Prior to the pandemic, mental health was not regularly discussed, especially at work. This has changed drastically as the search term “mental health at work” reached its highest peak of interest this year.
Startups and companies are experimenting with ways to avoid being associated with some of the newest search terms, ‘the great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’. And some of us will benefit from these efforts, while others will experience a band-aid solution.
To ensure you are taking your mental health seriously and recognize if your company/team/boss is too, let’s address a few questions.
What does mental health really mean?
According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
This makes sense. Mental health issues can present themselves in many different shapes and forms. Take anxiety, for example, did you know that being easily startled or having muscle soreness can also be a sign of anxiety?
No one is immune.
So, being especially aware of what triggers cause you any form of mental strife is important:
- How do you feel after you’ve had a long meeting with your manager?
- How do you feel when you work longer hours to deploy code?
- How do you feel when you don’t take breaks at work?
- How do you feel when you’ve been working on solving a problem for days, and you haven’t been able to get help?
These experiences, amongst other things (especially with everything going on in the world right now), can trigger mental and subsequently, bodily fatigue. We encourage you to start practicing a bit more awareness when it comes to your mental health if you are not doing so already.
If you are feeling blue, below are a few ways to get those happy juices flowing!
What are the red flags of a leader who is not supporting your mental health (CTO, Tech Lead, Manager)?
There are probably dozens of red flags when it comes to a poor technical leader, so, sorry if we’ve missed more than a few. The point, however, is for you to become more aware of some of these issues so you can identify them and try to address them before they start affecting your mental health.
❌ Working on remote teams and within different time zones is very common. However, asking a developer to shift their timezone to deploy code after (insert timezone) business hours is NOT! This act disregards their priorities outside of work, whether that be family, friends, hobbies, etc.
❌ Asynchronous work and 4-day work weeks are in, counting hours worked should NOT be. Equating productivity with hours worked is not fair to the developer. Some days we’re more productive,other days we’re less, and that’s natural.
❌ Projects need to get done but within a reasonable time frame. Having a people-pleasing tech lead can get in the way of this. Saying yes to additional feature requests without consulting the team and forcing them to work 10-12 hour days is NOT ok.
❌ Sharing work is normal amongst teams, but offloading all the boring work to certain developers is NOT right. Everyone has to do something they don’t like, and sharing the less fun work is also part of the job.
❌ Showing gratitude towards your developers is a must; however, doing it when you’ve forced them to meet aggressive deadlines is NOT alright. And sharing that they’ve gone above and beyond without recognizing the burnout that has been caused by this unreasonable push in effort is detrimental.
❌ Lack of consistent communication can be taxing and shows up in different ways. For example your manager asks for a feature one week and changes it the following week or they don’t properly address your questions in your 1-on-1s or they are all talk, no action. The list here can go on and on and on.
How can a startup or leader really prioritize your mental health?
There are many things that can be actively done to prioritize a team’s mental health by the team lead.
✅ If you see someone working late hours, talk to them. Sure, sometimes there are bug fixes that need to happen ASAP but if it is not an emergency, make it clear to your developer.
✅ Lead with positivity, a code review is a great example here. Instead of saying ‘you’re doing’ say ‘the code is doing’…we’ve all been in situations where we are ready to throw our computer out the window if the code we’re writing is not working, have a little empathy.
✅ Manage your teams’ vacation days, it is common to miss taking a break when we are ‘in it’ or don’t have a vacation somewhere far, far away planned, but most of the time, a ‘staycation’ is also just as great and necessary to recharge and think clearly.
✅ Unassign tickets when you sense the workload is becoming too much for your team. Re-prioritize what really is mission critical and take on some of those tickets to help the team out. And to ensure a sustainable workload in the future, it’s equally important to both educate and advocate for your teams well-being to stakeholders.
✅ Start your 1-on-1s with ‘how are YOU doing’ not ‘how is this application running?’ or ‘have you finished refactoring the code?’. Getting to know your team on a personal level can help you better protect their mental health and build trust.
Bonus: if your team has the means and resources, organize paid-team lunches, monthly events or a book club, to name a few. It is good to show your appreciation as regularly as possible.
If reading this article has given you a new perspective on how you’re being treated at work and you need even more tools to help you reflect on your job and whether it is time to leave, read our reflection guide on determining when it’s time to quit.
Ps, happy upcoming World Mental Health Day, we hope you’re doing your best to prioritize your own.