At The Intersection Of Empathy And Technology

Warning: This article contains references to emotions and feelings!

During January at Unruly we celebrate Wellness Month, where we dedicate four weeks to the physical and mental well-being of all our employees.

The whole office gets involved in lots of activities, including yoga classes, cooking lessons, meditation sessions and a company-wide step challenge.

Although mental health is more spoken about than ever before, having an open conversation about it can still be difficult to initiate. The invisible nature of mental health obscures our ability to determine whether someone is actually struggling. It either goes unnoticed or feels too awkward a topic to bring up.

Mental health is key to an individual’s overall well-being. Without it, you cannot truly be yourself. As a result, you struggle to realise your full potential. It affects the way you think, feel and interact with the world. Good mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness — it’s your resilience; knowing your strengths and weaknesses; your ability to learn; and your ability to form and maintain strong relationships. The importance of mental health is undervalued in today’s society.

Moving from a very human-centred, empathy-driven profession in public health to an industry that is a little less human-centric was (and still is) a big adjustment. The stereotypical image of a software developer is one who works alone: devoid of human interaction. This is quite different from my experience as a clinician, where my role was to protect and improve the health and the well-being of the population and to reduce health inequalities. I wanted to find out if there was anything out there that stood at the intersection of empathy and technology. Is it possible to reclaim humanity within the tech industry?

Last year I was lucky enough to attend the AnxietyTech conference — an event dedicated to exploring this topic. The conference was aimed at the tech industry and addressed mental health on a personal, organisational and product level.

Individuals spoke about struggles with their personal mental health in a candid way. They also discussed their personal contributions to these issues and reminded us that we need to take care of ourselves so we don’t suffer the same burnout we are trying to fight against.

Organisations need to place value on psychological safety and provide employees with the tools and resources required to do their best work. One of the best ways to support good mental health practices in your organisation is to normalise the conversation around mental health and be there for teammates who might be struggling.

Products should be designed through understanding. It’s important to make no assumptions during the design stage and ensuring simple things such as colour and text are welcoming and approachable. We should value the customer’s time and design for people’s mental health, not their attention span.

At present, the way we measure impact disregards self-care and humanity and often excludes marginalised groups such as LGBTQI & BIPOC communities. Perhaps if we as an industry started to incorporate empathy, digital responsibility and increased respect for human emotion into our work, we could begin to measure how our products and work practices add value to people’s lives. Acting on these measures could allow us to build an industry that aims to protect and improve the health and well-being of everybody involved in technology.

If you want to know more about my learnings from the conference and how we can be more deliberate in incorporating mental health in tech, you can find the whole article here.