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These teams are at high risk for mental health struggles. Here’s what their leaders need to know

The CTO at Vyond asks: how do we sustain the conversation beyond new perks to the meaningful impact that affects retention, productivity, and satisfaction at work?

These teams are at high risk for mental health struggles. Here’s what their leaders need to know
[Source images: Bet_Noire/iStock; jacoblund/iStock]

The pandemic brought the topic of mental health to light in the workplace, and in my opinion, it was past due. I applaud organizations embracing initiatives like company-wide mental health days and subscriptions to meditation apps, but as a tech leader, the nagging question in my head is: how do we sustain the conversation beyond these new perks to the meaningful impact that affects retention, productivity, and satisfaction at work?

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With high-pressure roles and heavy workloads, tech professionals are particularly susceptible to mental health challenges in the workplace. According to Harvey Nash Group’s 2021 Technology & Talent Survey, 42% of technology pros reported feeling concerned about the state of their mental health due to work pressures.

I’ve seen this play out across the board in my own workforce, particularly with new employees and even managers who want to prove themselves and make a difference in the organization. Unfortunately, many end up overperforming and becoming burnt out more quickly, and often a cycle is created where they continue down this path for the betterment of the organization and suffer in silence at work.

I believe it’s our responsibility as leaders to break the silence around mental health among the tech workforce. I see and hear more employees talk about their wrist or neck hurting from sitting at a computer all day, but are unable to admit if their mood has changed for the same reason.

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If we truly want to change the conversation around mental health within our companies, we must adopt a new language and various ways of communicating with employees, showing them that their mental health is a priority for us. There is no better time for an organization to highlight the importance of its employees’ mental health and continue to provide a safe mental space every day thereafter.

Here’s what I recommend leaders do to foster a culture that allows employees to openly and comfortably discuss mental health and wellness.

Open the dialogue

Employees are used to giving and receiving friendly advice around physical health in the workplace, like best practices for posture and healthy eating. But we steer away from addressing signs of mental health challenges due to stigma around the topic. Leaders can change this by socializing the idea through sharing their own feelings and opening up the conversation. When meeting with your team, try opening with something like this: “Do you want to chat about how we’re all feeling this week? I’m feeling a lot better about this project, and admit I was feeling really tired and stressed out last week. Was anyone else feeling that way?” Once the door has been opened by a manager to talk about thoughts and feelings, it can help individuals to open up about their insights as well.

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Find ways to normalize mental health

Consider Adam Grant’s recent call for employers to adopt sad days” in addition to sick days, or organizations like SAP and Bumble offering paid mental health days. While not all organizations may feel ready to formalize mental health days into policy, there are small steps that managers can take like sharing an article or podcast (like the “sad days” podcast episode from Adam Grant) to spark a conversation within the team. An idea that’s come up at our company Vyond is crafting more authentic out-of-office messages that openly share that we’re taking a mental health day (there is no shame in it!) and being a bit tongue-in-cheek with it by including a fun animated GIF or video within the message.

Encourage rest

I tell my staff to see the mind like a muscle. It needs exercise to stay strong, but it also needs rest and the right nutrition to recover. Asking staff to take PTO regularly and abstain from anxiety triggers (like constant news scrolling) can help. But a deeper, daily appreciation for the mind is needed, especially for those tech employees that spend their days focused on abstract thoughts and tasks, who might not give their minds a chance to rest. As a leader, I try to set an example by openly sharing plans for time off and reiterating how important it is for self-care. You can also encourage regular periods of mental rest by setting up blocks during the week for non-work-related socialization among employees, like a mid-day coffee break, and time to step away or take a walk to recharge.

Part of having a great career is having a healthy career, and that sentiment is not conveyed to tech employees enough. Organizations and leaders are in a position to change that, and it’s up to us to create satisfied, healthy workforces by acknowledging that mental health is just as real as physical health and needs to be treated in the same way.

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Matt Harney is the CTO of Vyond. 


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