Mental wellbeing in technology driven companies

Summary

The HR and People Manager’s guide to better understanding and improving employee mental wellbeing.

Introduction

1 in 6 workers experience a mental health problem at any one time in the UK, with stress, anxiety and depression responsible for half of the working days lost. 

Research shows that presenteeism, defined as “attending work whilst ill and therefore not performing at full ability” can cost twice as much as absenteeism, with negative mental health and wellbeing a huge factor.

Technology driven companies have the second highest cost per employee when negative mental wellbeing is present and as we know, impacts various areas of our life. 

It affects our happiness, our health and our productivity. Given we spend so much of our time at work, our mental wellbeing has plenty of time to be impacted and HR Managers have a huge role to play in making it a positive one for employees. 

This paper sets out employee mental wellbeing in the context of technology driven companies and presents a guide for HR Managers to better understand the drivers of negative employee wellbeing – and how to improve it.

Mental Wellbeing in the technology driven workforce

Tech Nation and the government’s Digital Economy Council estimate the UK technology workforce employs around 2.93 million people, which equates to around 488,000 people suffering from negative mental wellbeing at any one time.

Our sector is growing. 

There has been a 40% increase in digital jobs over the last two years with around 100,000 job openings per month and given 1 in 6 workers experience a negative mental health, more employees means a greater chance for HR managers to witness negative well being occurring in the workplace.

Research shows that poor mental health and wellbeing costs the UK economy £45 billion broken down approximately into:

  • Absence costs of around £7bn
  • Presenteeism costs ranging from about £27bn to £29bn 
  • Turnover costs of around £9bn

We know feelings of stress (leading to burnout), anxiety and depression are responsible for half of working days lost on average. However, in technology driven companies the high risk, high reward and fast paced nature of work leads to a higher chance of burnout and associated negative mental wellbeing – and the numbers prove it.  

Technology driven companies have the second highest cost per employee when negative mental wellbeing is present costing around £2,573 per year, per employee.

Tech workers suffered the broadest negative changes of any industry during the COVID -19 pandemic, with increases in job stress (11%), disordered sleep (14%) and burnout (23%) and drop in motivation by 30%.

The result – mental health concerns among tech workers have increased by 75%.

HR Managers have a huge part to play in the future of mental wellbeing within this sector, so a good place to start is understanding the main drivers behind negative mental wellbeing to then create a support system that ensures talent retention, right talent attraction and reduces overall staff turnover, absence and presenteeism costs through improved mental wellbeing.

Mental health and employers: refreshing the case for investment

Deloitte produced a report in 2020 into mental health in the workplace. The following video was made by Deloitte to accompany the report.

Key drivers of negative mental wellbeing for tech companies

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personal Development  “Mental Wellbeing and Digital Work” (2021) has taken an indepth look at the main drivers of negative mental wellbeing. 

We summarise these into 3 key drivers. 

Feelings of social support and cohesion from the relationships we have with colleagues, bosses, reports, customers and suppliers are central to our mental wellbeing.

These relationships enable a feeling of psychological safety and boost mental wellbeing. 

An open culture where asking for help and support is encouraged sets the precedent for healthy working relationships to flourish. 

On the other hand, a perceived lack of support, a culture of closeness and “asking for help is a sign of incompetence” type mentality will have a huge negative impact on wellbeing and morale. 

It’s surprising how many companies we speak to believe this isn’t the case, yet further anonymous interviews with employees mention the social hierarchies that develop within teams that lead to this sort of culture pushing from the bottom up.

Bullying in the workplace is an obvious red flag. When deadlines are tight, features need retesting and the pressure is on, “bullying” type behaviour to meet a deadline is not uncommon in tech development teams – especially from the business side. 

This type of behaviour has huge health-related outcomes for staff, including anxiety, depression, burnout, frustration, negative emotions and physical symptoms. In short, bullying is quite clearly the highest individual risk factor for work-related mental health.

The pandemic has shown that where you work has just as much impact on your mental health and wellbeing as how you work – with “hybrid working” becoming the new norm and often being pushed as a recruitment tool ahead of those companies that are slow to adopt it.

Because of the nature of work in Technology driven companies, a hybrid work approach can be of huge benefit. 

However, the most prominent risk factor for negative mental wellbeing is long working hours. According to The Guardian, UK tech workers have increased their working week by almost 25% to cope with the increase in demand for services.

This has led to the creation of the term “Leavism”, which describes the growing tendency of employees being unable to ‘switch off’ from work.

Around 28% of employees surveyed as part of a Deloitte 2020 white paper said they found it difficult to switch off mentally from their jobs because of increased connectivity through access to work emails and smartphones, while 26% said the expectation to be ‘always on’ interfered with their personal life. 

An additional one in five people (20%) said being constantly connected to work made them feel mentally exhausted.

As we all face challenges with the new way of working, the need for the right mental wellbeing support has never been more important.

However, it’s often complicated and time consuming accessing the right support at the right time. It’s also challenging to know what initiatives are working, understanding employee, team and organisational mental wellbeing and resilience and providing relevant and specific support when needed.

Primary research across our corporate businesses has shown a perceived mis trust of employers by employees in relation to disclosure of a mental health and wellbeing issue and potential impact on employment status and established working relationships.

It is very common for organisations to do a tick box exercise and talk of employee wellbeing, sending out emails or hosting wellbeing days which are all internally driven. Whilst this is a great step in the right direction, research shows very little impact on mental well being across these interventions.

A great example is therapeutic support that is personalised to that employee, and can show as much as a 3:1 return on investment for every £1 spent.

One major challenge is handling employees who will be transitioning back to work after a period of absence related to negative mental health and wellbeing.

Access to relevant mental health support during this process has shown a far better transition back into the workplace, given a lot of social anxiety associated with facing colleagues after a period of personal time off.

This provision of support is within the remit of HR and People Managers to deliver.

COVID 19 has changed the way we work for good, with working from home set to continue for millions of UK workers.

Research by the Royal Society for Public Health (2021) showed there are key mental health and wellbeing impacts. 

As with anything, there are good and bad points. 

The Good news

More people felt working from home was better for their health and wellbeing (45%), compared to around one third (29%) who thought working from home was worse for their health and wellbeing.

The Bad news

Working from home had a 67% increase in people feeling less connected to their employees and had a greater frequency for disturbed sleep (37%).

Women were more likely than men to feel isolated (58% of women vs 39% of men) and develop musculoskeletal problems (44% of women V 29% of men).

56% said they found it harder to switch off.

Yet only a third of respondents had been offered support with their mental health (34%) from their employer.

People who live with multiple housemates were more likely to think that working from home was worse for their health and wellbeing (41%), compared to people who live on their own (29%) or with just their partner (24%)

What’s obvious is that working from home affects people’s mental health and wellbeing in different ways. All of which will impact the productivity of your employees.

What should employers do?

Employers should ensure all employees have access to mental health support to help them to cope with increased isolation and anxiety

Organisations also need to develop a culture that encourages employees to separate their work and home life when working from home. Some call that a healthy “work / life balance”!

As an HR and People Manager, how can you better support your employees' mental wellbeing?

With increasing numbers of tech employees worrying about their mental health, you now have an understanding of the key drivers behind negative mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

When deciding how to create your employee wellbeing strategy and associated initiatives, you should look at them across three categories:

  1. The stage of intervention: early interventions through culture change and awareness raising, proactive interventions to support individuals’ mental health at an early stage, and reactive treatments and support once an individual’s condition has worsened. 
  2. The type of intervention: therapy, screening and diagnostics, training, culture change and awareness raising. 
  3. The size of the recipient group: individual one‑to‑one support, group support or organisation wide.

Thinking like this will help you plan an effective employee wellbeing strategy that can be both preventative and reactive based on employees’ individual wellbeing needs. 

HR Managers have a huge responsibility to signal to employees what is and isn’t important to your organisation, so it’s essential this process is undertaken with care.

What you put in, you will get out, and as technology driven companies continue to grow to meet increased demand for services, taking the time to invest in employee wellbeing will only strengthen your organisation’ ability to deliver to your customers – whilst reducing absenteeism, presenteeism and lost productivity.

Paranimo helps HR managers of technology driven companies to better understand and improve employee mental wellbeing by matching people to the right mental health support.

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