One of the few silver linings of the dark Covid-19 cloud is the renewed focus on workplace wellbeing. As the world dealt with one health crisis, organisations around the globe prepared for another: the mental health pandemic.
Fortunately, most businesses reacted well. According to the CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work 2021 report, 50 per cent of businesses now have a formal wellbeing strategy and three quarters of the survey’s respondents believe that senior leaders have employee wellbeing on their agenda (up from 61 per cent in 2020).
However, as Software Engineers have a considerably higher chance of experiencing fatigue, burnout, anxiety and stress compared to other professionals our increased awareness of mental health must translate into long-term, preventative strategies.
Research shows that Software Engineers who are experiencing mental ill-health produce lower quality work and tend to miss deadlines – so it is in an organisation’s best interests to prevent this. What should employers be doing?
Balance focused and unfocused time with breaks
Software engineering can be intense. It might involve many hours spent solving complex coding problems or participating in stand-ups and other meetings. The latter is especially true while remote working.
In order to avoid burnout, Software Engineers should split their time between “focused” and “unfocused” tasks – those that require less cognitive input – and regular breaks. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to facilitate this and ensure positive working practices for your Software Engineers.
Facilitate better teamwork
Teamwork is incredibly important within software engineering. Not everyone is going to get along as friends at work, but teams do need to communicate well in order to function well. This is also important for protecting mental health at work.
If there is a personal issue affecting the dynamic, it can make the entire team unfocused and unproductive. This breeds stress and anxiety and, if left undealt with, can lead to burnout and make it impossible for teams to continue working together.
Create an environment in which issues can be confronted and overcome, so your Software Engineers don’t harbour any unnecessary feelings of resentment.
Though working in teams can cause its own issues, collaboration can be important for avoiding isolation. Software engineering can be a lonely job at times, and studies show that loneliness not only increases suicide risk but can also lead to other serious health conditions.
Many Software Engineers are – quite happily – working remotely post-pandemic, but as an employer it’s your job to ensure no one becomes isolated and disengaged from the wider team. This isn’t as simple as mandating that people come back to the office, it requires creative solutions. Use collaboration tools to stay connected, arrange meetups if appropriate and try to create a sense of connection and inclusion – while maintaining your flexibility.
No one said it would be easy.
Manage deadlines and screen time
There’s been a huge pressure on IT teams to facilitate better homeworking over the last 18 months, which has led to delays on other projects. Though it is understandable to want to get projects back on track, don’t do so at the expense of your software engineering team. Set reasonable deadlines that are ambitious but achievable to prevent feelings of stress and anxiety.
Likewise, encourage your team to switch off at a reasonable time. High screen time comes with the territory of being a Software Engineer, but this is linked with severe depression. One of the reasons for this is that screen time can interrupt sleep patterns. Sleep is incredibly important for mental and physical health, so encourage your Software Engineers to clock off at a reasonable time.
All of us have mental health, and one in four people will experience mental ill-health in their lifetimes. Don’t let protecting wellbeing become a trend; make a long-term commitment for better health for your Software Engineers.
If you’re struggling with mental health, or need crisis resources for yourself or your team, please visit Mind.