5 Ways to Support Mental Health & Beat Burnout in IT

Life can be hard. And when you work in IT, life can really be hard.

It’s no secret that IT workers tend to battle crazy hours, enormous workloads, and often stressful workplace culture. Such challenging demands have made an intense impression on IT workers and may be to blame for significant burnout rates and high instances of mental health concerns.

Though these issues have become rather normal among ITOps teams, that doesn’t have to be the case. Today, IT workers are well-positioned to demand help from their employers on the mental health front. And organizations would be wise to jump on the bandwagon and institute programs to both educate and support their workforces.

Luckily, it looks like industry-wide the tides are turning. It’s up to us to continue to demand change and then have each others’ backs when we feel the old habits creeping back in.

First things first, lead with empathy

When I started working in a mental health facility in Washington D.C. that served high-risk individuals, I realized I had a lot to learn about empathy. You never know what kind of day someone is having or what they’re dealing with outside of the office. Over time, I taught myself to approach any interaction with an empathetic ear and a supportive outlook.

Since transitioning to new roles in sales and marketing, the lessons from my work in D.C. seems more applicable than ever – especially in the IT and security world. We’ve all experienced immense loss these last couple of years and, unfortunately, we’re all a bit more vulnerable.

Loss, job fatigue, constant worry over whether or not we’ll face potential illness – we’re forced to put aside our vulnerabilities, ignore them, or work through them every single day.

When the world flipped upside down, IT teams not only had to deal with real-world struggles, but they also became the support team for everyone who was struggling to accept a new norm – hybrid or remote work.

What we thought would be mere weeks of quarantine turned into over two years of non-stop pivoting. On-premises jobs were no longer an option for many employees. Learning how to manage remote endpoints, keep devices safe, and maintain a secure work environment fell to IT teams. It was as if everything had to be re-learned, re-configured, and staff had to be re-trained.

The constant state of flux can take a toll on even the healthiest minds. As leaders, teammates, and friends, how do we help each other get through it all?

5 ways to support each other in IT

  1. Destigmatize the conversation – When you ask someone how they’re feeling, be prepared to listen with an empathetic ear. Sometimes being able to voice your challenges to a trusted peer can help eliminate stress or feelings of loneliness and isolation in an endeavor.

  2. Centralize all mental health assistance resources – Mental health concerns take a variety of forms. Struggles like anxiety and depression are more common than you may know. Programs that can help you and your coworkers thrive despite these or other mental health concerns exist and you should have access to them.

    Make sure your team knows where to go for help – This should include information from PeopleOps (HR), like behavioral health benefits and plans, hotlines, and best contacts in case of an emergency. Any mental health support the company has to offer should be easy to find. Sometimes it’s hard to reach out and speak up – make it easier for your teammates to help themselves.

  3. Recommend a “No-Meeting Wednesday” – According to MIT, "Today’s knowledge workers typically spend more than 85% of their time in meetings, which studies show negatively affects people’s psychological, physical, and mental well-being."

    Allow for a day for team members to just focus on what needs to be done, and that doesn’t only include work tasks. It can be an easier day to schedule check-ups or therapy without dodging meeting after meeting. This may be hard to accomplish for on-call teams, but dedicating a day each week for the team to catch up without fear of missing out can boost productivity and reduce stress for your team. We do this at Automox and it's everyone's favorite day of the week.

  4. Consider a monthly mental health day – It should be okay to take a day off without fear of losing your job or derailing a project. No one deserves that much pressure daily. Lean in and open the conversation to learn the signs of burnout and when you should take a sick day.

  5. Create a culture of stress release – Encourage ideas that unite your team and learn more about their likes and dislikes. Block out a few hours for a group bowling session or a coffee break. Make sure your team members know they’re valued. A big thank you to your team could be as simple as setting work time boundaries – especially if you have a distributed team. In that way, you’re telling your team their well-being is as important as their work. And it will likely work out in your business’s favor since stress diminishes creativity and impairs critical thinking. Release from stress can improve productivity.

Credit: Pluralsight

If we want our employees to maintain their sanity while managing attacks against the actual machines, we need to treat them well. To make lasting change, we need to dest the conversation around anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. In addition, educating and supporting each other through bouts of stress is imperative.

If you’re not personally affected by mental health concerns, you can still support your team with compassion. Behind a screen, it's easy to forget that we are all human. Be kind. We aren't machines.

At Automox, we insist on fixing vulnerabilities fast by automating tedious manual tasks. This allows ITOps teams to shift their focus to more important tasks and helps over 2,500 IT leaders sleep better at night. We draw on these same concepts in every aspect internally — especially mental health.

At the end of each workday, we can help each other set the bar higher for ourselves and future generations of IT staff, but we have to commit. So, let’s make a deal to become a genuine community.

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