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UK tech professionals feel impact of lockdown easing

Mental health concerns increase, with a possible negative effect on the quality of work, as companies get ready to return to the office, study shows

UK technology professionals are feeling the negative impact on their mental health as companies prepare to return to office routines, according to a new study by tech recruitment firm Harvey Nash.

Professionals are concerned about the risk of bringing Covid-19 into their homes as the easing of lockdown restrictions means many will need to resume their daily commutes and come into physical office environments.

The survey, carried out in association with online workplace mental health conference This Can Happen, involved 1,600 UK IT workers. More than a quarter (26%) said they were stressed about returning to the office, and more than one in three reported that their mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic.

The number of tech workers who have been, or are, concerned about their mental health has risen by 16% since the pandemic started. Citing figures from the Office for National Statistics, which estimates there are 1.3 million technology jobs in the UK, the study said this rise was equivalent to an increase of almost 200,000 of the UK’s tech workforce suffering in this way.

Also, of the professionals who reported being actively concerned about their mental wellbeing now (27%), 35% said this was the first time they had ever been concerned.

Harvey Nash director Chris Seel said the numbers reveal the extent of the mental health challenge, not only within the tech sector, but the whole of the UK business community.

“The ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic are far-reaching and people are already feeling the strain, many of them for the first time,” he said. “While it is encouraging that the majority of businesses have increased the levels of support they provide, there remains much further to go.” Seal was referring to the 56% increase in support provided by employers around personal, emotional or home working needs.

But despite the recent boost in help and support to workers, the survey found that half still do not provide formal help for mental health issues. This comes at a time when 75% of those working for unsupportive companies reported being concerned about their mental health now or in the past.

Profile of IT workers under strain during Covid-19

The Harvey Nash survey identified four common characteristics of technology workers who are struggling emotionally during Covid-19:

  • They are working, rather than furloughed.
  • They have a family.
  • They work more than 50 hours a week.
  • They work for an unsupportive company.

The study outlined key reasons why tech professionals are seeing heir stress levels increase because of Covid-19. Not having any time to personally switch off is the number one cause (46%), followed by worrying about losing their job (41%) and “always on” technology (33%).

While companies are usually good at providing informal support, formalising benefits such as counselling to deal with mental health issues is harder and costlier to do, said Seel – and the likelihood of continuing to spend more time working remotely makes that even more difficult.

“With less face-to-face contact, it is harder for managers to pick up on the signs that someone is struggling,” he said. “Individuals are less likely to reach out for support if that first, immensely difficult conversation needs to be by phone or video call. Mental health support becomes much more difficult at the time when it is needed most.”

According to the study, people’s quality of work is also suffering in the new circumstances. One in 10 IT professionals surveyed said the stress they were feeling was negatively affecting their work. The report noted that this was almost twice as likely to apply to permanent workers as to IT contractors.

When it comes to IT roles under most pressure, project and programme management professionals, or those in IT operational roles, are under most mental health strain, according to the report. Factors include demands to rapidly shift large workforces into remote and virtual environments.

Regionally, professionals in the Midlands (46%) and the South East (38%) are most likely to have suffered a deterioration in their mental wellbeing during the pandemic, according to the report. Almost a quarter (24%) of tech professionals have increased their consumption of alcohol in order to cope, but increasing exercise levels (63%) and dedicating more time to a hobby or pastime (53%) were other coping strategies cited.

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