Mental health and digital infrastructure…the importance of looking out for one another

Mental health is a matter of concern for everyone, and not just for those affected by a mental disorder.” WHO, 2004

We need to talk about the importance of looking out for each other, especially in the tech sector. Sunday marked International Men’s Day it reflects a day to observe and highlight the major issues confronting men worldwide. Research from the Mental Health Foundation found that in the UK, nearly 12 men lose their lives to suicide every day, with suicide remaining the single largest cause of death for men between the ages of 35 and 50, and a recent report from UK charity Mind, found the number of men who have suicidal thoughts when feeling worried or low has doubled since 2009. 

Despite mental health being one of the most widely talked about subjects within the business world, the stigma around it remains high. For the data centre sector, where more than three-quarters of businesses report their workforce is made up of around 10% women or less and where 17% of industry professionals are leaving the sector each year, supporting the mental health of our colleagues – be they male or female – is a fundamental priority. 

The British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) recently revealed that tech workers are five times more likely to suffer from a mental health problem compared to the wider population. Between four and 10 per cent of UK adults are thought to experience depression at some point in their lives, but this figure pales in comparison to the tech sector, where as many as 52 per cent of the workforce admitted to suffering with stress, anxiety, and depression at work.

Two-thirds of those surveyed stated that their work has caused high levels of stress, with 13 per cent of these workers experiencing this emotional strain on a constant basis. The technology industry is growing exponentially, with attractive opportunities continually emerging left, right and centre. The sector, for example, presents key opportunities to work on the leading edge of sustainability and technologies to accelerate decarbonisation, but with it, significant pressure to bear.

An ageing workforce and diverse efforts to attract new talent have meant that today, the tech workforce has begun to be younger than its comparable counterparts, with many of them having little experience of such a demanding industry. This, combined with the ‘long-hours’ culture associated with tech, is contributing to multiple burnouts and a negative work-life balance, meaning we, as an industry, must ensure the health and wellbeing of our colleagues remains the utmost priority.

At Schneider Electric, one of our ambitions is to be the most inclusive and caring company in the world, primarily by offering equal opportunities and co-creating a place where everyone belongs and thrives. We especially prioritize well-being and mental health as part of this journey, and this means everyone should feel safe to be their unique self, even in those difficult moments when we are distressed, anxious or struggling to cope – and that they have the people around them to give a helping hand.

Well-being is an integral part of our people strategy. An example of our work is a network of Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs), where we have invested in mental health first aid training and now have a network of over 100 MHFAs in the UK and Ireland. These individuals provide non-judgmental, confidential support to their peers, signposting to additional support where appropriate.  We also have an internal Wellbeing lead to coordinate wellbeing activities within the zone, including a monthly communication, which normally includes a monthly theme. 

Additionally, Schneider Electric offers benefits especially focused on promoting mental well-being, such as Flex Days (the optional possibility of purchasing additional vacation days) and the Recharge Break Program, which allows employees to take between 6 and 12 weeks away from work to rest and relax. After this period, they would resume their responsibilities in their current role.

This focus on mental health allows us to prioritise flexibility at work policies and build New Ways of Working organizational transformation, which are adapted to the new normal and allow us to be more agile, efficient, collaborative. Above all, they seek to maintain healthy work schedules and boundaries while fostering high performance.

Mental health affects everyone, whether it is good or bad. Admitting it is bad can be a lonely path that no one should go through alone. The Electrical Industries Charity is a charity very close to my heart and one we have just spent time fundraising for – bringing together our colleagues, customers and partners to walk 18km in aid of mental health.

Today, The Electrical Industries Charity provides valuable support for professionals within the electronics and energy industries when things become overwhelming. The impact of mental health challenges can quickly become devastating for the individual and their family, and through their incredible work, they provide practical support to help individuals get back on their feet. 

This month, November, is men’s mental health awareness month and there are still too many reasons why men choose to talk less about their mental well-being.

Personally, I believe that together, we’re stronger and when working in one of the world’s most high-pressure sectors, we must look out for each other and keep talking. Supporting the mental well-being of our friends, our partner and our colleagues has never been more important, and my door is always open.

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