health and well-being, stress
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Here, John Young, VP at Sungard AS, discusses health and well-being in a place where stress and immense pressure is normal

It’s great to see many high-profile figures speaking out about the mental health issues they’ve faced in 2019. What’s highly encouraging to hear too, is that many companies are actively educating employees on the signs of stress and mental illness at work and putting measures in place to support them.

However, despite this progress, there’s no escaping the fact that business leaders are still expected to be highly resilient when under immense pressure. From cyber-attacks and IT outages to network failures and system upgrades gone wrong, the financial impact that these kinds of disruptions are having on companies is now well known.

In the UK, organisations now lose on average £1.4 million in downtime as a result of an IT crisis. But what about the impact these kinds of events have on the people involved, and their mental health and well-being?

International Stress Awareness Week is one initiative that draws important attention to this issue, and a recent study we conducted shows why the topic deserves more focus than its currently getting.

A staggering number of C-suite executives globally have suffered in the aftermath of a technology disruption. Half (51%) admitted to stress-related illnesses and/or damage to their mental well-being in the aftermath of cyberattacks, IT outages or network failures, and 45 percent stated they had experienced online or verbal abuse, and in some cases even physical threats. Moreover, a fifth (20%) admitted criticism extended to their family and friends who have also received verbal and/or physical abuse.

This insight into stressful experiences of the C-suite today demonstrates why business strategy must now go beyond ensuring a robust and agile infrastructure and extend to ensure the resiliency of those responsible for resolving major crises too.

Extending business resilience in 2020

In the event of an IT incident the first questions asked tend to be ‘why did this happen?’ or ‘who was responsible?’ Inevitably ‘blame’ always lies at the top, with the C-Suite more accountable than ever before for the impact of a technology disruption or crisis. Over the last 10 years, many data breaches from cyber-attacks have resulted in CEOs stepping down from their roles.

As growing digital business ecosystems exert increased demand on data centre performance, security and resiliency in the coming years, any disruption will have an even greater impact on an organisation’s productivity and profits – putting employees under even greater pressure when things go wrong.

Companies can minimise risk and adapt to disruptive events by embedding resiliency into and across their environment. An effective resilience framework looks at how the organisation and IT infrastructure can be available, safe and agile. But for 2020, steps must be taken to support employees, particularly those in the spotlight during and after a significant disruption.

It’s my belief that we must start by addressing this at a board level.

Boards must take a more holistic approach to business resilience and consider how they can train staff to be better prepared before, during and after disruption. Designing a thorough communications plan addressing internal and external stakeholders is essential, as is providing employees – especially those most accountable – with guidance to communicate with family members to support staff through periods of significant disruption. Offering counselling to senior leaders of a business after significant disruption should also be part of this plan for health and well-being.

The human cost of disruption

Organisations today are exposed to an ever-more-complex array of risks, threats and uncertainties, which are only set to accelerate in the years to come. Whether driven by technology developments, cybersecurity threats, data privacy concerns, or natural disasters, ensuring senior leaders can cope with these threats, both from a business standpoint but also from a personal standpoint, is no longer an advantage, but a necessity.

Resilience means putting the right processes, tools and technologies in place to protect businesses from the scale and scope of any interruptions. This must be supported by a comprehensive communications plan that keeps external and internal stakeholders informed and supported.

Whilst financial losses and a damaged company reputation are often cited as consequences of poorly handled crises, companies can’t fail to address the human cost of business disruption in 2020.


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