Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 – No more empty words

Mental Health is not a new concept – one might look back and consider how far we as a society have come, rather than suppressing all conversations that suggest something might be wrong. However, this is not to say that everything is perfect; according to Mimecast, “more than half of cybersecurity professionals say their work negatively impacts their mental health”. As workloads increase and we all have to balance more, we’ve spoken to technology experts to ask how organisations can best support their colleagues during troubling times.

‘Unprecedented times’, all the time

This decade has already seen multiple tumultuous events. Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK explains: “from a worldwide pandemic to a cost of living crisis, for many of us, it’s been a hard few years to say the least”. Subsequently, “it’s no surprise that many people’s mental health has suffered. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recently reported that 2022 saw a record number of referrals for mental health services in England: 4.6 million referrals during 2022 (up 22% from 2019)”.

Equally, Oksana Chernikova, Employee Experience Director at Ukrainian-based organisation, Intellias, has noticed that “mental wellness and emotional support have become ever more critical for our Ukrainian employees ever since the start of the Russian invasion. Since the initial invasion, Intellias has begun to see a significant increase in the number of sessions with therapists” utilised by their staff.

Be there, be fair

Whilst we cannot control global events, employees will spend significant time at work, and as Storrar continues, “without supportive environments that encourage employees to prioritise and talk about their mental wellbeing, the workplace can become a contributing factor” to declining mental health.

In fact, St. John’s Ambulance found that one in four people had left a job due to mental health and wellbeing issues.

Instead, he suggests that organisations should cultivate a positive workplace culture. “Some of the ways that we ensure this is by implementing regular check-ins with our staff, introducing workshops specifically designed to challenge negative behaviours and mindsets, and ensuring regular conversations are taking place with anyone who indicates they are struggling”. He summarises; “during challenging times, one of the most important things you can do is simply to let someone know that you are there for them no matter what. Sometimes, this can make all the difference”.

This is echoed by Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and Founder of Aqilla; “small actions can make a big difference. For example, encouraging employees to take regular breaks throughout the day and having informal check-ins will create an empathetic culture in which employees feel comfortable sharing their feelings and asking for help when necessary”.

He adds, “people work best when they are not stressed or overwhelmed, so every business leader should take action to relieve the pressure on their employees. That’s something to remember every day, not just during Mental Health Awareness Week”.

Investing in staff pays off

However, additional positive action can come through employee investment. Chernikova notes that her organisation supports employees’ mental health through their corporate programme, IntelliCare.

“This program enables employees to join individual or group psychotherapy sessions up to eight times per year at the push of a button. We also share bi-weekly updates on an internal platform that includes self-help resources and expert lectures. Additionally, our employee compensation plans include the Mental Health program, covering the cost of any personal psychotherapy costs”.

This additional investment in staff might come at a cost, but it will be beneficial for all if it increases the resilience of the workforce.

Enact the changes you want to see

Whilst it’s encouraging that more organisations are able to talk about mental health, what tangible actions are being implemented alongside? Rob Shaw, SVP for Global Sales at Fluent Commerce, suggests that “a first step for change should be reviewing organisational policies around mental health, in order to determine where there may be gaps. It’s all very well to ‘talk the talk’ when it comes to stress and mental health, but does your business actually have concrete support offerings in place?”.

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He recommends that “in order to truly build a culture that supports employees in building a better work-life balance, organisations should offer flexible working policies wherever possible. Truly flexible workplaces allow employees to fit their work in with the rest of their lives, and make the workplace more accessible for those with mental health conditions. Combining this with the proper support, both virtually and in the office, will truly allow employers to drive positive change”.

Additionally, tech organisations are offering new incentives to aid in their employees’ wellbeing. “This is something that we’re passionate about at Tax Systems”, notes CEO, Bruce Martin – “we call it ‘Vibrant Ways of Working’. This term reflects how we want to support all our people to thrive and flourish individually, so we as an organisation can do so too”.

Martin explains that his organisation offers additional days off for wellbeing and birthdays, as well as employee assistance programme support. Alongside these initiatives, “we’re investing in mental health first aiders; and we’ve set up a diversity, equality and inclusion group to further enable full participation for all our people. And whilst these are all great, and symptomatic of our will to do better, these are also now fairly standard workplace offerings now, as they should be”.

There is also no denying that the workload technology professionals often have can be stressful. As Sam Humphries, Head of Security Strategy for EMEA at Exabeam notes, “cybercriminals don’t follow the typical 9-5, so security teams commonly work in an ‘always-on’ state; even taking personal time off to relax can be difficult to achieve”.

As a result, Humphries recommends that “it’s never been more important for organisations to commit to improving the wellbeing of their cybersecurity teams. Encouraging open conversations – particularly around mental health – and checking in with staff can do wonders in boosting their morale”.

“It’s also important to ensure employees feel there is support available to them at every level – from the CISO to analysts”, she concludes. “With security teams often now stretched thin, employers can and should look to automation-based solutions that will help relieve stress by taking on some of the more mundane, time-consuming tasks. Doing so will allow them to focus on doing what they love most – solving cybersecurity challenges”.

Overall, there is no magic wand to solve mental health crises – it is worth remembering that some people might never disclose their true feelings or conditions that might make work more difficult. However, Mental Health Awareness Week serves as a great reminder to be considerate of your colleagues. Be kind whenever possible, enact empathetic working practices, and your workplace will likely be much more supportive for all colleagues without even trying.

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