(Photo : Naveen Bhateja)
We are rapidly approaching the two-year anniversary of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge to human welfare – the stress, anxiety, depression, increased isolation, and burnout from working amid the pandemic has been well documented. One of the silver lining to COVID-19 would be that it has forced the corporate world to reflect on the correlation between workplace productivity, mental health, and the wellbeing of employees, elevating the importance of mental health to the forefront.
The technology industry is fast paced with a rigorous work culture that demands unreasonably high levels of productivity, even without a pandemic! Add in a pandemic that cast corporations into a global scramble to figure out how to keep employees safe and working remotely and it created even more pressure to address the unique challenges of managing a level of IT complexity never seen before.
According to a report from AppDynamics, eight in 10 technologists stated their job became more complex during 2020. The report included interviews with more than 1,000 global IT professionals. The increase in complexity took a toll on IT pros; 89 percent of technologists reported that they feel immense pressure at work. While upholding IT through a pandemic, 84 percent of technologists found difficulty switching off from work.
Starting the Discussion on Mental Health
“Mental health has been one of the least discussed subjects in the corporate world,” says Naveen Bhateja, Chief People Officer of Medidata Solutions. “The tech industry adds another layer of complexity when taking into consideration the mental health discussion. The tech industry fosters a ‘crunch’ culture where demanding work must be completed in a short amount of time. The industry is known for high-stress: late nights, abnormal hours, and tight deadlines, all while being constantly available at any time of day. The incredible feats that were accomplished from an IT standpoint during the pandemic speaks to that!”
Medidata Solutions is leading the digital transformation of life sciences, creating hope for millions of patients by helping pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostics companies, and academic researchers to accelerate value, minimize risk, and optimize outcomes. Bhateja serves on Medidata’s senior leadership team, overseeing all aspects of human resources.
Bhateja added, “The high stress of the tech industry also means a much greater risk of mental issues.” According to OSMI data, 51% of tech professionals have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. By comparison, 19.1% of U.S. adults experience mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“As leaders, we have a much bigger role than simply focusing on results,” explains Bhateja. “We need to adapt employee well-being strategies for the long-haul journey, offering both physical and mental health benefits as we transition into the new world. It’s not enough to simply add an app or an employee assistance hotline number. Strong, visible support from senior leadership is paramount.”
Creating a Safe Space to Thrive
Among the more discouraging stats to surface on mental health in the tech sector are the findings that only one-third of employees would feel comfortable discussing a mental health disorder with a direct supervisor. Sweeping mental health under the corporate carpet is not a sound strategy for success, especially in the tech sector. As the technology landscape continues to be fraught with new challenges and crippling complexity, now is the time to do more to encourage an open discussion about mental health. The company that thrives will be the company that creates a culture of caring.
Bhateja also reminds companies that mental health benefits are good for employees and the company’s bottom line. “As a result of the emotional toll related to mental health issues, employees globally are exiting the corporate world faster than ever before,” Bhateja says. “Therefore, there is a business and financial reason for us to bring mental health issues into the mainstream conversation and make help available.”
Bhateja sees the practice of prioritizing both mental and physical health long-term as a key differentiator and competitive advantage for companies in the tech sector. Companies that want to attract and keep high-caliber talent will need to make ongoing commitments to support the overall well-being of their staff.
“While success in the tech sector often demands a rapid rate of innovation, making employee wellness a priority is one thing that will always pay benefits,” Bhateja explains. “How organizations address the challenges of employee mental and emotional health now will speak volumes about company culture and have an impact on talent acquisition for years to come.”
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