Don’t panic: Finding mental equilibrium at work

The high-pressure, ever-changing IT industry is a breeding ground for mental health challenges among staff, but there are solutions.

In South Africa, like in many other countries, mental health is gaining more recognition and attention in the workplace. Mental health concerns can have significant economic consequences for any industry, including IT. 

When employees experience mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or burnout, it can lead to increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, higher turnover rates and greater healthcare costs. According to Discovery Health, depression costs SA more than R218 billion in lost productivity, as well as R190 billion in presenteeism.

Research suggests that individuals working in the IT industry may be at higher risk for certain mental health challenges compared to those in some other industries because of:

High-pressure work environment: The IT industry is often associated with tight deadlines, demanding projects and a fast-paced work environment. The constant need to stay updated with rapidly-evolving technologies and the pressure to deliver results can contribute to stress and potential mental health issues.

Long working hours: IT professionals may frequently work long hours, including evenings and weekends, especially when project deadlines approach. This can lead to work-life imbalance, fatigue and increased stress levels.

Job insecurity: The IT industry is known for its competitiveness, and employees may face concerns about job stability and the need to continuously update their skills to remain relevant. In light of some of the global giants that have radically downsized – for example, AWS, Microsoft, Salesforce, Google and IBM − fear about job security can contribute to stress and anxiety.

Lack of social interaction: Some IT roles involve solitary work or limited face-to-face interaction, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Social support is crucial for mental well-being, and the absence of it can impact mental health.

Rapid technological changes: The IT industry is characterised by frequent technological advancements and the need to constantly adapt. This can create a constant pressure to learn new skills, keep up with industry trends and stay ahead, leading to feelings of overwhelm or inadequacy.

A contributing factor to positive mental wellbeing is experiencing goals being achieved and work items getting to a status of ‘done’.

Many of my clients are in the IT industry, and in addition to what the main contributing factors are, I have observed the following in teams and organisations:

An inability to discern the urgent from the important. As a result, everything is treated as urgent, with the impact that nothing actually is urgent. This lack of clarity results in the ‘rocking horse’ effect. Everyone is very busy and there is a lot of movement, but not necessarily productive and not going anywhere… A contributing factor to positive mental wellbeing is experiencing goals being achieved and work items getting to a status of ‘done’. With the ‘everything is urgent’ phenomenon, employees tend to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that to make a little bit of progress on multiple (often competing) priorities. As a result, the golden chalice of ‘done’ (and the positive boost to brain health) is rather illusive.

Poor communication skills. The default is to use text over voice, and as a result miscommunication is at epidemic proportions. The result is that people do work that isn’t needed, or go off on tangents that weren’t deprioritised. Poor communication skills are very costly and result in long working hours, as re-do or undo becomes part of the process. In addition, feeling like you are part of a team, that you belong and the relationships that develop through informal banter and side conversations is conspicuously absent in remote teams.

The absence of psychological safety. Team members feel insecure about their skills. But they don’t feel free to admit they don’t know yet, can’t do yet, haven’t done this before, to those who are resourcing projects or recognising contributions. The impact of this is that many employees are always in the uncomfortable and stretching anxiety zone, spending much longer to do a task because they are learning as they go but unable or unwilling to raise their hand and say so!

IT companies need to assist managers and employees with the human skills required to navigate an increasingly complex workplace. But it starts with each of us taking stock of our own wellbeing. Download a free wellbeing self-check-in to start your own journey.

Angela de Longchamps

Founder and CEO of Inspired Leadership.

Angela de Longchamps is founder and CEO of Inspired Leadership. She works across organisations with managers and emerging leaders to help them create a culture that fosters the best performance in themselves and in others. This balanced, blended and human-centred learning and development approach is designed out of 20 years of experience within the corporate world (PwC and IBM), both as a consultant and in various senior leadership line positions. She has been growing her South African-based businesses since 2017 and has assisted organisations both locally and internationally to embrace a digital learning culture as the workplace has shifted.

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