Mental health: why it is important and how to keep it safe

Once Madalyn Parker decided to ask for sick leave. She wrote an email to her boss, and he totally approved her decision. Madalyn shared her boss’ encouraging response via Twitter, which caused quite a stir. Why did it happen and what was the big deal about it? The thing is, Madalyn asked for sick leave to take care of her mental health.

Soon Madalyn’s boss, Ben Congleton, posted an article, where he sounded genuinely surprised with the fact that people perceived his response as something unusual. “It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to speak about mental health in the workplace, — Ben wrote, — When an athlete is injured, they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different”.

That eloquent story happened almost two years ago. Have things changed since then? We have become more aware of mental health’s importance, that’s true. Some companies became more tolerant of mental health issues, but their number is still not so big.

For the majority of us, work is one of the most significant parts of our lives. It influences us in both positive and negative ways. Everything that we go through in the office — from strict deadlines to plain bullying — changes the way we feel.

Tetiana Vovk, a social psychologist, provides the following statistics: 31% of employees search for a new job to decrease stress levels, and 46% are looking in order to increase their overall satisfaction with their jobs. “Since we were children, we’ve been told to take care of our physical health — to brush our teeth and to do exercises. But somehow, no one told us about emotional hygiene. Think about it, every office has an emergency kit with pills or bandages. But is there a mental health kit? And do we know how to use it?”

There are several signs that can signal deteriorating mental health. “Among them, one can name accelerating irritability, lack of attention, sensitivity to criticism,” Tetiana lists. “People on the verge of emotional burnout usually start isolating themselves from their teams, run late to work or, on the contrary, stay late in the office, they get tired faster than before, and frequently ask for sick leaves”.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way of solving this problem and a week or two on a sunny beach will hardly help. As Tetiana says, emotionally tired people tend to take loads of days off but they are not recovering because they keep worrying about deadlines and their growing inefficiency.

Resilience

One of the ways to support your emotional well-being is to develop resilience. “Resilience is our ability to restore the initial form after it has been changed,” Tetiana explains. “For instance, when you cope with some crisis at work or in your personal life, you allow yourself to metaphorically sink down to the emotional bottom, feel all your emotions to the fullest, and get back to your normal state. This process of returning and recovering is called resilience”.

Resilience is not a new term, but it started to gain momentum just recently. Before that, we only knew about stress resistance. Unlike resilience, stress resistance means that a person simply skips the emotional part, and quickly adjusts to any situation, without diving deep into a state of stress. Resilience, on contrary, is a long-term process, which allows you to realize your feelings, accept them and learn to live with them. For sure, in order to succeed in some professions, we need to be stress-resistant rather than resilient. For instance, hardly any of you would appreciate if your surgeon would drop their scalpels and started sinking to an emotional bottom during intense operations. But if living through hard moments is inevitable, it’s good to be resilient enough to make your way out.

There are several ways to respond to stress and to recover faster. Apart from basic recommendations, like healthy sleep, nutrition, and exercises, you would need positive thinking and social support, a.k.a. your friends and family who’d hug you and listen to you when it’s needed. Tetiana also recommends celebrating your victories (even the little ones) and completing lists of activities and things that help you recover, stay present in the moment and recharge your batteries (like, avocado bowls, Anderson’s movies or bicycle rides).

Mindfulness

Anastasia Khyzhniak, an HR consultant at Beetroot, offers another way of sustaining emotional hygiene. “I have been practicing mindfulness for almost a year now and I find it very efficient. It helps me realize myself here and now, comprehend my emotions and stop squeezing them into any frames. You can practice mindfulness by yourself or by using various apps, like Headspace. Thanks to this practice you’ll be able to learn awareness, breathing techniques and presence at all the moments of your life”.

Reflection

If mindfulness is not your thing, think of Pacman. “Seriously, Pacman,” says Volodymyr Vovk, HR-consultant at Beetroot and medical psychologist, — We all are very similar to him. We move forward and consume pieces of information as we go. If you dig deeper and imagine Pacman’s stomach, you’ll see tons of information there, which were processed with our mind and stored in long-term memory. In order to deal with all this chaos, try to practice reflection”.

Reflection can become a powerful tool in supporting mental health. It helps to decrease the number of unfinished gestalts and to enhance the productivity of our minds. Besides, reflection is irreplaceable in the process of resilience — with its help you’ll be able to get out of the emotional hole and recover much faster.

“Reflection is quite simple, actually,” Vova explains. “First, you need to choose one memory. Then there goes a reduction stage — you break this memory down into particles (what did you feel back then, what did you do, how did you react). You analyze each of the particles and think of the ways to change your attitude towards it to make it more comfortable for you. When you’re done with analyzing you put those particles back together into a single whole memory. However, after reflecting, this memory will be perceived differently”.

We never forget things that we felt or experienced in the past. Everything that happens to us, is stored and turned into emotional and informational baggage in Pacman’s enormous stomach. With the help of reflection, you’ll be able to re-evaluate past events and help yourself become more flexible and adaptable for the future trials.

Whatever you choose, reflection, mindfulness or a decent amount of sleep, don’t forget about the importance of mental health. Take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel that you can’t cope with emotional pressure.

This march Ukraine will host the first conference dedicated to mental health and emotional wellness in business. At this conference, you will be able to get a better understanding of mental health in organizations, check out successful case studies of Ukrainian companies and practically apply some tools, which can improve emotional wellness at work. 

T-shaped people are the new IT superheroes?

The canonical superhero: flies, bends metal bars into pretzels, wears tights with a long red cloak. But the IT-world needs a completely different set of superpowers. And to have them, it’s not required to be born on Krypton.

Who are these T-shaped people?

Long story short, the T-shaped people are individuals who can possess deep skills in at least one area as well as acquire broad knowledge and diverse skills.

The T metaphor comes from two lines combined:

  • vertical – stands for the depth of the main specialization;
  • horizontal – illustrates the breadth of related knowledge, a capability of solving an array of problems (and do it fast).

Experienced UI/UX designers have deep knowledge in design — it is their “І” line. Additional general understanding of business processes, management, psychology, programming languages makes them a classic example of T-shaped specialists.

In most cases, Т-people are Middle+ or Senior level specialists who have drilled into management besides their main technical skill. Т’s are in a high demand in product development and startups when you need to have a broader range of shallower skills on top of your “І”.

“In my current role being a generalizing specialist is more valuable.” Tech Lead Adel Salakh says. “I have to keep track of the project as a whole. This wouldn’t be possible without having a broader view. I believe mine skill set can be categorized as T-shaped one, as I had experience with projects ranging from low-level system programming to front end development.”

Why is it cool to be T-shaped?

“If a team consists of T-shaped people, it works seamlessly,” Nastya Khyzhniak, HR-consultant at Beetroot explains. “An understanding of the development processes as a whole helps a development team to build work on a project more accurately. For the supporting roles, like HR, the basics of development would be useful too. For example, in recruiting the right people for the project or during performance reviews.”

This, however, does not mean that you urgently should change from “I” to “T”. Just keep in mind that many modern professions are gradually transforming into T-shaped ones (even if it’s not called like that). The emergence of DevOps is just one of many good examples.

T-shaped people are the new IT superheroes

Jason Yip, Agile Coach at Spotify highlighted at least 5 reasons why generalizing specialists are so super-powered:

  1. T-folks are capable of many things and experts, at least, in one.
  2. Т-shaped people can adapt to wide-ranging demand.
  3. When working in a team with T-people, you can use experts to solve bottlenecks, and non-specialists to free expert’s time from non-priority tasks.
  4. T-specialists allow you to do more with the same number of people in a team (or do the same with fewer people).
  5. T’s provide more effective communication within the team and with the client.

T-shaped teams are flexible, self-sufficient and productive. They provide a comprehensive view of the project and usually have a deeper understanding of its needs. Therefore, they are capable of making complex decisions and releasing a top-notch product. Previously, HR relied on the main specialization when searching for the right candidate. Now they’ll more likely pick with the “T” principle in mind:

“Beetroot helps to build effective distributed teams for different companies worldwide,” Anastasia comments. “More often, the request is a Full-Stack specialist, for example, someone who knows both the front-end and the back-end.”

Adel Salakh adds: “The older the product, the more mature the tech stack in use – the more specialized developers it requires (Java back-end stack is a good example here). Companies that choose newer and more experimental stack setup require more generalist developers.“

How to become a true T?

There is no “know this, do that” list to consider yourself as T-folks in IT. You must have the “І” – deep knowledge and specialization for a start. The rest is curiosity, creativity, caring about the work that you do and practice. Practice as much as you can.

QA Team Lead Nataliia Mylostna has worked for more than nine years in code quality assurance. This is her main specialization. But knowing business analytics, teamwork management, data analytics, and work processes expands her role in a project. “From the very beginning, I’m involved as a Senior QA, but I can become more of a Processmaker, and BA / QA Analyst if needed,” Nata says.

T-shaped people

Aleksey Bobyr, Senior Node-developer, thinks that to form the “I” of a Middle+ specialist you need to learn IDE, Git, Docker, programming languages, frameworks, ticket system functionality, continuous integration systems, and other tools that you have to work with on a current project.

For the “I” of a Senior specialist, according to Aleksey, you need to deepen your expertise in methodologies (such as functional programming), architectures (for example, micro-services), the fundamentals of object-oriented programming or testing — everything you use every day. And then, experience the trends and go beyond your typical skill set.

Adel Salakh also recommends learning functional programming: “It’s already trendy, and I expect it to grow even more.” In Adel’s opinion, there are a couple of technologies that might be game changers in the upcoming years:

  • On the web, one very promising technology is WebAssembly. It might overthrow the hegemony of JavaScript on the client side and might induce an even bigger migration of applications from native code to the browser.
  • In system level/back-end programming, Rust is very ambitious and innovative and is gaining a lot of traction. In the future, it can be a good choice for writing micro-services and web servers, as well as compete in these areas with GoLang or Node.

Company-side of T formation

Companies can nurture the growth of T’s by involving specialists from different fields to work on one task, allowing employees to use the 80/20 rule (the Pareto Principle) etc. Beetroot regularly holds lectures for teams and provides a bonus for education. Furthermore, Beetroot also maintains and updates a knowledge-sharing base for internal use.

Nata Mylostna’s team plays Advent of Code: this is a collection of puzzles to practice a variety of skill sets and skill levels that can be solved using any of the programming languages. They practice speed, problem-solving and challenge each other. Nata’s team tracks the results and participants get rewards for resolved tasks.

The key to becoming a real T is to move away from being a narrowly focused specialist and to widen your experience.

“Large western companies (and sometimes startups too) are often looking not for a Java specialist, but also for a good Senior-developer,” Aleksey Bobyr adds. “Real pro is capable of mastering any technology under a project request.”

So the plan is:

  • expand your expertise into areas you are less comfortable in;
  • possess deep skills in one area (or in a few areas at a time);
  • practice new tools, methodologies, architectures and programming languages;
  • keep an eye on the latest trends in your industry;
  • as a result, solve unsolved tasks (and maybe wear a long red cloak, as you are real IT-superhero).