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Mental Health in Startup Technology Companies

By July 6, 2021Consulting

In a post-covid era, with technology employees being spread out between home, remote, and office locations, addressing work culture priorities such as staff mental health concerns can be challenging. Research suggests that 66% of employees state that they do not think their employers offer enough mental health resources (5). This statistic represents a real short fall in addressing health concerns of employees when tech companies are already under stress from trying to offer more incentives and competitive pay rates to keep workers. In creating a company culture, it is important to build awareness and support related to mental health and continually put into practice these efforts.

With the innovative and cutting-edge nature of technology businesses, the tech sector is growing exponentially and continues to be a highly competitive environment. Additionally, the non-stop nature of the tech world means that there are many opportunities out there where startup companies can offer employees either attractive gimmicks or core value resources that lead to both company and staff successes. Typically, the most dedicated tech workers are often required to invest their whole lives into the business realm to reap long-term rewards. This often means that a work-life balance is thrown out the window. The hustle or fail approach is supported by research that reveals tech workers are five times more likely to suffer from a mental health problem, compared to the wider population (2).

Typical triggers for mental health issues in technology startup environments.

The technology that has enhanced the tech world workplace has also contributed to higher mental health issues in work environments. With email, text messaging, and video conferencing, current trends point to always being available and never fully unplugged from work requirements (6). The World Health Organization highlights inflexible, long work hours, poor communication, and limited participation in decision-making as three typical triggers for mental health concerns in the workplace.

“There’s always this feeling like you need to be doing more, you need to be working harder, you need to be two steps ahead all of the time.” Amandah Wood, Shopify (1). This quote points to the high stress environment of the technology sector. Research suggests that stress is one of the most telltale signs of mental health concerns in the workplace. Stress in the workplace can affect job performance, productivity, communication, as well as mental and physical capacity to function daily. Stress in the workplace can trigger feelings of hopelessness and feeling like you cannot achieve the requirements of the job unless you are fully investing all your time and energy into the company.

Turnover is another mental health trigger for many employees. Whether turnover means changes in management, coworkers, or transitioning into a new position, all these workplace changes can have a mental health impact on company staff. Turnover not only means new individuals to encompass into an established company culture but also the anxiety of getting to know and be comfortable around new people while acquiescing into taking on more work duties. Other mental health triggers that technology startup companies should identify and monitor include relationship issues, unrealistic expectations, and substance abuse.

How can business owners mitigate risk of staff suffering from mental health concerns?

Creating a support plan for mental health starts with the management team implementing a set of core company beliefs. Also, it is not beneficial to simply rely on the most experienced individuals to create business culture. Collaboration and creative solutions from all levels of staff can provide out-of-the-box strategies to address culture and support mental health. From interns to CEOs, it is important to encourage open communication and multi-level collaboration for nurturing an open and person-focused environment. Work on creating employee empowerment through offering opportunities for workers to add to the efficiency and productivity of the business. When workers can feel proud that they accomplished something that has either improved the workflow experience of others or enhanced the workplace culture, it is less likely that their efforts and investments into the company will cause them to look elsewhere.

Choosing to diversify the staff population can inadvertently lead to changing the culture of the company. In diversifying the staff, it is important that in addition to racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, you can also diversify the personality traits and work styles of staff through hiring practices. In the highly competitive and non-stop technology sector, it is important to be intentional in the work habits and boundaries you create for the company. Be intentional in not relying on hiring practices where potential employees who run themselves ragged are rewarded with job offers. It is not early enough to reach employees during the onboarding process. In other words, work on encouraging a work-life balance from the moment you meet a potential employee, in the hiring interview. Creating an awareness of company culture early in the process will help mitigate issues from arising over time.

Work on effectively normalizing healthy habits and incentivize work-life balance. Seeing managers put in place healthy work habits and encouraging staff to mirror those habits helps to normalize this practice with the rest of the company’s employees. Going further, incentivizing healthy lifestyles and choices can be a company perk without feeling like a gimmick. Attempt to incentivize employees for example, by giving an annual bonus for not smoking throughout the year as a standard practice that connects with the company’s core belief of valuing employees’ health. Another way to mitigate staff suffering from mental health concerns is to avoid separating the importance of mental health and physical health. Often mental health concerns are displayed as somatic or physical concerns. Developing and implementing employment wellness programs can assist people who are at risk for both mental and physical health concerns and connect them to treatment and put in place supports to help reduce and manage stress.

How to create a mental health support plan in post-covid.

Provide managers and supervisors with resources that they can direct employees to is a great option. Taking the burden off a dedicated human resources employee and making all supervisors or managers human resource contacts can reflect the core company values. Offer supervisors and managers training to listen and support employees. Training managers in mental health first aid can be a great way to not only remove the stigma out of mental health but create a sense of preparedness when employees speak openly about their concerns and how the company can positively support them (6).

Communication and collaboration across the company can help decrease employee turnover rates in cases where turnover is a direct result of mental health triggers in the workplace. Again, creating a company culture where open communication is encouraged builds trust, confidence, and adds value to the company’s overall culture.

Incorporate the importance of mental health in staff check ins or staff meetings and ask people to take ownership with monitoring changes in their mental health. Empower employees to seek out resources available through their company to address mental health needs before they significantly affect work contributions. Companies can create polls or short assessments that employees can take to anonymously see where people are at regarding stress levels within the company. Consider a survey statistic of 60% of employees surveyed saying that mental health wellness programs and benefits are important when applying for or considering a potential job (7). And that the younger generation 18-39, typically attracted to more technology startups, bump that importance level up to as much as 80%. If the tech startup has already addressed establishing managers and supervisors as human resource contacts, it is important to empower and encourage employees to be responsible in monitoring their own mental health concerns. With all the resources put in place, the affirming culture built and flexing to change, the open communication, and accommodations available; none of those proactive solutions can be effective if employees are unaware how stress and mental health are affecting their workplace performance.

Acknowledge that mental health is often known as an invisible illness. As a company, work on helping people thrive in the company environment early on versus after an issue becomes more obvious. Create an open atmosphere for employees to feel comfortable disclosing mental health or comfortable offering information on prior work accommodations that will help them be successful. Early stage supports, interventions, and accommodations will help mitigate down-the-road issues from affecting workplace culture. In communications around the workplace and employee wellness activities, develop expectations of emotional sensitivity to combat stigma and possible bullying. Putting a great amount of effort into trying to make employees feel comfortable opening up in the workplace is nothing if they feel ashamed, stigmatized or a target for workplace bullying. Set clear guidelines and make it commonplace to review those guidelines in meetings, communications, and onboarding processes.

In a world following the COVID-19 pandemic, it is simply not permissible to neglect areas of physical and mental health concerns. In turn, providing a company culture that puts people first ensures that open communication, collaboration, and empowerment can flourish when addressing mental health triggers in the workplace. Creating wellness programs for employees, normalizing work-life balances, and utilizing managers as human resource contacts will help keep employees from feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated. The research and statistics point to employees finding it more and more important for employers to address and support mental health. Navigate a path to supporting employees and mitigating mental health concerns by including employees in creating a system that supports and empowers them to achieve cutting edge performance in the technology sector.

 

  1. Mental health a challenge for tech workers | Communitech News
  2. Why do tech workers suffer more from mental health issues? (cpsgroupuk.com)
  3. Five Ways To Build Your Tech Startup’s Culture (forbes.com)
  4. World Mental Health Day: The Tech Industry needs to address the issue (diversityq.com)
  5. 39% of employers fail to offer mental health support (diversityq.com)
  6. 6 Steps to Improving Mental Health Awareness at Work. (linkedin.com)
  7. Creating Employee Mental Health Programs in the Workforce | Paychex