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Why developers must pay particular attention to mental health

It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for knowledge workers. The sudden shift to remote work amid the first wave of pandemic-driven lockdowns in March 2020 forced a complete re-think around how work gets done. It also challenged leaders to come up with new ways to manage their teams – and themselves – not only day-to-day, but over an extended period of time.


The warnings have been building since long before Russian soldiers and weapons first began massing at the border, and the conclusions are stark. A report from Forrester in March concluded the invasion threatened to permanently alter the cyberthreat landscape; primarily as Russia accelerated its cyberattacks and cyber-espionage efforts to offset military losses and compensate for expanding economic sanctions. Forrester said Russian cyberattacks had been building for years, targeting Ukrainian financial systems and critical infrastructure. Forrester’s analysts said this was a siren call to CISOs of any organization, in any geography, to ramp up their protective efforts by building stronger internal partnerships and prioritizing cybersecurity spending and resources.

As the threat landscape continues to evolve, organizations may find themselves at risk in similarly fast-evolving ways. Forrester’s report suggests organizations that have made public statements in relation to the war may find themselves at greater risk of being targeted by malevolent, state-sponsored Russian cybercriminals.

Similarly, organizations could be more vulnerable to insider threats from employees or contractors who may not agree with the public positions or statements regarding the invasion. For example, a social media post that describes Russia’s action as an invasion or war – which directly contradicts Russia’s narrative – could trigger an employee to act. Incomplete offboarding activities would make it easy for Russian-sympathetic ex-employees or contractors to wreak havoc on internal systems long after their employment has been terminated. 


During those chaotic first few months of the pandemic, the focus was largely on the technological challenges of getting work done outside of a traditional office environment. As organizations hurriedly rolled out collaborative platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, they prioritized the technology itself to ensure it replicated the in-office experience and kept workers productive.

Unfortunately, mental health didn’t seem to get as much attention as the technology that connected millions of knowledge workers worldwide. As long as all the techie bits did their job and kept the organization’s lights on, organizations remained satisfied that they had successfully navigated this historic paradigm shift.

This betrays the fact that working laptops, collaboration software, and internet connections are nowhere near enough to ensure a healthy and sustainable remote workforce. And now that organizations are moving forward with in-office and hybrid work plans, their failure to adequately prioritize the mental health of their knowledge workers could be costing all stakeholders dearly.


As pressing an issue as this is for knowledge workers in general, it is particularly problematic for software developers and other IT professionals. The very nature of these roles means workers spend long, uninterrupted stretches at the keyboard. Many of them tend to work alone, connecting only for standups or code reviews.

Remote work can make it difficult for leaders to spot the signs that an employee is struggling with their mental health. For remote workers, when their only daily interaction with leaders, colleagues, and other stakeholders could be a 15-minute video meeting, it means they’re largely on their own if they’re experiencing mental health challenges.

Even within a physical office environment where workers spend their days heads-down in cubicles, sealed off by noise-cancelling headphones, opportunities for collaboration – and recognizing when a co-worker is experiencing difficulty – may be somewhat limited. All this means critical cues about the state of an employee’s mental health may go unnoticed.

As winter descends on Ukraine, no one really knows which direction the conflict will take next, or how long the Russian military aggression will continue. What is known is the cyber front in this war will continue to threaten organizations just like yours in all sectors, and in any geography. 


Timing plays a role in the mental health of developers, as well. As autumn now gives way to winter, workers often start and end work in darkness, which can represent another trigger for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

According to The Canadian Mental Health Association, there are key differences between so-called winter blues and SAD. While winter blues symptoms could include appetite changes and sluggishness, SAD is a serious form of depression that can last for a prolonged (greater than 2 weeks) period of time, and include disturbed sleep, lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness about the future, and decreased interest in social or work activities.

CMHA data suggests 15 per cent of the general population experience winter blues symptoms, while SAD affects an estimated 2 percent. The association recommends a number of changes to everyday behaviors to better cope with this challenging time of year, including regular exercise, healthy eating (including meal-planning), and maximizing exposure to sunlight. Getting enough sleep is another critical factor in maintaining mental health through these dark months, as it strengthens your immune system against seasonal colds and the flu.

As software developers ourselves, we’ll continue to focus on our mental health within our own business, and we recommend you do the same for yourselves and your staff.

While mental health may not get as much attention as the technology and processes that define the software development space, it’s becoming increasingly clear that failure to provide appropriate mental health supports to developers can have significant impacts on productivity, sustainability, and overall project and business success. Watch this space for additional blog articles on this critical topic.