As a freelance consultant for more than 15 years I skip from company to company of different sizes in different industries. For the last two years I have been very close to the IT-tech industry. I love to work with the “Nerds” and “Geeks” and I like the atmosphere on the devopsdays I have attended. But I am really confused about one important problem, which never ever occurred to me in this big mass before than it does in the tech industry: problems with health, psychosomatic disorders and mental illnesses.
Whenever I talk with some of the tech folk, sooner or later hints of these problems appear and with asking the right questions, lots of people start talking about their problems in the past. They talk about back problems, a lot of headaches and neck tensions. At first glance this seem to be very clear because of bad body posture combined with a lack of physical activity and perhaps bad nutrition. But the roots for these problems can also be psychosomatically. These are by the way just the “light problems”.
So many people told me about their burnouts, depression and other mental illnesses; they have also told me about being “out of job” for a year or more! And they have talked about the need for liters of coffee to get through the day, caffeine pills, energy-drinks and cigarettes! At devopsdays Amsterdam @botchagalupe talked about some talented and enthusiastic young techs and their Karo jisatsu – their suicide from overwork!
My job in companies is to coach employees and leaders on topics like communication, team culture and leadership. And with these topics the question of well-being is always involved. So when I started with my first clients in the IT industry I did a lot of research and I found some studies about health problems in Germany. These studies said that tech people do not often stay at home because of common colds or something like that. But it told that there are above average problems in matters of nervousness, insomnia, stomach problems, mood swings, depressions and burnout. And there is an extremely outstanding usage of anti-depressants and other psychotropic drugs.
There are other studies about pharmacological neuroenhancement and brain doping – the consumption of drugs to increase the “brain power” without medical necessity – which are frightening to me.
What really puzzles me about this is, that all the people talk about colleagues with some kind of these problems or about their own experiences; that they know about it – and then they go on and “do business as usual” – nothing happens!
Like a neon sign there is one big question in my head: Who really cares about well-being in tech?
But why are there that many health problems in the IT-industry? On the one hand it is because of the nature of IT: faster and better is the credo of IT-projects. Continuous or daily delivery put a lot of pressure on the employees. Management systems like Scrum or Kanban and methodologies like Devops try to meet the requirements of the market. But are the single individuals really fit for it? What is done to enable the employees to meet these systems or methodologies on eye-level so that they feel well with it?
Special management systems and methodologies need special skills – technical skills as well as soft skills. The companies´ focus is a lot on technical skill education, but mostly they don´t care about strengthening the soft skills! Employees are left alone with issues of bad communication, misunderstandings in the team, leadership full of pressure and – caused by this all: bad emotions and feelings!
Now let´s have a look at the people working in the IT industry! One big skill, you really need to work successfully in IT is the ability to concentrate and focus on one special issue, to submerge into one task and fade out the rest around you. I experience this at home once a while, because my companion in life is a software architect and CEO. Being in a demanding project his head is working 24/7 and it seems as if nothing else could reach him. The ability to fade out everything which is not important for the project is on the one hand a gift but on the other hand it could be a really dangerous demon if even the physical and mental needs of oneself are faded out! This will perhaps be okay for a period of three months or so. But reality could be that project is followed by project and the period is no period any longer; it is the norm! People start with too much coffee every single day, caffeine pills or energy drinks or even worse with brain doping! Being tired or headaches often are signals, the body is sending us in case to stop us. But with ignoring the signals and working against them with some kind of drugs, situations will get worse! A downward spiral is started.
What kind of life is it, if we do not care for our own well-being?
The next point is, that the IT and tech-industry is still mostly a men´s world – sorry ladies, hope that will change some day! And even in modern times, in a men´s world you do not talk about emotions, excessive demands and mental illnesses, because lot of people believe that these are signs of weakness! So the risk is very real that people try to hide their problems until it is too late.
So, who has to care for the well-being? WE ALL DO!
At first everyone has to take care of their own individual well-being and pay attention to what our bodies are telling us! If we don´t care for ourselves, how will we be able to take care for others?
Then there are colleagues, who should have a closer look at each other and talk about emotions and problems. Communication is a very important key for the well-being and the recognition of health and mental problems.
Last but not least there are the leaders who play, to my opinion, a vital role in this issue. They are responsible for the success as well as for the employees. But what will happen to the success if the employees are insane or out of job for a long time?
A paradigm shift is the only way! You all know about the problem! So please start to take care of yourself and of others! This will boost yourself personally and the team´s and company´s success!