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Promoting a Culture for Employees to Flourish During Mental Health Awareness Month and Beyond
In the past few months, organizations have had to adjust to the "new normal" during the global COVID-19 pandemic. With the transition to remote work and balancing personal and professional responsibilities, many individuals are struggling. Despite being better equipped to transition than other industries, employees in the technology sector have had the added stress of the adjustment on top of their normal, hectic schedules. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Now more than ever it is important for organizations to prioritize initiatives that promote mental health. Below, technology industry experts reflect on stress in the technology industry, the current global circumstances and how organizations can help build a culture that advocates for employee wellness during this month and beyond. 

Jen Locklear, chief talent officer, ConnectWise

"Mental health awareness is critical year round. However, it's clear that with the increased emotional stress brought on by a global pandemic, paired with a remote work transition for many, it has never been more important for company leaders to check in on their staff.  According to Gallup, even before the world suddenly changed due to COVID-19, two-thirds of employees sometimes or often felt burnt out by their jobs. 

Company and HR leaders, in tech and beyond, should aim to overcommunicate with their employee base to let them know that they are there and care about them as individuals. We're collectively going through this for the first time together, and employee wellness is crucial. So send motivational messages, hop on a 15-minute video call, frequently ask your employees how they're doing and flood group chats with relatable memes. Seeing people's faces calms anxieties, and bonding over the shared understanding of funny images will lighten the mood when everyone's worried about their health and the economy. 

It's important to ensure employees are engaged and motivated at a time when companies are announcing hiring freezes and the job market is slowing down. It's one thing to have a disengaged employee leave your company and another to have them disengage and stay; their mood affects everyone else's, even digitally.

As leaders we need to put the right tools in our people's hands, especially with being home and added stress. These include:

  • Updates on healthcare benefits, waived copays and COVID-19 testing options where applicable
  • Mental health support applications like Ginger.io
  • Meditation applications like Calm and Headspace
  • Online educational resources to share with their children while they are out of school
  • A feedback mechanism where employees can make suggestions or share feedback

While checking in regularly and providing resources won't be cure-alls, they will show your employees that you care about them, their work, and most importantly, their happiness."

Rob Mellor, vice president and general manager EMEA, WhereScape

"With the technology industry in constant flux and the society it supports advancing all the time, organizations need to be asking themselves how to promote the right values that will enable their teams to adapt effectively. Perhaps the most important way to foster a positive and healthy work environment is to enforce an open and honest culture at your organization. Working in the technology space, workloads are often so high that something is missed. An individual could choose to make an easy decision for the time being, which could lead to difficulty down the line. It is much preferred to have an honest admission to an excuse or passing of the blame. Encourage employees to take the tough decisions for an easy life when it comes to managing sometimes unrealistic workloads. Honesty also applies to our mental well being that keeps us happy and focused. If appropriate, it can be useful to know about issues that affect performance at work, so managers must make it clear that they're available to talk. As long as organizations continue to make progress in promoting mental fitness, no matter how slow that improvement might be, they are making the move in the right direction. During Mental Health Awareness Month, I would like to encourage organizations to share tips and technology that have enabled their progress through social media, websites, Slack groups and other channels. Here at WhereScape we also work with Matt Pepper, author of Happiness The Inside Job, which is a book people could review and take inspiration from. After all, we all have vital roles to play in the mental well-being of technology workers overall."

Amanda Regnerus, EVP, Products and Services, US Signal

"Right now, staying healthy both mentally and physically is incredibly important as we collectively face a global pandemic, an incredibly stressful and rattling event many of us never could have anticipated. While strained healthcare resources and social distancing measures are preventing people from having in-person consultations with doctors or therapists, the evolution of cloud-based telemedicine and teletherapy has enabled patients to be more connected to their doctors and therapists than ever before -- even in the face of city and statewide lockdowns. 

This Mental Health Awareness Week, it's important to not only remind people that even in the darkest of times, there are modern ways to seek out the help they need, but to explore how healthcare organizations can make teletherapy a reality for their practice as well. 

First, these practices should implement a cloud-based electronic medical record (EMR) platform to enable remote coordination and support for patients. To keep the platform up and running, cloud-based business continuity and disaster recovery solutions should be deployed, and to ensure sufficient bandwidth and minimal latency for the likely uptick of telehealth and teletherapy calls, access to a network infrastructure with the ability to scale securely and handle extraordinary usage levels is critical. We recommend selecting a provider with a data center nearby to ensure the fastest speeds -- but with diverse locations as well to defend against potential outages or natural disasters. The provider should also utilize current security protocols and technologies in the data center, to ensure compliance with data protection directives such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, CCPA, and GDPR. 

While this may sound intimidating, healthcare organizations should consider partnering with a data center provider that can ease the burden of their resource-stretched IT teams and manage these technologies for them. In a time where we can all use a little support with our workloads and the emotional weight brought on by the state of the world, it's important for the organizations helping patients to make sure they're getting help themselves."

Nicole Sahin, CEO and founder at Globalization Partners

"Nationwide, remote working has become the ‘new normal'. Whilst many organizations and their employees have successfully navigated new ways of working, it can be difficult to check-in with one another when out of office and adjusting to the new routines. It is important that leaders understand the strain that the current lockdown can have on mental health. For many, it will be a lonely, anxiety-inducing and stressful time, with lack of communication and pandemic-related worries taking their toll. 

"It is more important than ever that consistent communication is a priority. Video calls, internal newsletters and informal check-ins all let employees know that they are supported and valued, also giving leaders the opportunity to look out for signs of stress. With the lines of home and work blurred, particularly for individuals having to manage childcare, or care for elderly relatives alongside their work duties, there is an increased risk of burnout. It is important to reassure colleagues that working from home does not mean being 'on' 24/7. Easing this pressure, showing care and compassion all help to cultivate a culture of care." 

Jeff Hussey, CEO, Tempered

"With the current health crisis top of mind for the majority of the world, it's completely normal for people to be experiencing growing levels of anxiety, worry and fear. While one business alone cannot solve the global issue, there's plenty companies can do to minimize the stress on their employees, specifically their IT teams.

IT teams across the globe are working tirelessly to ensure their companies, many of which have transitioned to a predominantly remote workforce, are still able to function smoothly and make the change as stress free as possible for employees. This includes making sure every employee has a computer with the necessary applications, reliable internet and a secure connection that will protect your sensitive data, especially with the emergence of hackers using COVID-19 as a hook for their malicious phishing attacks.

In honor of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week, organizational leaders should be checking on their employees' well-being regularly, including their IT staff that's working nonstop to keep the business online. To help ease the security burden, we recommend establishing a zero-trust network. In a zero-trust scenario, no user, system, application or even a cloud provider is automatically trusted. Instead, they have to be whitelisted then authenticated, even if they have been granted previous access. This approach to security ensures a company can quickly scale without compromising on security, and it means one less thing your IT department has to worry about during this trying time. With so many uncertainties in the business world today, it's more important now than ever to provide your employees with a work environment that is safe, secure and supportive."

Sam Humphries, security strategist, Exabeam 

"Burnout in the cybersecurity space is prevalent, with 62% of industry professionals citing their jobs as stressful or very stressful, and 44% feeling as though they are not achieving a work-life balance. There is constant pressure on security analysts to identify threats, mitigate risks and prevent attacks -- a relentless but critical task. As a result, security professionals work long hours and are at risk of stretching themselves too thin. Now, with the added pressures around COVID-19 on their personal lives and workloads, security teams need more support than ever.

While many people may enjoy the freedom and flexibility around remote work, others will struggle to manage a reasonable divide between work and home life, as the lines become blurred. Security teams will likely feel the latter. Cyberattacks are increasing exponentially, and security teams are in overdrive, fending off scams linked to COVID-19, monitoring for insider threats and managing the increased pressure of securing a remote workforce. Many will also be juggling parenting and home-schooling alongside their professional responsibilities.

Mental Health Awareness Week offers a reminder that business leaders should be engaging routinely with their security teams in these strange times, approaching them with compassion and openness, as well as showing gratitude for all that they do. Open the door to a conversation by asking if people are okay, by staying connected and encouraging staff to be social, and by sharing advice and resources that can help.

We often feel that we must ‘put up or shut up' when it comes to mental health in the workplace. But it's the employer's duty to make their staff feel like they can be open -- and foster a culture without that outdated stigma."

Carla Wasko, vice president, People & Culture, WhiteHat Security

"Mental Health Awareness Week is an ideal time for businesses in technology and beyond to check in with employees and evaluate their approach to the topic. This pandemic is prompting many companies to reflect on their HR policies and implement new initiatives. At WhiteHat, we haven't needed to adjust our policies, but have seen the benefits of some truly highlighted, including unlimited PTO, during this crisis. PTO and holidays can be used to focus on family time, take mental breaks from work and the news or simply enjoy your hobbies. There are other ways to be more in tune with your mental wellbeing during remote working without time off too, which include developing a routine and practicing healthy habits like taking lunch breaks or walks mid-day.

We are all going through a collective traumatic experience, and we don't know just how damaging its effects may be. HR professionals, at minimum, should offer support to their staff, keep consistent communication and be inclusive of mental health issues. Employers can go a step further by choosing a healthcare provider that includes mental health coverage in its plans, plus offering readings, webinars and other services. Topics that typically resonate include mindfulness -- or focusing on the here and now -- and staying positive during hard times. 

It's also important to find ways to keep your in-office culture present in your remote-working scheme, to maintain some familiarity. Opportunities to engage your workforce can include remote trivia or online ‘water cooler' chats-- anything that can reinforce connecting your team beyond work itself.

Moving forward from a crisis, it is important that HR teams learn from the experience. Think: what were we lacking before that we should emphasize now? Then weave them into your permanent plans, to ensure mental health is always top of mind alongside business success."

JG Heithcock, GM, Retrospect, a StorCentric company

Now that we're a few weeks into the COVID-19 crisis and the deployment of a remote workforce, it's important for leaders to look to the future and find ways to ease the stresses of their employees, partners and customers -- and even themselves, as they continue to navigate their businesses through the pandemic. 

Ensuring security and preventing data loss can be major stressors for virtually everyone. However, by employing solutions that deliver complete data protection across the distributed environments of a business's remote workforce, the desktops, laptops and other devices used by employees will be better equipped to prevent and recover from the damaging effects of cyber attacks, or even simple human error. 

During this time, we have taken the same approach as many vendors to help alleviate some stress and financial burden by offering free use of our tools to ensure organizations have complete data protection for their remote desktops and laptops. Our tools offer broad platform and application support, protecting every part of remote computer environments with on-premise storage and off-site cloud storage. It's been amazing to see the ways the tech community has banded together to help reduce some of the concerns over data protection and finances, which can provide some peace of mind during these uncertain times. 

Alan Conboy, office of the CTO, Scale Computing

"Businesses today are under a lot of stress having to adapt to constant changes brought on by COVID-19. They don't need the added worry of ensuring they have the right technology to support their efforts. Organizations need solutions that can be implemented quickly to connect remote users to desktops and create an effective work-from-home environment, while also providing security for their employees and businesses at an affordable cost. 

Organizations with remote workforces don't always have access to the same IT professionals and resources present in a regular office environment, which is why companies offering easy-to-manage, self-healing technology will be prepared to handle the complexities of identifying, mitigating and correcting infrastructure problems. Incorporating machine intelligence will also allow IT professionals to focus on important tasks rather than worry about their IT.

To help reduce the security drawbacks of isolated workers, organizations should look to virtual desktop solutions as part of their DR plan, if they aren't already in use. These solutions can keep workers connected from a variety of devices while ensuring sensitive and business-critical data safely resides on the business' data center storage. As budget concerns continue to rise, look for simple, scalable and highly available infrastructure that can help deploy VDI solutions more easily, more quickly and at a lower cost than competing solutions. This will help remove some of the stress IT professionals and organizations are facing during these challenging times."
Published Tuesday, May 12, 2020 12:21 PM by David Marshall
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