17 December 2019 by Spencer Symmons
The British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) recently revealed that tech workers are five times more likely to suffer from a mental health problem, compared to the wider population. Between four and 10 per cent of UK adults are thought to experience depression at some point in their lives but this figure pales in comparison to the tech sector, where as many as 52 per cent of the workforce admitted to suffering with stress, anxiety and depression at work.
Two thirds of those surveyed stated that their work has caused high levels of stress, with 13 per cent of these workers experiencing this emotional strain on a constant basis. This work-based stress is also causing severe prolonged headaches, sleep deprivation and anxiety attacks. Stress is also more commonly experienced by women in tech, with BIMA finding that men were just nine per cent as likely to experience high levels of workplace stress. So, why is mental health disproportionately affecting the technology sector?
The technology industry is growing exponentially, with attractive opportunities continually emerging left, right and centre. This has meant that the tech workforce tends to be younger than its comparable counterparts, with many of them having little experience of such a demanding industry. This combined with the ‘long-hours’ culture associated with the sector is contributing to multiple burnouts and a negative work-life balance.
Chairman of digital agency, LAB, Adrian Webb spoke to The Drum regarding the findings: “In the tech sector, there are two factors at play. First, it is well known that neurodiverse people often function perfectly well in work by moving into roles that suit - or even favour - their divergence. Many developers and coders are exceptional because of their ability to maintain very high attention to detail and focus - but in other contexts, particularly social, they may find life more difficult.
“Secondly, stress is an evolutionary phenomenon. It turns on the physical and psychological fight and flight mechanisms via the sympathetic nervous system in response to threat and danger. The issue with tech is that deadlines, under-resourcing and high expectation all trigger psychological stress which in turn makes it harder for people to relax, sleep and digest. This can turn into a self-reinforcing vicious circle quickly."
Another study produced by the Mental Health Foundation found that 38 per cent of people would fear for their job security and future prospects if they spoke up about a mental health problem. A further 17 per cent worry about facing judgement from their fellow colleagues. This highlights the need for companies and their workers to have an increased focus on educating themselves around mental health. This will help individuals to self-identify issues and enable organisations to provide proper support.
But, before support can be introduced, policy and education must be in place. After polling around 1,000 managers, the Mental Health Foundation found that almost a quarter of them have no official protocols or processes to follow if they think that a member of their team could be suffering with their mental health. In addition, 65 per cent also suggested they felt as though time off for physical injuries would be given less prejudice than those who need time to improve their mental health.
As we move into the next decade, mental health in the workplace will continue to dominate the agenda – and rightly so: encouraging conversation about anxiety, stress and depression is often the first step. BIMA have detailed six steps businesses can take to improve mental health at work and provide support to those who need it, here.
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