

We need to break the stigma around mental health further and lead by example. Only by educating employees on the signs of burnout and how to effectively manage stress will we debug the brain, improve wellbeing and in turn improve productivity and retention.

Elysia Hegarty is a Workplace Wellness Consultant with the Future of Work Institute, a Cpl company. She offers support to businesses in understanding, designing, implementing and measuring their wellness programme as well as embedding it in their culture.

For a confidential conversation please email elysia.hegarty@cpl.ie to understand how an effective workplace wellness programme can benefit both your business and employees.