Mounting pressures fuel mental health crisis in the tech industry

Around 48% of CISOs say work stress has had a detrimental impact on their mental health. Here's what employers can do about it?

The role of the cybersecurity professional is a demanding one. Often overworked and under-resourced, the high-pressure nature of the role means employees are predisposed to stress and burnout. According to a recent Chief information security officers (CISOs) stress report, 95% of CISOs put in an average of 10 hours unpaid overtime every week, with 71% admitting they thought their work-life balance was poor. Around 48% of CISOs said work stress has had a detrimental impact on their mental health.

DiversityQ spoke to five technology leaders to discuss increasing pressures of the job and how it can impact mental health, and what employers can do to help relieve workplace stressors and support team members.

‘Stress’ is a tech buzzword 

“Cybersecurity is one of the most stressful careers in the tech industry,” says Sam Humphries, Security Strategist at Exabeam. “There is enormous pressure on security analysts to identify threats, mitigate risks and prevent attacks – it’s a relentless task.”

Humphries explains that the current crisis has meant unprecedented pressure on IT and security teams. “While many people may be enjoying more freedom by working from home, others will be struggling to manage their work/life balance, as the lines between our work and home lives become blurred. Security teams will almost certainly be feeling the latter. Cyberattacks are increasing exponentially, and security teams are in overdrive, on high alert fending off scams linked to coronavirus and managing the increased pressure of securing a remote workforce.

“Business leaders should be engaging positively with their security teams during this period, approaching them with compassion, honesty and openness – showing gratitude for all that they do. There’s no reason whatsoever an employee should feel like they can’t talk about it – but it’s on employers to make them feel like they can.”

Agata Nowakowska, AVP at Skillsoft agrees that, particularly now, focusing on mental health is more important than ever. Nowakowska says: “While many employers have been trying to manage the disruption of deploying an entirely remote workforce, it’s even more vital they are aware of the impact this is likely to be having on their employees’ mental health. Many employees will be juggling workloads, home-schooling their children, and looking after vulnerable family members.

“Now is the time to raise the profile of workplace wellbeing – even though our understanding of the physical workplace has shifted dramatically. Employers need to take workplace wellbeing virtual – meeting the needs of all employees, wherever they are and whatever environment they are in. Being supportive and lending a hand when employees need it will not just nurture their mental health, but the fundamental health of your organisation as a whole.”

Taking mental health support to the next level 

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ to their employees, meaning take all necessary precautions to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff. For Nicole Sahin, CEO and Founder at Globalization Partners, employer empathy and open communication is key.

“The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 is kindness, and that is something all organisations should keep front of mind during the current coronavirus pandemic. With a nationwide shift to remote working, many individuals have been uprooted and will be adjusting to working in a new setting with new distractions. For many, it will be lonely, anxiety-inducing and stressful as a result of decreased communication. Checking in with staff is, therefore, more important than ever.

“There are a number of ways companies can maintain consistent communication with their employees: video calls, internal newsletters and informal check-ins all let employees know that they are supported and cared about. Everyone is feeling uneasy about the uncertainty of the situation, therefore offering kindness and support at this time is paramount.

Rob Mellor, VP & GM EMEA at WhereScape, explains that it’s up to employers to cultivate a positive culture at work. “With the technology industry in constant flux and the society it supports advancing all the time, organisations need to be asking themselves how to promote the right values that will enable their teams to adapt effectively. Perhaps the most important way to foster a positive and healthy work environment is to enforce an open and honest culture at your organisation.”

In agreement, Rob Shaw, Managing Director, EMEA at Fluent Commerce, says there are many things employers can do to look after their employees’ mental wellbeing. “First and foremost is creating a culture where employees can talk openly about how they’re feeling without fear of repercussion. From online resources, having dedicated chat platforms where employees can share concerns, to having a qualified staff Mental Health First Aider, the range of things an employer can do to support employee’s health is vast.” 

The conversation around mental health in the workplace is one that continues to grow each year; however, employers need to remain committed to changing the way we think and act about mental health to promote a happier, more accepting workplace environment.

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