According to a study by Harvey Nash, mental health concerns for employees in the tech industry rose by 75% during the pandemic and even before workers in the sector were particularly prone to burnout. This often goes hand in hand with poor well-being, deviations in performance, communication and decision-making difficulties.
To bring further awareness to the topic after World Mental Health Day (October 10), today we talk to Mladen Vladimirov, BICA Services’ psychologist who has over 15 years of experience in individual and family counseling.
Is there still a taboo on talking about mental health in Bulgaria even though the impact it has on our work is immense?
The simple answer is “YES”, there is a stigma. In Bulgaria it is difficult, even shameful and insulting to seek help, admitting that you have mental or behavioral issues.
However, we must define to ourselves what mental health exactly is. For me, the most proper understanding is — “A person able to mobilize hers/his resources in a changing, stressful, or critical situation”. The ability to adapt to changing reality is a sign of mental resilience.
Our psyche is directly related to the balance of personal and professional life and it is the blurring of these boundaries that can lead to tension, professional exhaustion, stress, problems with colleagues, employees, and clients, and professional burnout;
We all get stressed at work from time to time. How can we recognize warning signs?
Stress is not a negative thing. It has the ability to mobilize the personality and increase its concentration and efficiency. As Avicenna has said, “The difference between the drug and the poison is in the dose”. Different people react differently to stress. For example, the so-called Sensation seekers (adrenaline players) “need” to be a little late for work, to delay deadlines, or to be pressed by tasks.
Such situations increase their adrenaline and thus make them more efficient. Like a free energy drink, right? There are no anxious symptoms, but those people are with an anxious attitude. In my research and consulting, I always draw the attention of senior management to the following — Follow your most ambitious employees, the so-called candles, and follow the rule that what burns will burn out.
Let’s talk about the tech industry. Why does mental health impact engineers so disproportionately to the general population?
Over the years, I have conducted several studies on occupational stress and so-called coping strategies (stress management strategies) with IT employees, and I found that there is something that in organizational psychology we call “role ambiguity.” In other words, unclear job and functional characteristics.
One of the most effective coping protection strategies is the so-called “social support” — to have someone to talk to about the problems, needs, plans, fears, feelings. I remember doing a focus group with employees from this sector and when I asked “Is there anyone to discuss your needs and problems at work” I received the answer “the scrum master”. I still don’t know what that is, but I realized that he/she is neither a psychologist nor a person from the HR Department.
What can we do to prevent extreme situations such as burnout?
There are a few simple tips that I give to my clients and I am convinced that they work:
- Time management — separate the personal from the professional, after a certain time do not answer business emails and calls, do not bring work home, do not bring home problems at work, set realistic goals and deadlines;
- Talk about your needs and problems — no one is perfect. To make mistakes is human, to seek help is divine;
- Coping strategies are adaptive and non-adaptive. Think adaptive. Adaptive are those that change the current situation and increase our dealing resources — team building, training, support from a colleague, change horizontally and vertically, social support, relaxation, trips, sports, religion. Non-adaptive are those who only block the problem, but do not change it: alcohol, gambling, aggression, sex, psychoactive substances, buying expensive goods.
- Check the company for the so-called phoenixes (people who have burned out and risen after the burnout). Explore their strategies.
Also, observe the following things:
- At the beginning of the week, after a weekend, do you reluctantly go to work?
- Does the job still give you the same pleasure or have you lost enthusiasm?
- Do you do the same amount of work, but for a relatively longer time?
- Do you often become irritable to colleagues, clients, subordinates?
- Do you change your mood at work several times a day?
If these questions have shown you that something is happening to you in a negative aspect, you need to communicate it with your line manager. Remember that you are not a toner cartridge, but a specialist and you are the most valuable resource of the company you work for.