By Danny Aspinall
Staggeringly, almost one-fifth of the US workforce rate their mental health as fair or poor, with 4 in 10 workers reporting that their job has an extremely negative (7%) or somewhat negative (33%) impact on their mental health.
And while this data may be shocking to employers, the sad reality is that the tech industry is one of the biggest culprits. According to the Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide, almost half (45%) of AWS professionals working for a permanent employer have experienced burnout, while just 64% of respondents in the AWS community agree that their employers have policies in place to support mental health.
And this data is representative of a wider industry problem. Long hours and heavy workloads have been synonymous with working in tech for some time, and these issues have only been exasperated by a digital skills gap and a subsequent talent shortage that’s leaving tech professionals to pick up the pieces. But it’s absolutely vital that the impact this has on employees’ mental health and wellbeing isn’t overlooked.
In this post, we assess why supporting employees in the workplace is so important, investigate the consequences of poor employee mental health across the tech sector, and offer up some tips on how tech employers can create a safe and supportive workspace that ensures talent is satisfied.
Of course, the primary reason why it’s important to support employee mental health is that it’s simply the right thing to do.
Employers hold an inherent responsibility to ensure that their team has the necessary time, resources, and assistance not just to succeed in their roles, but to feel happy and valued in them too. In the pursuit of greater profit margins, it’s imperative that you never forget: your employees should always be treated as people, not assets.
Do this in the right way, and businesses can create win-win situations. Positive employee mental health leads to a series of benefits for both talent and business, meaning it always pays to give this area the attention it deserves:
The perks of inclusive company cultures are well-documented, from the business benefits to celebrating the values on which tech communities are built. With these in mind, it’s little wonder that over a third (36%) of respondents in our Careers and Hiring Guide consider creating an inclusive company culture as a top EDI priority for their organization.
Supporting employee mental health is a super-effective way to create that desired company culture. For example, data from the American Psychiatric Association shows that those from race/ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities are more likely to suffer from poor mental health problems, attributed to a lack of accessible support and associated stigma. Elsewhere, a study by the NHS found that women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men (19.8% vs 10.9%). So, by putting the necessary support framework in place for your employees’ mental health, you’re creating an environment that promotes equality and diversity in an authentic and effective way.
Likewise, with Yerbo’s The State of Burnout in Tech 2022 report finding that over half (56%) of IT professionals can’t relax once their workday is over, taking steps to support positive employee mental health can help your organization more inclusive of working parents and professionals with other care responsibilities.
That same report found 69% of women in tech feel run-down and drained of physical and emotional energy after a workday, compared to 56% of men. And with just 66% of women in our Careers and Hiring Guide believing that genders are equally represented in their organization (compared to 75% of men), supporting mental health presents yet another chance to create a more inclusive workplace that removes hurdles and creates more opportunities for all genders to thrive.
Poor mental health can have dire consequences for employee productivity.
In fact, one study found that workers with fair or poor mental health are projected to have nearly 12 days of unplanned absences annually, compared with 2.5 days for other workers—when this is generalized across the U.S. workforce and projected annually, it’s estimated to cost the economy $47.6bn in lost productivity. And according to data from the World Health Organization, 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety alone, with reduced productivity costing the global economy $1tn each year.
Yet despite this, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Work and Well-Being Survey 2021 found that a shocking 59% have experienced negative impacts of work-related stress, documenting impacts including a lack of interest, motivation, or energy (26%), difficulty focusing (21%), and a lack of effort (19%).
And when honing in on the tech industry, the data is just as startling. Yerbo reports that 62% of IT professionals feel physically and emotionally drained, while our Careers and Hiring Guide found that almost half (45%) of permanent AWS professionals have experienced burnout in their current role.
Protecting employee mental health by ensuring manageable workloads, reasonable work hours, and open lines of communication is key to keeping your team performing at its best. Yet despite this, in a poll we conducted, two-thirds (64%) of AWS professionals reported working outside of their contracted hours ‘sometimes’ or ‘always’, with a further fifth (18%) reporting that they ‘work to business needs’. It’s clear, then, that there’s still work to be done.
Supporting employee mental health in the workplace amounts to healthier and happier employees, and ultimately greater job satisfaction, which leads to a naturally positive and inclusive working environment.
This is absolutely crucial to your ability to attract and retain talent. Yerbo’s report found that 42% of IT professionals with high levels of burnout risk are considering quitting their job in 6 months, and when we asked AWS professionals what motivates them to consider a new role, responses included a poor working environment/company culture (17%), being underappreciated (17%), and a poor work-life balance (15%).
With just 64% of respondents satisfied with their current work-life balance, 66% with their working hours, and 67% with their company culture, doing more to support employee mental health in tech becomes integral. The skills gap continues to accelerate toward crisis point, meaning employers can’t afford to miss out on or lose tech talent – yet despite this, we found that less than half (48%) of AWS professionals expect to be working for their current employer in the coming year.
On the flip side of this, Forbes reports that 89% of workers at companies that support well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work, demonstrating how effective employee mental health support can be to your ability to attract new talent. Foster a positive environment that promotes a healthy work-life balance and empowers talent to perform at their best, and you’ll be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to hiring and retaining tech talent in this challenging time.
The Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition provides a market-leading insight into the Amazon Web Services community.
Our Careers and Hiring Guide found that just 64% of AWS professionals agree that their employer has policies in place to support employee mental health.
It’s time that changed — here are five ways to support tech professionals’ mental health in the workplace.
The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health found that just 15% of employers train their managers on how to spot the signs of depression in their team, or how to support these employees with an appropriate level of intervention and care. And this becomes even more concerning when considering that Mental Health America’s 2022 Mind the Workplace report found that 78% of respondents say workplace stress affects their mental health.
Many professionals are unaware that they meet the standards for clinical burnout and depression, while Fortune report that a shocking 84% of employees rarely mean it when they say they’re ‘fine’ or ‘good’.
It’s clear, then, that the importance of mental health training in the workplace simply can’t be understated.
Training aimed at teaching managers and leaders how to identify the signs of poor mental health in their team is only half the battle, however. For the most meaningful change, this should be paired with training for the rest of your team aimed at improving education on mental health in the workplace and removing any stigma associated with it.
Removing the stigma around mental health will help to create and promote an open culture where employees will feel more confident to be transparent about their mental health, both with their seniors and peers.
Research by UK charity, Mind, found that less than half of people diagnosed with a mental health problem had told their manager, and more often than not, this is a direct consequence of the associated stigma. Unfortunately, many employees may hold feelings of embarrassment, sensitivity, or even shame about their mental health, and may be worried that disclosing feelings of stress, anxiety, or burnout will depict them as weak employees. Creating a culture that promotes the opposite of this—one that actively encourages conversations, transparency, and understanding—helps to proactively tackle this problem by creating a safe space for employees to communicate with both you and each other.
This is especially important in today’s industry, where many teams are working from remote locations across the globe. In fact, we found as many as 4 in 10 (42%) AWS professionals work for an employer offering full-time remote working, and while this has an abundance of benefits for employee mental health, it can also be detrimental to spotting the early signs of poor mental health. In instances like these where it’s harder to be proactive in your support, it’s absolutely crucial that you create a workplace culture that encourages employees to come to you with confidence, and create opportunities for employees to voice their concerns through regular check-ins.
As the dust settles on the ‘new normal’, it’s clear that some post-pandemic trends are here to stay–perhaps none more so than revised attitudes towards a better work-life balance.
Professionals across all industries began reassessing their relationship with work both throughout and after the pandemic, with many seeking more freedom and flexibility as a result. But providing this additional flexibility to improve your employees’ work-life balance doesn’t just improve job satisfaction; it works wonders in boosting the mental health of your team, too.
To improve your team’s work-life balance, complement employees’ commitments and lifestyles by offering flexibility in working hours and environments wherever possible. Our Careers and Hiring Guide found that just a third (33%) of AWS professionals currently have flexible working hours, despite respondents listing this in the top five perks that would entice them to consider a new role. This demonstrates just how much room for improvement there is in this area.
While it may sound like generic advice, showing care and consideration to your team is actually one of the most important tips for supporting employee mental health in the workplace.
That’s as long as this care and consideration is demonstrated authentically—don’t just talk the talk, make sure you walk the walk too. Telling your employees you care about them won’t change a thing, but showing how you care can have a significant impact. For example, by actively putting steps in place to avoid scope creep, you help alleviate employee stress over workloads and deadlines.
Think about your short-term and long-term planning here, too. For example, if a member of your tech team leaves their role, what will your contingency plan be? Hiring managers in our Careers and Hiring Guide told us that, on average, it takes five months and three weeks to find a new AWS hire, so it’s vital in the meantime that you work out what to do with the extra workload. While splitting it between the team might seem like an effective short-term solution, for example, be extra vigilant of how this impacts their workloads and morale — fail to do so, and it’s the rest of your team’s wellbeing that will suffer.
Supporting employee mental health in the workplace isn’t a box-ticking exercise, so don’t treat it as such.
To ensure the steps you’re taking are the making the right impact, encourage employee input and feedback at every stage along the way. Not only does this ensure that you’re offering the right level of support, but it also tells your employees that their voices matter. And with our Careers and Hiring Guide finding that being underutilized (24%) and underappreciated (17%) motivates AWS professionals to consider a new role, the importance of this shouldn’t be overlooked.
Just remember that mental health is unique to the individual. It’s a wide spectrum, meaning no two people experience poor mental health in the exact same way, even if they have the same or similar diagnoses. With this in mind, employee input and feedback on your workplace mental health support becomes non-negotiable – what helped one employee won’t necessarily help another.
Be prepared to tailor your support to the precise needs of your team, and to ensure you’re doing this effectively, the simplest thing to do is ask. Sit down with your employee and have a transparent conversation about the support they need, and how you can help offer it.
Just like our physical health, ‘good mental health’ isn’t a destination, but a journey. All professionals are likely to experience mental health struggles at some point in their careers, and ensuring the necessary support framework is in place is key to helping them take steps back in the right direction.
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