Worker stress may be on the rise, but so are solutions to lessen its impact. The trick, it seems, is to find the resources that suit your organization’s needs, and not get lost in the mass of troubling statistics.
The stats are grim. In a recent survey by Indeed, the online job aggregator, 52% of respondents said they were experiencing fatigue and exhaustion this year, up from 43% in a similar poll conducted in January last year. Millennials and Gen Zers are the most burned-out generations, closely followed by Gen Xers. In the same poll, 67% said burnout has worsened during the pandemic.
The stresses of remote working—isolation from colleagues, long hours, and the challenge of separating work and home life—have undoubtedly contributed to job burnout. And IT security professionals are among those who have experienced the biggest increase in job stress. Since the onset of COVID, their No. 1 task has been to secure and maintain thousands of remote computers and mobile devices so people can work from home—safely—at any time, day or night.
Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day, which was launched by the World Federation for Mental Health in 1992. To commemorate the day, many government agencies, companies, nonprofits, and other organizations take time this month to highlight the work they’ve been doing to support and empower their people.
As the challenges of remote work continue for many of us, here are three areas that public and private organizations can focus on to protect the mental health of their employees and foster a healthy and engaged team environment.
Communication, support, and technology
Tech workers suffered more burnout than any other group with the onset of the pandemic, according to a survey last year of 7,000 employees by meQuilibrium. As well as securing thousands of remote devices, IT teams have had to be on hand 24/7 as employees have worked longer and more irregular schedules.
The good news is that the study found that employees who felt strongly supported at work were 10 times less likely to experience increased job stress than those who lacked support. meQuilibrium also believes companies that allow employees to take time out to handle personal or domestic matters will have a happier, more engaged workforce.
Improved communication and explicit management backing are great short-term tools to ease feelings of burnout. Additional time off, new wellness benefits, as well as expanded Q&A sessions with business leaders, are also great tonics.
Technology is also an invaluable resource. Artificial intelligence tools, for example, can help reduce stress and fatigue by automating repetitive jobs and reducing task volume. For IT security professionals, AI-based threat-monitoring tools help deal with false alarms and can block many attacks, leaving human teams to deal with those that require direct intervention.
People often think taking time off will fix burnout. When they do manage to take a vacation, they may come back refreshed for a day, but burnout often reemerges. Hiring more people and adding technology can help, but they are not magic bullets. It’s also important to look at work processes. Here, the agile Japanese workflow system known as “kanban” can offer a solution, says Mike Middleton, director of security at Tanium.
Key to the kanban method is visualizing a team’s workflow. Greater transparency inspires greater teamwork, as people see and share a challenge, says Middleton. When the team succeeds in a shared goal, it’s a win not just for one, but for all. It allows us to rely on each other and embody a one-team-one fight mentality.
Making work visible also lets management gain insight into workload. Faulty workflow patterns that emerge can be remedied, and by empowering teams to take on new challenges, you can close skills gaps, provide growth opportunities, and improve the ability to keep up with demand.
Adopting kanban has improved work-life balance among Tanium staff in significant ways, says Middleton. Stressful task-switching and individual backlogs have been replaced by a shared effort and faster completion rates.
Transparency and flexibility
While working remotely has been challenging for everyone, it’s also been an opportunity to learn about the improvements in productivity, innovation, and quality of life that online working can bring. Tanium put together a task force last year to discuss those changes and consider what the future of work will look like.
The company canvassed the needs and goals of its then-1,700 employees (the outfit has grown to 2,000 staffers since then) and concluded the best way forward would be to ensure maximum flexibility in staff working arrangements while also providing transparency. Today, no employee has to return to the office, and those who do are supported and accommodated. That decision was made easier by the fact that prior to COVID, 50% of Tanium’s workforce was already remote and had demonstrated flexibility, self-reliance, and high rates of productivity.
Tanium’s new headquarters in Kirkland, Wash., has adapted to this flexible way of working. There are collaboration areas, “coding caves,” desks offering personal space, and quiet areas for downtime. Giving staff the choice of home or office is invaluable to the pursuit of a healthy work-life balance.
- In honor of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, Facebook will launch new mental health resources, tools, and programming across its apps, including special resource guides for BIPOC communities. For more info, click here.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness has produced a series of videos featuring real people sharing their experiences with mental health issues, along with stats, infographics, and resources that your human resources department can use to support your workers. For more info, click here.
- Doing What Matters in Times of Stress: An Illustrated Guide, offers stress-management tips for coping with adversity, compiled by the Pan American Health Organization.