How UK's tech sector can support mental health in the workplace

On World Mental Health Day, tech experts share their advice on looking pushing forward better mental health for employees.

The World Health Organisation recognises Thursday 10th October as World Mental Health Day. Mental health has become such a pressing issue, that it has a day of its own to highlight the importance of looking after your mental wellbeing - inside and outside of the workplace.

What does mental health have to do with the UK tech sector?

According to a recent survey by BIMA which surveyed more than 3,000 members of the UK technology community, it revealed that 52% have suffered from anxiety or depression at some point. They also found that people working in the tech industry are five times more depressed than the general UK population. So, to spread awareness about World Mental Health Day, we've asked some leaders in the tech industry what advice they could provide.

Remember to switch off after work

With access to work emails on your phone, it's inevitable to create an ‘always-on' workforce, however this is all the more reason to support employees to switch off from work when they walk out the office door. The UK perhaps need to take a leaf out from France's book, which established a ‘right to disconnect' law in 2017, which requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails.

Considering mental wellbeing, it's proven that disconnecting from work is good for your brain, your physical health, and productivity. Jennifer Locklear, Chief Talent Officer at ConnectWise agrees with this: "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 your health. There are apps to help you with breathing, scheduling, and organising that can help you on your path to less stress."

Bring mental health into workplace culture

"Mental Health 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 mental health has become a 21st century epidemic," comments Bethany Allee, Head of Marketing at Cybera. "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."

Liam Butler, AVP at SumTotal concurs with this: "Despite increased focus and efforts, we are still a long way from regarding or treating mental and physiological health as the same. We need to help to reduce the secrecy and stigma surrounding mental health issues, encourage employees to step forward if they are having mental health problems and make employers reconsider their own attitudes to mental health related illnesses.

"Organisations should take note of forward-thinking attitudes when it comes to mental health - take Olark, a US-based tech company: one of its employees made a bold move to explain her absence from work by highlighting her own focus on mental health. Rather than the typical OOO email, Parker simply wrote, "I'm taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I'll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%." The company's CEO got involved. Not only did he praise her for setting such a noteworthy example, he thanked her for reminding him of the importance of using sick days for mental health and helping to remove the stigma associated with mental health.

"Companies should put in place their own policies and training to support suffering employees, as well as raise mental health awareness. Ultimately, mental health needs to be brought out of the shadows and into the spotlight of the boardroom, so that executives can ensure their employees have access to the resources and support they need."

Mark Rogan, Application Security Supervisor at WhiteHat Security, places emphasis on the importance of teamwork in supporting mental health. "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 reduce stress and elevate mental health."

Mental Health in IT

Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise highlights the need to bring in productive IT systems to make employees' lives and mental wellbeing better: "Today's digital age is becoming more and more challenging by the day. IT teams are under constant pressure to respond immediately to any technical issues or cyber threats and resolve these quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, it all contributes to a stressful working environment, which is why this World Mental Health Day, business leaders should take the time to consider their employees' mental wellbeing and implement measures or tools that can help ease some of the strain.

For example, investing in solutions designed for efficiency, such as data management, can help to streamline time management. Instead of having to allocate precious time to sift through ever-increasing pools of unstructured data, thanks to tools like these that can do that, IT teams can use that time more productively to benefit the business and feel less anxious in the process."

Stephen Moore, Vice President and Chief Security Strategist at Exabeam discusses how C-suite level roles are often high-stress roles and these can be better managed to support mental wellbeing. "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."

In this digital age, we are constantly faced with being connected to work at our fingertips, and while that's great to allow us to respond to an email if we're on the daily commute or travelling for business meetings, it means our employees are faced with an ‘always-on' culture. This World Mental Health Day, we need to change company culture and support our employees in switching off from their roles at the end of the day and being able to relax. An employee with good mental health, is a more productive, happier employee for their company.