With burnout among IT professionals on the rise, workplace mental health campaign This Is Me Scotland is preparing to launch a podcast series speaking to the bosses of technology start-ups about the tactics they use to cope with pressure and stress.

The First Time Founders series is being hosted by Rich Wilson, a mental health advocate and newly-appointed chief executive of Gigged.AI, a digital talent start-up whose platform connects IT freelancers with technology projects. Season one will feature the stories of between 15 and 20 founders primarily from the tech industry, and there are plans for a second season speaking to mental health professionals.

Eight have already been pre-recorded, with the first due to be released in early August.

The new series comes amid mounting evidence of rising stress levels across the IT industry. As the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation across all sectors – bringing with it increased incidents of cyberattacks, ransomware threats and data security issues – technology workers have come under increasing pressure.

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In a survey of nearly 260 developers released last week by software company Haystack, 83 per cent of respondents reported feelings of burnout, 81% of which cited Covid-19 as the cause. Having more work to do was identified as the primary cause of pandemic-related burnout with 40% blaming increased workloads.

However, the survey also found that this problem wasn’t confined to the Covid era, with 47% of software engineers saying high workloads were their primary cause of burnout regardless of the pandemic.

With a career in technology that has included senior roles with Allegis Group and Gartner, Mr Wilson had his own experience with burnout in 2018 that led to him taking three months out. During that time he took up mixed martial arts and meditation while also re-shaping his approach to life and work.

“I used to have the word ‘relentless’ written on the wall in my office,” he said. “You step back now and realise how stupid that was, that kind of approach to everything.”

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He joined the board of This Is Me Scotland in July 2019, nine months after the campaign’s launch as a joint initiative between PwC, Barclays, Business in the Community Scotland, SAMH and the Samaritans. Its aim is to reduce the stigma of mental health in the workplace by encouraging organisations to network and share their experiences.

Mr Wilson was in charge of communications during a recent campaign by This Is Me which attracted 50,000 views, but has now taken a step back after becoming full-time chief executive of Gigged.AI, a side-project that began during the onset of the pandemic. Currently pre-revenue and employing eight people, the Glasgow firm’s headcount is expected to double by the end of this year following a seed funding round that is due to close in the next few weeks.

In building his new business, one of his aims is to create an organisation that helps staff avoid “falling into the same traps that I did”.

“Everything we are doing is about building that culture from the ground up,” he said. “That is the beautiful thing about start-ups, rather than taking on a juggernaut, you can build it into what you do.

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“A lot of people’s default mode is to work more hours – in some organisations, people are working 30-40% more hours than before the pandemic. We don’t want to do that, because we would just burn ourselves out and go out of business.”

He continues on the board of This Is Me Scotland, and for the past four months has been giving talks to organisations about his own experiences, and how others can avoid repeating them. These are given free of charge, though he does request a donation to SAMH, the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

Mr Wilson said it’s important for business leaders to speak out their own struggles, as it creates a more supportive environment for others encountering difficulties. Many, however, are reluctant to do so for fear of showing vulnerability.

“Mental health can still be seen as a taboo subject in the workplace,” he said. “I was certainly in that category.”