The pandemic and work-from-home shift have had a huge effect on the mental health of those in every industry, but the issue is exacerbated amongst development teams since they have historically always been ‘behind the scenes.’ The element of face-to-face interaction has been blurred or lost completely, furthering feelings of isolation among those already in ‘head-down roles. And the absolute last thing that anyone in any role or industry wants to feel like is just another cog in the machine. With this shift, we’ve also seen industry members feel that they can’t escape or unplug from their professional lives. While collaboration tools like Slack and Zoom are incredibly useful, many software developers and engineers feel constantly tethered to their mobile device (and expected to be always ‘available.’ That’s why it’s so important to set both digital and physical boundaries, like turning off notifications and having a dedicated office space to figuratively and literally shut the door on work.
Mental health among software developers and engineers needs to be more openly discussed because as the world becomes more technologically dependent, the reliance on their skillsets is only going to increase. As a result of that growth, more stress and pressure will be placed on the shoulders of those who dedicate themselves to technological innovation.
This is particularly evident in those organizations utilizing an agile methodology because of more updates at regular intervals with tighter deadlines. Software development and engineering roles also require learning a vast amount of information in short periods, so it’s pretty easy to reach a state of poor mental health coupling that with constantly churning out code at strict, regular intervals.
To further exacerbate this, the lack of ability to swing by someone’s desk or grab lunch with a coworker, extra barriers to communication are formed when you adopt this digital-only collaboration strategy. Factor in miscommunication and the sheer time to write — rather than verbalize — your thoughts and decisions start to be impacted. This, in turn, causes delays and subsequently, tighter deadlines and increased costs, furthering the pressure put on members of technical teams who are already stretched thin.
So, how can you prioritize your mental health during these seemingly neverending, “unprecedented” times? In no particular order, here are three tips for staying sane in sec:
#1: CHECK IN
As a Managing Consultant at nVisium, I lead a team of extremely deadline-driven, application security consultants working to meet clients’ needs on a daily basis. In such a high-stress industry, it’s important for me to form personal relationships with every team member I’m mentoring. Because, after all, they’re humans — not resources. Every single person has been affected by this pandemic in different ways, so it’s important to practice empathy with regular “pulse checks” on mental health through regular one-on-one meetings.
That said, some team members are more open than others and for those who hold their cards close, it’s important to offer monthly or quarterly anonymous surveys for feedback. Ultimately, I want to see my employees succeed and grow both personally and professionally, so I tailor my management and communication styles to do just that.
On the flip side, as an employee, it’s also important to check in on your leadership to keep the conversation flowing both ways. This, in turn, helps further the relationship and keeps the lines of communication open.
#2: SPEAK UP
A telltale sign of a struggling employee is a decline in quality of work, as well as response times. It’s so critical for an employee to voice any issues or concerns sooner rather than later because burying one’s head in the sand only further exacerbates the problem. Managers aren’t mind readers and once I know there’s an issue, I can work with the individual to increase support, as well as drill down to the root cause of the problem. That’s where getting to know your employees on a more personal level is key and ultimately, a reflection of how I’m doing my job.
Everyone is different in their communication styles, but I believe that a direct approach is always best when raising concerns with your manager — or anyone for that matter. Speak up as soon as possible and try to come to the conversation with a plan and communicate a sense of shared responsibility. I can’t stress the importance of being your own advocate, so we can work together to form a solution.
As a manager, I can’t help you if I don’t know there’s a problem, which is why fostering my relationships with employees is so important. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in these scenarios, so it’s important to focus on what you can control and move forward from there.
#3: LOG OFF
Our CEO, Jack Mannino, leads by example here and constantly encourages nVisium staff to sign off, step away, and spend time with their family and friends. nVisium offers an amazing benefits program that includes resources like telepsych access, wellness stipends, and team-building events and trips. Those in managerial positions should also be advocates for programs like these, as well as offer justification to leadership for these offerings on their employees’ behalf.
So often, we neglect mental health when we take into account our general health, so ensure you’re integral in developing — and encouraging the use of — these policies.
As a manager, I see these programs go unutilized and they exist for a reason: to support the employee in being the best versions of themselves, both online — and offline.