Covid-19's impact on mental health in UK tech

GUEST BLOG: In this contributed blog post, Anne Kiem, executive director, Small Business Charter, talks about how Covid-19 has heightened a “pre-existent mental health epidemic” in UK tech

It’s a natural time to reflect as approaching the first anniversary of Covid-19 appearing in the UK.  The past year has been incredibly challenging for business and particularly for SMEs.  It is not surprising then that the pressures of the past year have also taken their toll of SME leaders’ mental health.

Tech professionals are a staggering five times more depressed than the general population, and over half (52%) of the tech professionals in the UK have suffered from anxiety or depression (BIMA).

There are various long-standing cultural issues within the tech sector which may have led us to this situation. Looking at the long-hours, deadlines and the pressure for consistent precision, the fact that IT professionals are faced with immense stress seems hardly surprising.

These existing industry problems have been compounded by the pandemic. In a nearly a year since the first  lockdown, business leaders have struggled through depleted profits, reduced trade and eliminated income sources. For the SMEs that make up 99% of UK businesses, this has been particularly hard, and the increasing pressure has taken a toll on the SME leaders fighting to keep their businesses afloat.

Our own research recently found that more than 2 in 5 (41%) SME leaders responsible for IT businesses have found that their mental health has been negatively affected by the impact of the pandemic on their business. Concerns about loss of profit are troubling the majority of SME leaders in the IT sector (63%), whilst almost half are worried about long-term debt (44%) and the possibility of going into administration (47%).

IT SME EDIT Ltd which provides IT services to schools is an example of how worrying about the future of your business can affect the mental health of business leaders and those working for them. Business manager Abdul Sidike told us that the pandemic has impacted the mental health of everyone in his business.

While the grants and loans issued by the government have been helpful, a different kind of support is also needed to ensure the long-term viability of SMEs in the IT sector.  Given that current restrictions are likely to continue until the Spring, the challenges will only increase unless business leaders can access more practical and business focused support. So, we must find further ways to support IT SMEs through these trying times.

One way through which SME leaders can access these opportunities is by attending business training programmes, like the government-funded Small Business Leadership Programme.

Through the course, IT SME leaders can receive expert advice from leading business academics on how best to grow the resilience of their business. They can also speak to fellow SME leaders facing the same struggles, not only sharing practical advice with one another but also emotional support through this mutually challenging time.

If we have seen one thing throughout the pandemic, it is that businesses are adept at innovating and pivoting their way out of a crisis. By seeking the right support and viewing current challenges as an opportunity to learn more, we hope IT SMEs can do just this.

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