Are You Suffering from Tech Burnout?
Why wellness programs aren’t enough
In May the World Health Organization defined burnout as a legitimate diagnosis, characterized by three indicators: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.” It’s a particularly big problem in the tech industry: A survey of 30 large tech companies found that between 40 and 70 percent of employees reported some level of burnout. When a 40 percent burnout rate is on the low end, it’s a situation that needs immediate attention.
Many US companies—and particularly tech-oriented startups—attempt to address this issue with wellness programs that don’t really get to the heart of the problem. Cheerful, colorful offices and lavish perks are nice, but sparkling water in the fridge, free gym memberships and onsite yoga isn’t going to help employees who feel overworked and undervalued. In fact, a study last year in Illinois showed that already healthy employees are the ones who use wellness benefits the most.
Burnout can also be compounded by any other invisible mental health problems that workers are grappling with. And even though the vast majority of American businesses now offer employee assistance programs, only about 7 percent of workers actually use them.
So how can your company support employees suffering from burnout or other mental health issues? Here are four steps to get started.
Core structural changes
The top three factors contributing to burnout are unfair compensation (41 percent), unreasonable workload (32 percent), and too much overtime / after-hours work (32 percent). These are tough issues to solve, but in the long run they’re essential to employee happiness and retention.
Workplace acceptance and support
Openly discussing workplace stress and burnout on a regular basis (as well as mental health issues in general) goes a long way towards destigmatizing it.
Out-of-network health benefits
Does your company insurance plan have a large out-of-network deductible? Most psychologists and psychiatrists are out of network, and these deductibles can be a such a financial hardship that people avoid seeking help altogether. See if your HR benefits team can reduce that deductible, then educate your employees on how it will make it easier for them to see a therapist if they need one.
Paid sick leave and short-term disability
Sometimes burnout or other unforeseen mental issues can require a total reset that includes time away from the office. If employees know that they won’t be losing out on any paychecks or risk losing their job if they temporarily step away, they will be more likely to seek out the help they need.
If you’re suffering from burnout and not in a position to make sweeping company-wide changes, here are a few helpful apps that you can use on your own:
- Journaling: MoodNotes is an app based on the tenets of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which help course-correct negative thinking patterns by using actions to counter them. Once a day the app pops up and asks “How are you?” with a happy or sad face. From there, it guides you through journals that are aimed at helping you develop healthier thinking habits and avoid negative traps.
- Meditation: Mindfulness is another tenet of CBT and a good thing to take your stressed mind down a notch. If you can’t sit still through a guided meditation—or you’re in a busy open-plan office where actual meditation just isn’t going to happen—Pause’s “interactive meditation” is a good alternative. Its “Mindful Touch” feature forces you to slow down as you drag a soothing blob around your mobile screen in slow-motion (it’s surprisingly calming). If you do have the time (and a quiet corner of the office) for guided meditation, check out Headspace, which offers different meditations aimed at anxiety, anger, focus and other specific feelings.
- On-demand therapy: Sometimes you just need to talk to a real person—but you can’t wait weeks for an appointment. Doctor on Demand includes mental health services and will connect you to a psychologist or (if need be) a psychiatrist. Talkspace and BetterHelp offer therapy on demand with licensed counselors via video chat and texting. A few other services to check out are 7 Cups of Tea, Larkr and eTherapyPro. Most of these apps aren’t replacements for an in-person session, but they can be a helpful fill-in until you’re able to find the right therapist and set up regular appointments.