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

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

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Nara Kasbergen

March 02, 2018
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  1. EMPATHY AS A SERVICE SUPPORTING MENTAL HEALTH IN THE TECH

    WORKPLACE Nara Kasbergen (@xiehan) JSConf Iceland #jsconfis March 2, 2018
  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
  3. 1. WHAT EVEN ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

  4. 1 in 5 adults living with mental illness at any

    given time Source: International Journal of Epidemiology
  5. Mental illness is one of the most prevalent chronic health

    conditions, but we don’t talk about it
  6. A VERY 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**
  7. depression is at least 13x more prevalent than schizophrenia

  8. SYMPTOMS OF MAJOR DEPRESSION ▸ Feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness

    ▸ Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration ▸ Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities ▸ Sleep disturbances (insomnia or sleeping too much) ▸ Tiredness and lack of energy ▸ Changes in appetite ▸ Anxiety, agitation or restlessness Source: Mayo Clinic
  9. “ 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
  10. Source: robot-hugs.com

  11. Source: robot-hugs.com

  12. Source: robot-hugs.com

  13. 35-50% of people with mental disorders in high-income countries do

    not receive any kind of treatment Source: WHO
  14. 15% of those with severe depression die by suicide Source:

    AJE
  15. Why people do not speak up ▸ Fear of dismissal

    ▸ Fear of being taken out of promotion consideration ▸ Fear of being taken off high-value projects/contracts ▸ Fear of reduced hours (for hourly workers) ▸ Fear of being asked to take unpaid medical leave ▸ Fear of being treated differently
  16. “Leave your personal life at home when you come to

    work.”
  17. 2. WHY I SPEAK UP ABOUT THIS

  18. I’m a software engineer.

  19. I’m a software engineer. I identify as mentally healthy.

  20. Ni Mu July 13, 1988 - September 14, 2016

  21. it's on Medium or bit.ly/2oYYyOR (warning: it's 6,000+ words) I

    WROTE A BLOG POST
  22. Ed Finkler (@funkatron) OPEN SOURCING MENTAL ILLNESS (osmihelp.org)

  23. Source: OSMI

  24. “ I could do so many awesome things if only

    my own head didn’t get in the way. - Ed Finkler (@funkatron)
  25. 3. WHAT CAN WE DO?

  26. COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF TECH WORKPLACES AND CULTURE ▸ The work

    is challenging and stressful ▸ Our jobs are highly collaborative ▸ Many of us have relocated for a job ▸ Most of us work remotely at least part of the time ▸ We're often expected to be available outside work hours ▸ Someone needs to fix things when they break overnight ▸ There is a heavy emphasis on drinking culture
  27. RELOCATION

  28. RELOCATION Positive: ▸ Much easier to feel a part of

    the team and helping toward the mission if you're on-site ▸ Can bring you closer to a community of practitioners in your field than where you currently are
  29. RELOCATION Negative: ▸ Takes someone away from the existing support

    structures they have already built up ▸ Generally stressful ▸ Making new friends as an adult is surprisingly hard! Positive: ▸ Much easier to feel a part of the team and helping toward the mission if you're on-site ▸ Can bring you closer to a community of practitioners in your field than where you currently are
  30. RELOCATION Solutions: ▸ 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 ▸ If you are a manager, take another look at your hiring practices and see whether remote employment is an option ▸ Introduce new colleagues who have had to relocate to organizations and events in the area
  31. REMOTE WORK

  32. REMOTE WORK Positive: ▸ Flexible hours ▸ Easier to attend

    daytime therapy appointments ▸ Easier to stick to medication regimens ▸ Easier to take breaks ▸ Quiet & peaceful
  33. REMOTE WORK Negative: ▸ Sense of isolation ▸ Harder to

    build strong relationships with co-workers ▸ Harder to tell if colleagues are doing OK (health-wise) ▸ Can make it challenging to maintain work-life balance Positive: ▸ Flexible hours ▸ Easier to attend daytime therapy appointments ▸ Easier to stick to medication regimens ▸ Easier to take breaks ▸ Quiet & peaceful
  34. REMOTE WORK Solutions: ▸ Make funds available for employees to

    join a co- working space (or encourage colleagues to do so) ▸ Fly in remote employees or hold company-wide off-sites to make sure they feel part of the team ▸ Look into the latest research on remote work culture, improvements you can make to integrate remote employees
  35. “ But what about open plan offices?

  36. OPEN PLAN OFFICES Positive: ▸ More conducive to collaboration, creative

    problem-solving between multiple employees ▸ Easier to construct because of e.g. fire code ▸ Can increase sense of team unity, camaraderie
  37. OPEN PLAN OFFICES Negative: ▸ Noise reduces productivity ▸ Lack

    of privacy ▸ Increased stress ▸ Increased peer pressure ▸ Highly conducive to spread of disease (cold, flu, etc.) Positive: ▸ More conducive to collaboration, creative problem-solving between multiple employees ▸ Easier to construct because of e.g. fire code ▸ Can increase sense of team unity, camaraderie
  38. OPEN PLAN OFFICES Solutions: ▸ Allow employees to work remotely

    (or increase the number of days per week or per month when they can do so) ▸ Urge employees to work from home when sick ▸ Set aside small meeting spaces for quiet work ▸ Have the company provide noise-canceling headphones ▸ Encourage employees to decorate their workspace
  39. ALCOHOL AT TECH EVENTS

  40. ALCOHOL AT TECH EVENTS Positive: ▸ One or two drinks

    can make it easier for some introverts and those with social anxiety to socialize with peers ▸ 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
  41. ALCOHOL AT TECH EVENTS Negative: ▸ Non-drinkers feel unwelcome ▸

    Recovering alcoholics feel threatened ▸ Free alcohol and drinking culture are so pervasive that there are probably more functioning alcoholics in tech than we're aware of Positive: ▸ One or two drinks can make it easier for some introverts and those with social anxiety to socialize with peers ▸ 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
  42. ALCOHOL AT TECH EVENTS Solutions: ▸ Offer nice alternatives (fancy

    sodas, mocktails) for non-drinkers to make them feel included ▸ Put a limit on the number of free drinks (use tickets) ▸ Have activities other than drinking (e.g. board games) ▸ In a recurring series, try alternating dry/non-dry events ▸ Add workplace wellness programs on substance abuse
  43. MANAGERS, TECH LEADS AND SENIOR DEVS: LEAD BY EXAMPLE ▸

    Don't micro-manage ▸ Leave the office on time ▸ Take regular vacations ▸ Don't send or answer e-mails at 2am if possible ▸ Be receptive to feedback on your own performance ▸ Be a good listener ▸ Be open to talking about your health and mental health
  44. OTHER ACTION ITEMS FOR MANAGERS ▸ Make sure employees understand

    their benefits and what mental health treatments are covered ▸ Revisit your hiring practices with an eye to mental illness and neurodiversity ▸ Make sure your employees feel valued and are on projects that they find fulfilling and empowering ▸ Get the OSMI handbooks (leanpub.com/u/osmi) ▸ Consider offering the Mental Health First Aid training
  45. MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID (mhfainternational.org) ▸ International program (started in

    Australia) ▹ Available in the UK, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, US & Canada ▸ 8-hour or 12-hour training course ▸ Teaches how to respond if you encounter someone having a mental health crisis ▸ Employers can host a training on-site
  46. 4. WHAT MUST WE DO TOGETHER?

  47. SUPPORT MARGINALIZED PEOPLE IN THE TECH INDUSTRY ▸ Chronic harassment,

    bullying, and micro- aggressions can lead to depression, exacerbate eating disorders, and cause or worsen other mental illnesses ▸ Even in tech, women are still judged by their looks ▸ 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
  48. FULLY EMBRACE NEURODIVERSITY ▸ Mental disorders like ADHD and autism

    are the result of natural variations of the human genome ▸ "People with differences do not need to be cured; they need help and accommodation instead." ▸ Some of our greatest inventions are attributed to people with atypical neurology ▸ "Mental illness gives me superpowers." - Ed Finkler ▸ "Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage" (HBR)
  49. THINGS WE CAN ONLY CHANGE AS A CULTURE ▸ Working

    ourselves to death - the over-emphasis on hard work, and stigma against vacation ▸ The need to always be available by phone or email ▸ The peer pressure caused by social media ▸ The belief that you must be in Silicon Valley to succeed ▸ The stigma against talking about our feelings ▸ The idea that engineers don't have empathy
  50. “ Empathy is the antidote to shame. - Andrea Goulet

    (@andreagoulet)
  51. "EMPATHY AS A SERVICE"

  52. THERE IS NO APP FOR THIS

  53. “ I could do so many awesome things if only

    my own head didn’t get in the way. - Ed Finkler (@funkatron)
  54. RESOURCES Want to help? ▸ reach out. ask. listen. tell

    your friends you care. ▸ osmihelp.org ▸ mhprompt.org ▸ if-me.org ▸ mhfainternational.org Need help? ▸ talk to someone: a friend, relative, counselor, etc. ▸ forums.osmihelp.org ▸ gedhjalp.is ▸ 1717.is or (+354) 1717
  55. QUESTIONS? Thoughts? Comments? nara@nara.codes @xiehan osmihelp.org/donate dedicated to Ni Mu