Tech workers have enjoyed working from home, but increased workloads have also had an impact on mental health.
Image: iStock/SeventyFour

Tech workers have been rewarded for their efforts to keep businesses up and running throughout the pandemic, but the impact on their workload has pushed mental health concerns to a fresh high, according to new data.

This year’s Harvey Nash Group Technology & Talent Study found that more than half (55%) of IT professionals globally reported heavier workloads in the past year, as the pandemic forced businesses to deploy remote working en masse and ramp-up digital initiatives.

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While more than a third (36%) of tech workers said they had received an increase in salary, the extra burden has taken its toll, with 28% of the 1,700 respondents surveyed reporting that they were concerned with the state of their mental health. This is an increase of more than 75% compared to the recruitment firm’s 2020 study.

While mental health among IT professionals was an issue prior to COVID-19, Bev White, chief executive of Harvey Nash, said the data indicated there were “clear signs it’s getting worse”

White said: “Technology professionals have played a key role throughout the pandemic, supporting organizations in the massive push for home working and helping them adapt their business models in response to the crisis.

“But it’s been quite a journey. There have been long days, rising workloads and rapidly changing objectives. It’s no wonder that mental health is struggling.”

Encouragingly, there are signs that most employers have risen to the occasion: 80% of respondents said their organization had been supportive towards staff with mental health concerns. “It’s certainly encouraging that more organizations now have support measures in place, but there is undoubtedly further to go,” said White.

“The remote world post-COVID needs new models of employer care and support – the organizations that do best in this will create a significant advantage in attracting and retaining tech talent.”

Although reports of longer hours and stress have been on the rise, Harvey Nash found that most tech workers have enjoyed the benefits of working from home during the pandemic. Job satisfaction has risen, with almost two-thirds (63%) of tech workers reporting that they are happy in their roles, and the majority of workers want to continue working largely from home after the pandemic.

Three-quarters (75%) of respondents said they’d like to work from home for the majority of the week (3-5 days) after the pandemic, while almost a quarter (23%) said they’d prefer to work from home five days a week.

In all, 93% of tech professionals want to work from home between two and five days per week, said Harvey Nash. This compares to less than half (45%) of tech workers globally who worked 2-5 days per week from home prior to COVID-19.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in February, more than 100,000 new UK jobs have been created in tech since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time, work location and remote working has risen to become one of the three most important factors for recruiting and retaining talent, Harvey Nash found. According to its 2021 survey, the most important factors for tech workers now are – in order – remuneration (pay), work location and remote working, and a strong culture & strong leadership.

Leaders will need to rethink how they attract and engage their employees in a world where physical location is no longer a prime asset, said the recruitment firm.

SEE: Wellness at work: How to support your team’s mental health (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

When it came to remuneration, changes to salary were dependent on sector, the study found.

Largely, the sectors that were forced to rapidly transform their operations to digital and online – such as healthcare, retail and leisure – compensated their IT employees the most. In the healthcare sector, over half (54%) of tech professionals reported that their pay had risen, with a similar number (50%) in retail and leisure.

On a role-by-role basis, those working in development management and team leadership (59%), architecture (46%), and software engineering (41%) roles were most likely to have received a pay rise during the pandemic.

The findings of the past 12 months are likely to shape the strategies of businesses as they move out of the pandemic, said White, with flexible-working policies expected to be key to holding on to skilled employees and driving up job satisfaction.

“Technology businesses, internal IT functions and indeed all employers must now begin to create a new model for the future – founded on a truly flexible workforce and, most likely, a reduced or much more scalable office network,” White added.

“Technology remains well-remunerated, fulfilling work, with our studying confirming high levels of job satisfaction overall. Getting the new employer-employee deal right will be critical to keeping it that way.”