Recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) last year showed that almost 600,000 workers are suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Simultaneously, 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress last year.
It seems that the tech industry is particularly prone to stress. BIMA, a non-profit representing the digital industry in the UK, conducted online surveys with 3,333 workers in the tech sector. Worryingly, they found that self-reported depression levels exceeded five-fold those reported for the national workers’ average, levels similar to those reported within the NHS, where the issues of talent shortages, time pressures and long hours are a shared theme.
In light of April’s Stress Awareness Month, a host of tech industry leaders have come together to give advice on dealing with stress, and they are working to support employees.
Take a moment for yourself
Tech leaders are as prone to stress as the rest of their team, so they should take responsibility to manage their own stress levels.
It is scientifically proven that disconnecting from work is good for your brain, your physical health, and productivity. As Jennifer Locklear, Chief Talent Officer at ConnectWise advises:
“It is not enough just to take a day off, you need to make sure to disconnect from your phone and email. While it isn’t always possible to do that for a week at a time, start small and try taking a break during lunch without allowing any work interruptions. It is definitely a discipline!
It is no secret that people and businesses are moving faster than ever. Instead of staring at your phone obsessing about work texts and emails, try out some of the available apps to help you manage the stress. There are apps to help you with breathing, scheduling, and organising that can help you on your path to less stress.”
Tara O’Sullivan, CMO at Skillsoft, believes leaders need to set an example and support their employees.
“With April marking Stress Awareness Month, now is the time to raise the profile of workplace wellbeing and kick off programmes that will help and support employees. With employee wellbeing increasingly being viewed as a strategic priority by organisations across the UK, equipping workers with the resources and awareness they need to nurture their own mental health will benefit everyone.”
Drive cultural change
Coding in particular can be a lonely job because of the intense concentration required to do it, often the programmer’s room will be silent, as they work with headphones on. However, leaders should pay attention to the subtle signs within the silence and create a supportive culture where leaders and staff look out for each other.
Mark Baker, Editor of UK Tech News and a senior IT engineer says in tech, the pressures don’t end when the working day does:
“For many years, it’s been anecdotal that tech professionals are ‘a machine that translates junk food into tech ideas in the middle of the night’. It’s true that in work, you often don’t have time to learn fast-evolving tech, so many of us keep our skills up to date in our own time – and this can impact on our relationships (and sometimes our sleep). My wife is an SEO expert, so she is the same – we are a good check/balance for one another, and remind each other that life exists beyond the digital pressures.”
Bethany Allee, Head of Marketing at Cybera, believes it’s important for leaders to support their team and encourage them to take regular breaks:
“Stress is all around us – at home, on the commute, at work, and even on vacation. When you factor in always-on connectivity and the global nature of many of our workplaces, it’s no surprise that stress has become a 21st century epidemic. As part of the leadership team of a rapidly growing tech firm, a big part of my responsibility is to look after – and look out for – my team.
“The key is to recognise, and acknowledge our mental health needs. Get it out in the open. Create a culture which says it’s OK to take a break, it’s OK to say you’re not OK, and one that celebrates the mental wellbeing of your employees. Engaged employees are our number one asset – and without them our company won’t succeed.”
Mark Rogan, Application Security Supervisor at WhiteHat Security, places emphasis on the importance of teamwork in reducing stress.
“The key to any workforce is teamwork,” he suggests. “The benefits of getting to know your employees, their lives and struggles cannot be underestimated. Taking the time to ensure you are treating your team well and that they are comfortable in their jobs will help ensure they will put the extra effort into their day jobs and should result in better cohesion throughout the company – all of which helps to relieve stress.”
There there can be many contributing factors to stress in the workplace and understanding these issues is key for employers in order to manage them.
Michel Spruijt, General Manager, EMEA at Ergotron believes that:
“Leadership and HR teams are becoming more familiar with advancements in technology that can boost movement in the workplace and we are seeing an increase in the implementation of technologies such as sit-stand solutions to give employees the ability to move more. Increasing movement within the workplace will not only help combat stress, but will help to keep employees physically fit and avoid the health risks associated with sedentary working.”
Stress in the IT industry
Stephen Moore, Vice President and Chief Security Strategist at Exabeam points out how high-stress jobs, such as those in the C-Suite, can be better managed.
“For CISOs to succeed in today’s hostile security climate, they must be able to identify and address as many of the potential pitfalls surrounding them as possible, both internally and externally,” states Stephen. “Doing so helps minimise the chance of unwelcome ‘nasty surprises’, which often only appear at the most inopportune moments. Unfortunately, many CISOs fail to do this, making what’s already a stressful job almost impossible.
“There are three most commonly overlooked pitfalls: The inability to execute a swift security response at the critical moment, failure to properly align with senior management expectations, and lacklustre c-suite support and visibility when/where it counts. All of these can be easily resolved through due diligence and effective communication. But if left unchecked, they can quickly prove a CISO’s undoing. By addressing these challenges head on and leaving nothing to chance, a savvy CISO can quickly find themselves as an outlier in the average tenure statistics – and their stressful job will be more manageable.”
How the IT industry is tackling ‘stresses caused by IT’
While the professionals working within the industry are prone to stress, outside the industry, other departments often accuse IT of causing ‘tech stress’.
Alan Conboy, office of the CTO at Scale Computing explains that IT is continually working to remove stresses related to IT – and the latest tech can help.
“The idea that technology can self-heal, for instance, or that it can be designed to eliminate some of the familiar complexities of identifying, mitigating and correcting infrastructure problems is now part of the design and product philosophies of forward-thinking companies,” he explains. “The addition of machine intelligence is also helping remove some of the stress IT professionals manage on a daily basis, allowing them to re-focus on tasks which are of much greater benefit to the individuals and business overall. We have taken that approach and it’s helping to eliminate stress across numerous vertical use cases – allowing businesses to stop worrying about their IT,” concludes Alan.
If stress in the workplace is interfering with work performance, health, or personal life, it’s time to take action. There are plenty of areas businesses and employees can work on to reduce overall stress levels and regain a sense of control at work. Organisations need to reflect on how they can best support their teams and help employees de-stress in this hyper-connected, fast-paced world.