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[GHC19] Empathy as a Service: Supporting Mental Health in the Tech Workplace

[GHC19] Empathy as a Service: Supporting Mental Health in the Tech Workplace

Nara Kasbergen

October 02, 2019

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  1. Empathy as a Service Supporting Mental Health in the Tech

    Workplace Nara Kasbergen (@xiehan) Lead Software Engineer | NPR | Washington, DC Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing Wednesday, October 2, 2019 #GHC19
  2. Topics covered 1. What are we talking about? 2. Why

    I speak up about this 3. What can we do? ▹ pragmatic, common-sense, action-oriented; anyone can do these things! 4. What must we do together? ▹ difficult, aspirational; everyone has to do their part #GHC19
  3. 1 in 5 Americans living with mental illness at any

    given time #GHC19 Source: Mental Health America
  4. Mental illness is one of the most prevalent chronic health

    conditions, but we don’t talk about it #GHC19
  5. An incomplete list of mental illnesses Depression Generalized anxiety disorder

    Bipolar disorder Substance use disorder (alcoholism) Eating disorder (bulimia) ADHD PTSD Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) Impulse control disorder Antisocial personality disorder Schizophrenia Dissociative identity disorder Autism spectrum disorders* Burnout** #GHC19
  6. Symptoms of major depression o Feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness

    o Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration o Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities o Sleep disturbances (insomnia or sleeping too much) o Tiredness and lack of energy o Changes in appetite o Anxiety, agitation or restlessness #GHC19 Source: Mayo Clinic
  7. Telling someone not to be sad because others have it

    worse is like telling people they can’t be happy because others have it better. - Unknown #GHC19 “
  8. 56% of U.S. adults with mental illness do not receive

    treatment #GHC19 Source: Mental Health America
  9. Why people do not speak up o Fear of dismissal

    o Fear of being taken out of promotion consideration o Fear of being taken off high-value projects/contracts o Fear of reduced hours (for hourly workers) o Fear of being asked to take unpaid medical leave o Fear of being treated differently #GHC19
  10. I could do so many awesome things if only my

    own head didn’t get in the way. - Ed Finkler (@funkatron) #GHC19 “
  11. Common characteristics of tech workplaces and tech culture o The

    work is challenging and stressful o Our jobs are highly collaborative o Many of us have relocated for a job o Most of us work remotely at least part of the time o We're often expected to be available outside work hours o Someone needs to fix things when they break overnight o There is a heavy emphasis on drinking culture #GHC19
  12. Relocation Positive: o Much easier to feel a part of

    the team and helping toward the mission if you're on- site o Can bring you closer to a community of practitioners in your field than where you currently are Negative: o Takes someone away from the existing support structures they have already built up o Generally stressful o Making new friends as an adult is surprisingly hard! #GHC19
  13. Relocation Solutions: o As a community, stop saying that the

    best way to succeed in tech is to relocate to Silicon Valley; become more accepting of alternative choices o If you are a manager, take another look at your hiring practices and see whether remote employment is an option o Introduce new colleagues who have had to relocate to activities and events in the area #GHC19
  14. Remote work Positive: o Flexible hours o Easier to attend

    daytime therapy appointments o Easier to stick to medication regimens o Easier to take breaks o Quiet & peaceful Negative: o Sense of isolation o Harder to build strong relationships with co-workers o Harder to tell if colleagues are doing OK (health-wise) o Can make it challenging to maintain work-life balance #GHC19
  15. Remote work Solutions: o Make funds available for employees to

    join a co-working space (or encourage your colleagues to do so) o Fly in remote employees or hold company-wide off-sites to make sure they feel they are a part of the team o Look into the latest research on remote work culture, improvements you can make to integrate remote employees #GHC19
  16. On-call rotations Positive: o A huge burden being shared among

    the team improves sense of team unity, camaraderie o Engineers have a way to prove understanding of the technical systems, ability to handle crisis Negative: o Expecting the unexpected can be very difficult for those with serious anxiety disorders o Lack of sleep or interrupted sleep is bad for mental health o High stress leads to burnout #GHC19
  17. On-call rotations Solutions: o Fix tech issues to make being

    on-call less stressful o If someone is called in the middle of the night, make sure there is a process in place to give them adequate time to catch up on sleep o For employees with serious anxiety disorders, see if there's a way to take them out of the on-call rotation without making them feel like they're not contributing #GHC19
  18. Alcohol at tech events Positive: o One or two drinks

    can make it easier for some introverts and those with social anxiety to socialize with peers o If you don't offer alcohol, those who want to drink will go to a bar instead of staying to mingle with others at the event Negative: o Non-drinkers feel unwelcome o Recovering alcoholics feel threatened o Free alcohol and drinking culture are so pervasive that there are probably more functioning alcoholics in tech than we're aware of #GHC19
  19. Alcohol at tech events Solutions: o Offer nice alternatives (fancy

    sodas, mocktails) for non-drinkers to make them feel included o Put a limit on the number of free drinks (use tickets) o Have activities other than drinking (e.g. board games) o In a recurring series, try alternating dry/non-dry events o Add workplace wellness programs on substance abuse #GHC19
  20. Managers, tech leads and senior devs: Lead by example o

    Don't micro-manage o Leave the office on time o Take regular vacations o Don't send or answer e-mails at 2am if possible o Be receptive to feedback on your own performance o Be a good listener o Be open to talking about your health and mental health #GHC19
  21. Other action items for managers o Make sure employees understand

    their benefits and what mental health treatments are covered (e.g. therapy for just a $25 copay) o Revisit your hiring practices with an eye to mental illness and neurodiversity o Make sure employees feel valued and are on projects they find fulfilling and empowering o Get the OSMI handbooks (leanpub.com/u/osmi) o Consider offering the Mental Health First Aid training #GHC19
  22. Mental Health First Aid (mentalhealthfirstaid.org) o Teaches how to respond

    if you encounter someone having a mental health crisis o International program (started in Australia) o Available in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands & more o 8-hour or 12-hour training course o Usually costs $50-100 per person with materials o Employers can host a training on-site #GHC19
  23. Support marginalized people in the tech industry o Chronic harassment,

    bullying, and micro-aggressions can lead to depression, exacerbate eating disorders, and cause or worsen other mental illnesses o Even in tech, women are still judged by their looks o People from marginalized groups feel they have to over-perform (to counteract the “lowering the bar” myth), which leads to increased stress and a greater likelihood of burnout #GHC19
  24. Fully embrace neurodiversity o Mental disorders like autism are the

    result of natural variations of the human genome o “People with these kinds of differences do not need to be cured; they need help and accommodation instead.” o Some of our greatest inventions are attributed to people with atypical neurology o “Mental illness gives me superpowers.” - Ed Finkler o “Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage” (Harvard Business Review) #GHC19
  25. Things we can only change as a culture o Working

    ourselves to death - the over-emphasis on hard work, stigma against vacation o The need to always be available by phone or email o The peer pressure caused by social media o The belief that you must be in Silicon Valley to succeed o The stigma against talking about our feelings o The idea that engineers don't have empathy #GHC19
  26. I could do so many awesome things if only my

    own head didn’t get in the way. - Ed Finkler (@funkatron) #GHC19 “
  27. Resources Want to help? o reach out. ask. listen. tell

    your friends you care. o osmihelp.org o mhprompt.org o if-me.org o mentalhealthfirstaid.org Need help? o talk to someone: a friend, relative, counselor, etc. o forums.osmihelp.org o locator.apa.org o suicidepreventionlifeline.org or 1-800-273-8255(TALK) o crisistextline.org or TEXT “START” TO 741741 #GHC19
  28. Please remember to complete the session survey in the mobile

    app. THANK YOU #GHC19 @xiehan @xiehan narakasbergen